This one comes from Andrew Taylor-Troutman

A new friend, who is joining the church I serve, offered a Rumi reading to me from his morning devotional: Hold up a mirror to your worst destructive habits, for that is how the real making begins.

~

1995 was my first year of high school. That spring, my baseball coach announced to the entire P.E. class that I was “the dumbest smart guy” he knew. Everyone in class laughed. Coach meant that, while I made good grades, I lacked common sense. Head in the clouds, I tended to miss certain things.

One afternoon that year, I showed up for baseball practice in a downpour, having completely missed that it had already been canceled. Since the final bell had rung, I stood under an awning apart from the other kids, waiting for the school bus. I was (and still am) a chronic eavesdropper, absorbed in nearby conversations. I recognized my bus only as it was pulling away, belching black smoke. By the time I’d hustled back through the rain into the gym, the school was deserted, loose-leaf paper blowing like tumbleweeds through the lobby.

Coach’s office was upstairs, but to use his phone required admitting yet another spaced-out mistake. I had a quarter in my pocket since a slice of pizza at lunch had cost a buck seventy-five. The pay phone hung on the lobby wall in view of a life-sized picture of my high school’s famous basketball hero of yesteryear. They called him Pistol Pete because he was an excellent shot on the hardwood. As far as I knew, no one remembered his misses.

I dialed home and listened to three-and-a-half rings, then slammed the receiver down in its cradle before our answering machine could click on. I wanted my quarter back. I slipped the silver back in my pocket. I could visualize the entire walk home stretching out in my mind, a little less than four miles to my door, rambling through a few back yards. I hefted my backpack onto both shoulders, instead of the usual one like the cool guys, and slunk into the drizzling afternoon feeling sorry for myself, the dumbest.

~

My son does well in his prekindergarten assessment, identifying all the letters and numbers in a quiet, confidence voice. His teacher smiles at me afterward and sing-songs above my child’s head: “You know he’s very bright, right?”

In the grocery store for a celebratory treat, my flesh and blood followed some flight of fancy in his head and floated away when I was on the phone with a parishioner. Panic rising, I finally caught him sitting crisscross applesauce in the middle of Aisle 4 with a coloring book in his lap. And I thundered: There you are! What were you thinking? You know better than to leave … Are you listening, Son? Son! Pay attention!

What words will wound him and leave a scar?

~

When I was about my son’s age, my father (a preacher) gave an anecdote about an older man who meticulously fastened enough helium balloons to his chair that he actually floated over his neighborhood. He flew in a lawn chair! I have no idea how Dad was tying this to scripture; but think of how the mind so easily floats away. Next thing you know, you’ve missed something important.

My oldest son is five, excuse me, five and a half as he would immediately correct me. He colors the back of the bulletin while I preach. He’s not interested in baseball. Perhaps he’s too young? He does line up all his Matchbox cars in a straight row across a table top, just like I did at his age; and, just like I did, he makes elaborate rocket ships out of stacks of books, magazines, pillows, pencils, blankets, wooden alphabet blocks, flashlights, measuring tape, candlesticks, bits of yarn, red plastic cups, dead batteries, watering cans, and souvenir baseball caps. Our Crazy Creek lawn chair serves as his cock pit. He’ll perch there, wearing a far-away look, floating through his imagination. My father says his grandson has a rich inner-life. I do worry that he might miss things. Important things. I am a worrier.

~

My hometown is called the City of Oaks. As a freshman trudging beneath those silent giants, I was wrapped up inside my thoughts, worrying about my baseball swing, worrying about the acne on my cheeks, and really worrying about this girl from church who had been acting like she didn’t even know me in the school hallways. Hefting these anxieties in my mind, I’d traveled up and down a few hills without even realizing it; but then the most imposing climb lay dead ahead, a steep incline past Jaycee Park and its dirt infields where I’d first learned to play.

My father was my first coach. I was ten years old, the hip-hop duo Kris Kross had released their hit single “Jump” and I tried to memorize the rapid-fire rap lyrics on the way to our games, rewinding the cassette tape over and over, riding shotgun as Dad drove. I wore #8 on my uniform like Cal Ripken, Jr. and Mickey Mantle—Dad’s boyhood hero. My batting stance was too wide, but no one could convince me otherwise. Especially not him. It is easy to disregard the coach’s advice if he is your parent and, besides, Dad was a pastor. What did he know?

I labored past the old ballpark and then right at the traffic light at the top of the hill, veering into the shaded neighborhood that led to home. I fished the spare key from under the backdoor mat and, after dumping my backpack in the laundry room, guzzled two full glasses of water at the sink. I changed out of my sopping wet clothes, then dug into a big bowl of cereal at the kitchen table. The garage door flung open with a bang against the wall and my father burst into the kitchen. I froze with spoon raised to my mouth.

There you are! Just where in God’s name have you been? Why didn’t you call home? Didn’t you think that I would go and look for you? Just what the hell were you thinking?

Dad kicked the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink; then hopped around, holding his smarting foot, cursing like a big leaguer.

~

Anne Lamott claims that grace bats last. Now that I am a father, I do listen to Dad. Especially the gentle sermons he offers when we are taking in a baseball game sitting next to each other. At the venerable sanctuary known as Wrigley Field, Dad once mused that it is the job of every adolescent to put his or her parents on trial. And, make no mistake about it, every caregiver will be found guilty, for we are all imperfect. Children will remember our faults, our mistakes, our anger. Our sins do not float away as if on helium balloons. Wounds leave scars.

“But you can tell a story about a scar, Andrew. And what you hope,” Dad continues, “is that your child will grant you pardon.” That’ll preach, Dad. And I remember how, when I was a boy, coloring the back of the bulletin in the pew, you would toss a baseball story into your sermon. I would look up at you in the pulpit and you would catch my eye. Our little game of catch.