Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Say It Ain't So, Joe!

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
-Yogi Berra

Dear Yogi,
I've thought about you, on and off over the past few years. I’ve wondered how you were. I’d reread the bio on your website because it was comforting to know that you were still on this earth.

Until today.
Everyone always managed a good chuckle at your famous quotes and they get thrown around the internet every so often. You were always so gracious when people poked fun at you for the crazy things you said.
Except I never thought they were crazy; they made perfect sense to me.
I got you, Yogi.
I always knew what you meant.
I was a huge baseball fan as a kid and because I grew up in N.Y, that made you a part of my childhood memories. I loved the Mets AND the Yankees.  They were my teams and part of my city.  I didn't understand rooting against either.  Maybe it was because I did not grow up during the days of the cross town rivalries and subway series of the Yankees vs. the Dodgers or the Giants.  I can’t really speak to that, but, dear Yogi, that doesn’t really matter.  I’ve moved away from NY, and been gone a long time.  I’ve drifted away from baseball too, although deep down I still love the game.  Baseball is part of me.  It’s part of this country in many ways and I know that as a WWII veteran, as a man who faced the guns and blood on the beaches of Normandy, you knew that too.
You knew what was important.
Then you came home and found yourself playing baseball. I can’t imagine how much easier it must have been to stand at the plate against a Bob Feller fastball, compared to Normandy.  Anything you did after that must have been a joy by comparison.
And so it was for you, because it showed. We could see it.
Everything you did in baseball, was done with gratitude.

You were a real screwball but you loved the game, and you played it well.  But there was more to it.  It was as though, every time you stepped up the plate, or caught the ball, you were amazed that you were able to make your living doing something you loved.  It showed.  Your joy and wonder, yes, wonder is the right word, was ever present. Every time you stepped on the field, to hit, to catch, to coach or manage, your sense of wonder was palpable. Everyone could see it and feel it.  That’s what made you special.
You loved the fans, and they loved you back.  You acted the way most of us would like to think we would act, if we suddenly found ourselves in your place, with your special gifts. You were not the slick, handsome celebrity-type, like Joe DiMaggio. He was a great Yankee, and everyone admired him, but you Yogi, were beloved. Your down to earth manner, humility and sense of humor endeared you to everyone, including your rivals.
We saw ourselves in you, Yogi.  
You never disappointed us.
Baseball is full of metaphors for life and they are so much a part of our language that most people probably do not realize just how pervasive, how embedded in our thought processes, “baseball speak” is.  Every time we “swing for the fences”, or ask for a “ballpark figure”, because we want to make sure we have “all our bases covered”, or we pray never to get “thrown a curve” because” there’s two strikes against us”, that’s baseball talk.

We know we have succeeded in life when we are “ready for the majors” or someone calls us a “heavy hitter”.  When we want to “touch base” with someone because we haven’t heard from them in a while, or we decide that some crazy idea came from “out of left field”, we are speaking your language.
You taught us many things.  You were notorious for being a "bad ball" hitter. You always said, "If you could see it, you could hit it".
It’s true, that in baseball, as well as life, you don't always get the perfect pitch to hit.
Swing anyway!
Always go down swinging and never watch the 3rd strike go by.
To be honest, in some crazy way, I never thought you would or could die.  Strange I suppose, but true.  Perhaps I do not want the wonder of it all to disappear.  It’s been hard for me to watch baseball lately.  The game has changed. Not entirely, but change is always inevitable and baseball fans are known for their reluctance to evolve.
I’m proof of that.
It’s been over 40 years, and I’m still bitching about the designated hitter.  Maybe I need to let that go.  I was sad when they built a new Yankee Stadium and I cried when they tore the old one down, but life is constant change and it’s all happened before.  
Maybe I’m the one that needs to make a few adjustments.
I need a reason to watch baseball again.
I’ve been looking for one.  Every once in awhile I flip on a game.  I don’t even know who the players are anymore.  I used to collect all the baseball cards. I used to know everyone’s batting average, but now, I don’t even know their names. Doesn’t matter really.  The moment the pitcher begins their windup, I still hold my breath.  It’s one of the greatest dramatic moments in sports, and it happens over and over, every inning of every game.
After the shock and horror of 9/11 we looked to baseball as a way to heal.   We knew we were going to survive as a nation because we started to play ball, once again.  Maybe I’m being foolish. It’s only a game. But it’s more than that, isn’t it?
Just a few short weeks after the attacks,when President Bush threw out the first pitch at the first World Series game in Yankee stadium, I’d like to think that for that one moment in time, that we as a nation, united in our emotions-set politics aside, and began to recover.
Why does baseball have such a dramatic impact on us?
I can’t speak for everyone, but it always brings tears to my eyes whenever I hear the National Anthem before a game. No one will ever convince me that the words “play ball” are not officially the last two words of that song. It doesn’t matter who plays or sings it, I still cry, because you see Yogi, it’s all jumbled together for me, baseball and childhood and America and you, and I don’t want to lose any of it.
“It ain’t over til it’s over,” you said. You were right.  

It never really is.
You knocked this life out of the park Yogi; I hope your game goes well into extra innings.
Maybe baseball still has something to teach me. Perhaps that’s the excuse I need to start watching again.
I suppose it’s time I got out of the on deck circle and stepped up to the plate.

Monday, March 30, 2015


“Security is mostly a superstition.  It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer, in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing”.

--Helen Keller

After every tragedy that involves numerous casualties has been analyzed from every conceivable angle; after it has been Monday morning quarterbacked to death by the 24 hours news cycle, a mantra is born. It is always the same question, over and over again.  Whether it’s a school shooting or the crash of an airliner, the chant has become: How can we keep this exact circumstance from happening again?

The truth is; it is only possible in retrospect, for every decision to be circumspect.

The litigious society we live in now sees negligence at every turn, demanding that somehow, someone should have seen it coming.  Every tragedy is boiled down to a mere lack of vigilance, the implication being, if somehow we could “increase” our vigilance enough, fate would be assuaged and safety assured. 

Risk management is an oxymoron.

This is dangerous and superstitious thinking.  The scary truth is, we can't foresee or prevent every calamity, no matter how cautious, no matter how many rules, regulations and government security organizations we create.  Our anger and our pain drive us to demand that some “one” or some “thing” be held accountable. We demand action for the future, because in our arrogance we presume that it will tip the scales in our favor. 

In the end, no amount of dancing for lawyers will prevent heartbreak and catastrophe.

We could never fully account for the unintended consequences of every precaution we implement.

Newton’s third law explains this phenomenon better than superstition ever could.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

Terrorists busting down your cockpit doors? 

Make the doors stronger, unbreakable from the outside.

So unbreakable, that a suicidal co-pilot may now effectively lock a pilot out of the cockpit.

 No amount of desperate pounding on the now impenetrable doors will gain him entry in order to save the plane and the lives on board.

It’s an ever escalating arms race of impossible-to-anticipate circumstances. The airline will still be held to task about why they didn’t anticipate this scenario and plan accordingly. 

Perhaps if the doctors had reported his issues we’d all be safe now.  Why stop at pilots?  Why not bus drivers, truck drivers, taxi drivers, architects, construction workers, chefs, teachers, data entry clerks, train engineers, everyone who drives a car, doctors, nurses, lawyers… Why specifically call out pilots? Is it because of the high profile nature of the event?  On any given day, aren’t we all personally responsible for the safety and well being of others we encounter?
Do we believe there will now be an epidemic of this type of behavior in the future that we must act to prevent, or can we view this as the one off, terrible tragedy that it is?

Do we really want to give up all personal privacy to combat the off chance that someone, somewhere, will do something, stupid?

 Will it help?
It’s been said that we always fight the current war with the weapons and strategies of the previous war.  That is a testament to the concept that we cannot anticipate every scenario.  We can only plan for things we are familiar with.  For every strategy we devise, whether for the battle field or personal safety, there will always be a way to countermand it.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, we rely upon strangers every day of our lives.  Sadly, there seems to be an increasing number of people who do not concern themselves with how their behavior impacts others.  Narcissistic, me first, “selfie culture” seems to permeate everything. While this may be mostly benign, or harmless, there are some seriously disconnected, mentally ill people out there.  We want try to understand and be forgiving when someone commits suicide, but we are completely horrified and dismayed at the utter selfishness of taking innocent victims along for the ride.  Will greater societal restrictions impart greater empathy or a stronger moral compass in these people?  Will they rescue us from the depraved souls walking around the edge of acting out their maniacal fantasies?

Probably not.

Almost all of the school shootings in the past 20 years have involved psychotropically medicated, socially maladjusted boys, acting out in ways that, while there may have been “signs” that something was amiss, could not have been accurately predicted.  This doesn’t stop the media from pointing fingers in every direction and demanding to know why a tragedy was permitted to happen.  In the case of the Germanwings copilot, a doctor did eventually declare him unfit for work, but ultimately it was up to the pilot to obey the orders. 

He chose not to.

Regardless, living in a free society requires a peculiar type of faith. We are obligated to trust that the car coming towards us does not cross the double yellow line, whether due to negligent behavior, accident or malicious intent...that the bus driver doesn't drive the bus off a cliff, that the truck driver isn’t falling asleep at the wheel, that the person entering our medical information does not confuse us with someone else, that the food we eat is safe, that we get the right medication, or that the pilot flying our plane isn't suicidal that day. 

These heartbreaking instances, while rare, make us fully aware of our powerlessness, of our lack of control. The first knee jerk reaction is to reach for more control, more restrictions, and legislation.  If we were to be truly honest we would realize that more laws do not put us more in control, nor do they increase safety.

While it is important to learn from our mistakes, none of us may predict the future.

The problem is that no one in the public realm will admit this.

We have always had to rely on our fellow human beings to do the right thing. 

Human beings are flawed creatures and therein lies the problem.  
We demand perfection from imperfect beings.