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Posts Tagged ‘Softball’

The comfort of community

In aging, behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, religion, urban life, US on November 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm
English: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881, ...

English: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881, Pierre-Auguste Renoir) housed in The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past weekend, shaken by the hurricane and our renewed sense of vulnerability — knowing the next power outage is inevitable — Jose and I instinctively went to be, in person and face to face, hug to reaffirming hug, with two of our long-time communities.

They are certainly distinctly American: softball and church.

I started playing co-ed softball about a decade ago, on a suburban park field in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, joining a group of men and women, ranging from their 20s to over 70. It was founded by Jon, who then worked for the commuter railroad, and who soon adopted two small children, a Chinese girl and a tow-headed boy named Dakota, who used to sit in their strollers behind the batting cage.

The years since then have been a parade of deepening friendships. When Ed’s Dad died, we drove into the city to attend his wake, much of it in Spanish. When CJ fell and shattered his leg, Marty, an orthopedic surgeon who also plays with us, was able to do a quick, if sobering on-field diagnosis. When I went onto the DL list in November 2009, unable to play for the next three years with a damaged left hip (fully replaced Feb. 6, 2012), I kept coming out for after-game lunches to stay in touch with this group I love so well.

At lunch last week, as one of only two women among 20+ men, I felt — as I always do — completely at home, teasing Sky, the handsome young man sitting to my left who’s become a personal trainer, with his Mom, a newly retired teacher, sitting to my right. We now feel like family, laughing and teasing and hugging. Ed, a tall, thin lawyer my age, has the same last name as Jose, so I call him “el otro Lopez.”

In an era of almost constant job and financial insecurity, some of us shifting careers in our 50s or beyond, having a group of people who love you, sweaty and dirty, injured or healthy, employed or not, is a wonderful thing.

Here’s part of an essay I wrote about them for The New York Times:

One unspoken rule of Softball Lite is that men don’t help the women — who usually make up roughly a third of about 20 players each time — or tell them what to do. We know what to do, and after a few games, our teammates know and trust our skills as well. If we goof up, well, it’s not fatal and we’re quite aware that we goofed. I usually play second base, and I didn’t appreciate one new male player who marked a spot in the dust and told me where to stand.

Off the field, too, we cherish our longstanding ties. When one player had a multiple organ transplant and spent many long months in the hospital, teammates went to visit. (He’s now back to running the bases full tilt.) We’ve attended friends’ parents’ wakes, celebrated their engagements and weddings, applauded their concerts.

And, after every game, a group heads to a cafe where — like some sweaty version of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” — we gather green metal tables in the shade of a spreading tree, with stunning views of the Hudson River, and settle in for lunch.

We’ve watched Jon’s kids grow from toddlers to grade schoolers and cheered when Joe’s author made the best-seller list.

Jobs and homes and friendships have come and gone.

It’s said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. This dusty little one is mine.

The other place we went back to, after about a six month absence, is our church, St. Barnabas in Irvington, NY

I rarely blog about religion because it can be such a divisive issue; I’m Episcopalian (Anglican) but not super-religious, another reason I don’t blog about it. I began going there in 1998 after I became the unwitting victim of a con artist, a man I dated, a convicted felon whose predatory behavior terrified me.

His ability to so effectively dominate me psychologically proved to me how terribly lonely, isolated and lacking in self-confidence I had become, allowing him access to me, my home and my property. He stole a credit card of mine, forged my signature and committed other crimes — but the police and district attorney were derisive and dismissive, making me feel even more alone and scared.

I needed to repair my fully broken spirit. Two of the women I met my first week at church, Niki and Barbara, married women a bit older than I, are still friends. We’re still in touch, years after they have moved away, with our former minister and one of his assistants.

On our visit back this week, I was worried we might be snubbed for having been away for so long, but people were lovely. One older man, much more hunched over his cane than we had ever seen him, stopped me to say, with joy: “You’re walking so well!” They had seen me suffer 24/7 pain for 3 years with my damaged hip, on crutches for three months to relieve it, seen me through three prior surgeries.

I congratulated one woman on a 60-pound weight loss, saw another get baptized and heard about a friend’s move.

They knew me single, knew me when dating and living with Jose, and know and value us now as a married couple. We were asked to carry the elements — the Communion wine and wafers — down the aisle in their gleaming silver containers, cold to the touch. I feel deeply honored to be, however briefly, a part of the service, and in such an essential way.

Jose and I are not much like our fellow parishioners, many of whom are wealthy and live in large houses, the women staying home to raise multiple children, when we have none. But his parents are decades in their graves; his two sisters live far away and my father is a 10-hour drive north in Canada.

Like all of us, we need to know we are appreciated!

And, while I obviously value on-line connections, I most crave being in a room with people I know.

It is deeply comforting, especially in times of such fear and insecurity, to be known, loved and accepted by community.

Where  — in person — are you finding this sort of community in your life now?

Running All The Way To The O.R.

In behavior, Health, sports on August 17, 2010 at 6:32 pm
Players in a glass-backed squash court
Image via Wikipedia

For some of us, movement is life. Running, biking, playing competitive sports, winning medals or trophies or beating our personal bests. When my dearly beloved red convertible was stolen, pillaged for parts and ditched on a nearby road, I went to the police lot to retrieve what was left of value — all my sports gear in the trunk: a winch handle for sail racing, softball gear and my squash raquets.

In a country plagued by obesity, it’s hard to remember that for every 350-pound person unable to maneuver easily, or those for whom exercise and sports are anathema, there’s someone eagerly lacing up their sneakers or sliding into their canoe or kayak.

Writes Gina Kolata in The New York Times:

Our behavior, said the expert, Dr. Jon L. Schriner, an osteopath at the Michigan Center for Athletic Medicine, is “compulsive”: we let our egos get in the way, persisting beyond all reason.

But another expert recommended by the college, David B. Coppel, a clinical and sports psychologist at the University of Washington, has another perspective. There are several reasons some people find it hard to switch sports, he told me. Often, their friends do that sport, too; it is how these people identify themselves, part of their social life. And then there is another, more elusive factor.

“There is something about the experience — be it figure skating or running or cycling — that really produces a pleasurable experience,” Dr. Coppel said. “That connection is probably not only at a psychological level but probably also something physiological that potentially makes it harder for these people to transition to other sports.”

Jennifer Davis, a physical chemist who is my cycling, running and weight-lifting partner, adds another reason. Often we stubborn athletes — and Jen, an ultra runner who competes in races longer than marathons, includes herself in that group — have found that we do well, get trophies, win at least our age group in races. That makes it hard to stop.

I think about this a lot. I normally bike, walk, do a jazz dance class, swim, skate, ski, play softball (second base) and almost anything that doesn’t involve heights. I had to give up squash after blowing out both my knees and now, with severe osteoarthritis in one hip, am losing almost all my other sports. In so doing, I’m losing myself.

What people who hate to exercise don’t get are all the many pleasures it provides, from my pals on my softball team to my fistful of fencing medals. Being athletic and strong, flexible and quick, skilled and competent is a core piece of my identity and has been for my entire life.

I don’t have kids or pets or hobbies or any deep political or religious affiliations, some of the things to which many people tie their identity and self-worth. I do live for the pleasure of knowing my body remains strong and flexible.

Today’s doctor, the fifth specialist I’ve seen since March, told me, reassuringly, that after my (eventual) hip replacement, I can play tennis. I appreciated his sentiment — that I’ll regain some of my sports — but we choose our activities for all sorts of reasons.

I hate tennis!

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My Weekly Ritual — Softball Lite — In Today's New York Times

In sports on June 11, 2010 at 7:50 pm
BEIJING - AUGUST 12:  Lovieanne Jung #3 of the...

Image by Bongarts/Getty Images via @daylife

The joy of a new editor and a new section….here’s my story in today’s Times about my beloved co-ed weekly softball game. It’s been nine years and we’re still going strong, even as I now need someone to run the bases for me (my hip) and I’m still, on a good day, lead-off hitter:

It’s lite because, with an age range of 14 to over 70, we’re looking for fun, not more pressure to perform. People don’t yell or look at their BlackBerrys or answer their cellphones while on base. We’re skilled and competitive, but chill enough that we don’t obsess over the score.

Since a number of players are in their 50s and beyond, some of us have been known to limp to the diamond. My team has seen me through shoulder surgery and a foot stress fracture, so when I hobbled up recently and warned the gang that I’d need someone to run for me — I had a newly arthritic hip — everyone shrugged. “I showed up on crutches,” said Joan, a medical editor.

I can still hit to the outfield, so even unable to run, I was lead-off hitter, and Alan, a lean, swift lawyer running for me, scored a double. In Westchester County, N.Y., not known for its diversity, we’ve got a pretty good mix, with players driving or coming by train from Queens, Long Island and Harlem: five lawyers, a literary agent, a pastry chef, schoolteachers, a retired ironworker and his three adult sons, a psychiatrist, a scientist. Perhaps most fortunate, an orthopedic surgeon, one of our more competitive players.

One unspoken rule of Softball Lite is that men don’t help the women — who usually make up roughly a third of about 20 players each time — or tell them what to do. We know what to do, and after a few games, our teammates know and trust our skills as well. If we goof up, well, it’s not fatal and we’re quite aware that we goofed. I usually play second base, and I didn’t appreciate one new male player who marked a spot in the dust and told me where to stand.

Even the photo than ran with the Times piece was taken by a good friend, fellow freelancer Alan Zale.

As a Canadian, I didn’t grow up playing softball, so my skills came much later in life, which is half the joy of them. I so treasure this little island of camaraderie in a sea of competitiveness.

Do you have a beloved sports team you still hang out with?

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