Roger Craig was an avuncular figure in the sometimes rough-and-tumble, sometimes over-sentimentalized world of major league baseball. He was a better-than-his-record starting pitcher mid-20th century, enjoying a 12-year career and four World Series appearances before staying in the game first as a scout and coach and then through a successful decade-long run as a manager.
It was during his eight-season run (1985-92) managing the San Francisco Giants in that cosmopolitan city that the slightly drawling Durham, North Carolina native became known and celebrated for a down-home phrase to keep his players’ spirits up, especially when they were leaving the clubhouse after a tough loss, or worse, several losses in a row.
“Don’t let your daubers down,” he would tell them, employing that delightful, if somewhat mysterious-origin word “daubers” to here mean their spirits, confidence and passion for the game.
One needn’t kill or maim anyone to fit my definition of sin. Killing or maiming one’s own spirit, one’s own receptivity to love and beauty and generosity, is sin enough to condemn one’s life to a kind of hell right here and now…
I’ve been thinking recently of that word and the twinkle-eyed Craig, about to celebrate his 92nd birthday next month, in considering the state of our country. And more specifically, the emotional state of many millions of our fellow Americans, some of them dear friends and relatives, who may be in need of and find solace in that gentle command to be mindful of their daubers.
And yes, I include myself among that lot.
How about you?
“Please talk to Gordon, he needs some bucking up about, you know, EVERYTHING.”
The only half-jesting request came from the spouse of a generally upbeat man whom anyone who knew him would be surprised to think needed bucking up. And the “EVERYTHING” she referred to, which could be construed at any given time as vague to the point of meaningless, was, in this era, all too clear.
A relentless pandemic, utterly poisoned politics, an overheating planet, a country awash in militias, guns and drugs.
Demonstrated, ongoing increases in murder rates, hate crimes, highway deaths, overdoses, drinking, and disruptive behavior in schools, airplanes, restaurants, and oh yes—in the nation’s capital a year ago.
Little wonder our collective dauber seems to be down, the hardly exhaustive list of ills mentioned above easily the equivalent, if the nation were a sports team, to “several losses in a row.”
Sure, the pandemic is raging once again, setting new records for hospitalizations barely six months after we dared, prematurely, it turned out, to fete last Independence Day as “freedom from Covid.”
But it seems the physical toll of the virus has allowed an even more virulent psychological and spiritual virus to ride in on its coattails, making even the near miraculous development of life-saving vaccines into a political football of unimaginable vitriol. The evidence seems to grow daily that we are a nation adrift, its people either hating their lives or hating on each other. (Though the former does tend to beget the latter…)
To perhaps make matters worse, there is the proverbial chicken-and-egg question of whether this national distemper is not so much reflected as it is fomented by our media. Witness this quickie sampling of representative headlines culled from various sources the past few days:
“The Bad Guys Are Winning”
“The End of Trust”
“Why Is Everyone So Angry?”
“America Is Falling Apart At the Seams”
“The Worst of the Omicron Wave Could Still Be Coming”
“Baltimore Mom One of Growing Number of Ambushed Officers”
So is the true, perhaps more enduring and lethal virus we are suffering from one of emotional exhaustion, despair, and loss of the free-wheeling joie de vivre that has always seemed to undergird our country’s forward-looking, can-do spirit?
And if so, who’s developing the vaccine for that?
So, may I proffer, with all due humility, what may sound like hard truths, but nothing I haven’t told myself almost daily for about as long as I can remember? Thank you.
Let me start with this: In the time you have remaining in this life, you will not be saving the world. (Tough to swallow, I know…)
Really, fellow by the name of Jesus Christ tried that a couple of millennia ago, and even with his abundant gifts, a stirring endorsement from his purported father, and the bully pulpit his followers have managed to keep in front of him ever since, we look to be, if anything, in even worse shape than when he was pounding the table with esoteric ideas like loving our fellow humans and tending the poor and infirm rather than telling them to quit being lazy and get a job.
Far be it from us to achieve what he could not. So if we can’t save the world, we have a choice.
We can lapse into vindictiveness and solipsism—“You’re a crappy world anyway, not even worth saving, think I’ll throw myself into my stock portfolio instead.”
Or we can devote ourselves to saving whatever sliver of the world that we can control—or at least influence in a beneficial manner.
Ways to do that are as widely available as there are people with varying passions and inspirations in this world.
A sliver of example on that sliver of an idea: I have for years now been an inveterate walker and trash-picker-upper in my neighborhood and the parks I have been fortunate to live nearby. Two functional legs, an ability to bend, and a thumb and index finger is about all one needs to set about that task. (It also helps to learn where all the accessible trash cans are.)
No, I cannot clean up the whole world. But my own small slice of that world is demonstrably cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing for my efforts, and helps keep me healthy so I can keep doing it a while longer.
And surely you can see where else this might go:
• Small, regular acts of kindness for neighbors, friends and even strangers.
• Supporting whomever your heart desires for president, but meanwhile, making sure to vote and maybe even actively work for or donate to local city council races, school boards and the like, where your efforts can achieve much greater effect than they can on a national scale.
• Minding your own backyard, in all the literal and metaphorical ways that phrase can play out in your life.
Doing something, however small, is part of what gives life meaning and larger purpose—not obsessing over the latest rhetorical grenade lobbed into the body politic by intentionally provocative emotional terrorists, or magazines touting the end of damn near everything.
Because this much is true, too: We don’t know what happens beyond this life. Bully for me if I’m to be met by harp-playing angels and 24/7 access to Turner Classic Movies upon my demise. (Oh wait, I’ve got the latter already, don’t I? Lucky me!)
More likely in my estimation, I’ll just be dead, fulfilling the biblical observation of dust to dust, etc. And at my age, that dust cloud looms larger and closer with each passing week of the 3,775 weeks that represent an average human lifespan in the 21st century.
Am I concerned about the fate of my country and the earth it is a part of? Hell, yes.
Deeply, and I will remain so until the end of my days.
That said, how dare I even consider looking past or worrying away the resplendent, myriad joys life makes available to me most every day, so long as I keep my eyes and ears and heart open to its gifts?
One needn’t kill or maim anyone to fit my definition of sin. Killing or maiming one’s own spirit, one’s own receptivity to love and beauty and generosity, is sin enough to condemn one’s life to a kind of hell right here and now, no need to wait for death to confer eternal damnation upon our withered, shrunken selves.
This is the great crime of pessimism, cynicism and jadedness—a handing back of the only life we have been given and pronouncing it beneath our care. And I’m not referring to those facing the truly horrid, awful circumstances of suffering and tragedy that life too often sends people’s way.
But for most of us in the industrialized western world with decent roofs over our heads, food on the table and time to pursue leisure, art and other aesthetic pleasures—we’re going to despair because our country is divided, politicians are dolts, and we’re back to take-out instead of sit-down Thai food on Saturday nights before we flop down in front of our large screen TVs and scroll through the offerings on Netflix and Hulu?
No. No no no no no.
That “no” is the great “yes!”, the true good news, the deeper understanding that life can be a bitch, all of us are sooner or later dealt the ultimate bad hand of our incapacitation and extinction, but meanwhile, as the German romantic poet Rilke intoned in his “Sonnets to Orpheus,”
Fear not suffering, the heaviness,
give it back to the weight of the earth;
the mountains are heavy, heavy the oceans.
Even the trees you planted as children
long since grew too heavy, you could not sustain them.
Ah, but the breezes…ah, but the spaces…
Pure joy from what had seemed an impossible new South Africa…
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