Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Baseball as I grieve

Saturday, my father comes to pick me up from the Bronx and take me to New Jersey, where the funeral will be on Sunday. I don't have a car here and traveling by car is easier with bags than the train.

In the car I ask if he cares if I put baseball on, he says he doesn't mind. We listen in the car as Chien Ming Wang pitches a 1-2-3 inning and Mark Teixeira hits a two run jack.

I keep thinking: I should be there. I bought tickets for this game way back when in February. It's a balmy, 70 degree day. I should be at this game, even if Wang decides to stink up the joint.

We stop at the supermarket so I can buy some food for the days I'll be home. I don't buy too much--some bread, some sushi (which is actually quite good), some crackers, some candy and some shrimp. People bring food for the dead so I'm not very concerned.

The lady on the register line in front of us moves as slow as can be. I'm impatient, and I know I shouldn't be, but I am. I want to get back to the baseball game. It's something normal, something regular.

Somehow, after she counts out nearly $250 in twenties, I can pay for my goods, and we get back to the car.

Dad turns the key in the ignition, and I hear "fourteen to two..." on the radio. Well, I think that's what I heard, so I call Brent, to whom I've given today's tickets. I couldn't sell the tickets, so I gave them to one of my closest friends-and certainly the closest in the NY area. He was the one that came over Wednesday night, that stayed with me while I was still in shock.

I ask him if the score is really 14-2. He tells me that it is, and that he is on line, getting beer.

When I get home, though, everything changes.

I could sneak up to my room or the game room, and watch the Yankees get demolished on TV. I could do that. I could torture myself with the FOX broadcast (yeah, yeah, I know). I could do that.

But I don't.

I take the copy of the bible--the Tanakh, or the Old Testament, or the Jewish bible--and I sit outside, waiting for my brother and his wife, and my grandmother and uncle. I'm not a religious person by any means, but the irony--that somehow I am supposed to reaffirm my faith when it is being the most tested--is something I can't pass up.

So I sit and I wait in the dying evening sunlight, when the last rays of warmth are more cold than soothing, and I wait, keeping baseball from my mind.

There's no baseball on my mind on Sunday, either.

Sunday is filled with a gorgeous funeral service--or, a service as gorgeous as such things may be. I see relatives I have not seen in years; we catch up even though I can't always remember to whom I am speaking.

I have never seen my grandmother dressed in black, and it's discomforting. It's her 86th birthday and she's come to say good bye to her eldest daughter.

My cousins are doing the best they can. Throughout the service I look across the aisle and I can see them struggling.

It's a closed casket but even then there's a finality about it that can't be avoided.

My brothers are pall-bearers, they wheel the casket out of the chapel (you try carrying a Jewish casket, made of solid wood...) as the rabbi and the gathered recite "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

I am not much comforted.

At the cemetery we take turns shoveling earth onto the casket while reciting the mourner's kaddish; this is Jewish tradition. My cousins go, and then my uncle and then my mother, and then it is my turn. The shovel is heavy and I am not very strong, but I manage.

I hug my cousin when I am done. She cries, I cry. I don't know if I'm crying because I lost my aunt or because my cousin lost her mother. I am crying again now. That casket shouldn't be in the earth; that body shouldn't be in a casket.

We return home afterwards. The forecast rain has held off, and the gorgeous spring weather taunts us: come outside, have a catch, enjoy life.

We don't.

There's plenty of food--people bring food for the dead. There's bagels and lox and cream cheese and whitefish salad and tuna salad and fruits and fruit baskets and veggie dips and all sorts of alcohol, though I don't touch any of that.

I know nothing about the baseball game going on until my brother finds me and tells me that Posada's hit a pinch-hit two-run home run.

I end up watching the end of the game. I know I shouldn't. I know it's not right. I know Mariano Rivera doesn't need me to watch him to do his job.

Still, I watch. Maybe it's something about spending time with my brother, because for me the idea of ever losing a sibling--as my mother has lost her's--would utterly destroy me. Maybe it's about trying to forget about what today means. I'm not sure. Still, I watch, and the Yankees win. They're above .500 again.

Monday, I wake up and it is raining. It's not the tropical or summer storm type of rain, where it rains for twenty minutes and then finishes, but instead the cold, drab rain of November and early April.

There is no doubt that the game will be called and called early.

I don't think about it much.

A cousin drives out all the way from Long Island and stays all afternoon and all evening; others, friends and relatives, show up throughout the day and through this community we are made to feel better again. I am surrounded by Mets fans--both sides of my family have Brooklyn roots if you go back far enough--but we do not talk much about baseball.

Sometimes something else is simply more important.

Today it's quieter. There are not as many people that come visit and in some ways it's better; in other ways it's worse.

We all have a chance to think, and it presses on us.

I make comments, probably inappropriate, that all will be okay as long as it doesn't rain and thus there will be baseball.

It doesn't rain, and while we're all sitting at the table eating take-out Chinese (can you tell we're Jewish?), I have the game on in the background. It's on mute, but I keep turning to watch the screen and eventually the topic of conversation turns to sports and how it used to be affordable to go to games, to keep season tickets in families, to tailgate before games...

We are three generations, grandparents, parents and children (well, one is a parent-to-be--but don't worry, it's not me), and we hold a conversation on sports and I know my aunt would not have cared. She was a fan up there with the best of them.

I looked for comfort in baseball this weekend and it never felt quite right, but still, they played on, and that is what matters.

The world won't suspend time just because you want it to. Sometimes you get a rain out, sometimes the weather teases you.

Still, they play on.


I would like to express a personal note of thanks to everyone who has expressed their condolences. It has been very much appreciated.