Day 16: The Least are the Greatest / by Jeff Tacklind

Today’s softball game was my very favorite of all Mia’s games.  Her team was assisting a program that our league offers to children with disabilities and special needs.  Each player on her team was paired up with a partner who they would shadow and assist when needed.  They would lend an arm when running bases, back them up when fielding, and speak words of encouragement throughout the entire game.

It was so tender.  So many beaming smiles.  So much joy and enthusiasm. I was choked up for the entire hour.

Several of these sweet-heart girls, after rounding home plate, would walk past their cheering fans and ask everyone their name.  One in particular was named Miracle.  So perfect!  She absolutely was.

I couldn’t help but compare it to a typical game where I’m sitting under a cloud of pressure that I feel for my daughter.  Mia is getting so good, but I’m still nervous for her, especially as her position continues to move towards more and more critical roles.  There is no room for error.  Every ball hit towards her causes me emotional distress, for her, for me, for her team and the parents sitting next to me. 

Because, in these games, fun is secondary and inseparable from winning.  And winning means you outperformed the other team.  And, even better than just a win is when you made a significant contribution to the victory. Right? We all know this to be true.

Until you sit through a game like this morning’s and realize that maybe you don’t have this figured out.  I can still see one of the girls at bat, having swung at least 10 times, turning to her mom and blowing her a kiss.  Then, somehow, smacking the next ball past second base.

Some refused to be helped.  Others were more insistent.  One darling little girl shook her head and pointed to which ball she wanted placed on the tee.  When she swung, the ball landed maybe two inches from the plate.  She ran to first, then second, then third, and sure enough, she had turned that brilliant 2” hit into a home run.  We went crazy!  She strutted past us with pride, waving the whole way.

Now I realize, when it comes to games like this I’m a complete tourist.  I can easily sit in the stands and romanticize the suffering and struggle that these families go through every single day.  I see it in the eyes of the tired mom’s in the stands.  One little girl was so overwhelmed she just stood at the plate and cried.  Her mother came over and put an arm around her, spoke a couple silent words of encouragement, and then walked her daughter off the field and sat with her in the stands as her daughter rocked noticeably back and forth and shook for the remainder of the game.  I could see them both, arm in arm, tenderly suffering together.

But after that failed attempt, every batter that walked up to the plate first stopped to check in on their friend.  “It’s okay.”  “You’ll be alright.” “I love you so much.”

Leaving the game, I felt honored to have been included in such a tender scene and for my daughter to have partaken in such a powerful moment.  There is something about that level of patient suffering that feels sacred.  It is illuminating.  It exposes the fallacies of our privileged existence and shows us a depth of feeling that goes often overlooked in our fast paced world. 

Because it moves way too slow for us. 

The game lasted just one inning, but took an hour.  Each batter stood up there for pitch after pitch, swing after swing, until the least bit of contact.  The girls in the outfield stood still and watched for the majority of the game.  But what they saw, as they shifted their weight patiently from leg to leg, waiting for something to happen, was a glimpse of true tenderness.

We often ridicule a society where everyone gets a trophy, because then we underperform and always expect to be a winner.  And I guess that is true. But a world where only the strong survive, where winning is the goal, where we praise talent and beauty and shun the weak, is a much graver mistake.  And comes at a much deeper cost.

Jesus asked, “What good is it to gain the whole world and forfeit your soul?”

Today’s game was a sacred glimpse into the purity of what love can be.  It is enormously costly, and yet of the greatest worth.  I’m not surprised that the “least of these” holds the greatest weight in God’s economy.  This isn’t God’s mercy or generosity.  It is God’s brilliant wisdom on display for all those patient enough to stop and see.