It’s been a few days, yet the replays haven’t found their way out of my head. Again and again Shannon Stone makes his final catch, and though I’ve managed to avoid the bulk of the video, it hasn’t capped the projectors casting the story on the back of my eyelids.
I imagine the unimaginable … in my head time has leapt forward, aging my 19-month-old son to six years and his voice calls out to me from 20 feet above. I hear him, and my eyes well up, my heart cracks, my soul tries to bridge the space between us in any given moment and deliver one more hug, to hear him say one more “yeah” (a word my son now seems to use with a dozen meanings and inflections … it can mean anything from “sure, I want some food” to “good morning” to “do you want to go in the living room” … the complexities within the simplicity of a single word can be amazing).
Though I know nothing of the depth in this particular despair, I suppose this is my minds attempt to empathize to the greatest extent possible … whether I want it to or not, breaking my heart repeatedly and sending my thoughts to the Stone’s once more.
I’ve experienced death. Like so many others, I’ve tasted the cold reality of where all lives find their paths wind to, having said goodbye to my own father after cancer devoured him a mouthful at a time, breaking down the man I once knew before stealing him completely, but this came with the time to construct plans, to accept the course thrust upon our entire family.
In this progression, there was time for so many things. Some were good: as I moved in with my Dad and we became closer than ever before (in our own way). Some were bad: gradually seeing his body betray him. But, there was time … time to form calluses where needed, to toughen the skin where the coming hit would land … time to say goodbye.
It came as a thief, but one we could see approaching, not one who burst through a veil of calm. The horror of what the Stone family must now endure came without warning, without time. It came wrapped in a moment of shelter, in the safety of the sanctuary of a Rangers’ game.
The nature of this suddenness scrapes against a promise we all feel entitled to from day to day -- tomorrow is on the way -- and forces us to accept the fragility of life along with the occasional coldness of reality.
Metaphors are a common tool for describing athletics, often using hyperbole to elevate the “battles” we witness. We refer to “choking,” teams grabbing the opposition “around the throat,” “suffocating” defense or to one squad “killing” the other. This exaggeration has become an acceptable form of conveying sports to each other, and most people easily distinguish the difference between these or similar phrases in the context of sport versus reality.
Yet, even as we embrace such terms, there’s a tacit safety in being a part of the audience, an understanding and acknowledgment for the duality in how the words or phrases are to be taken. We’re allowed to live vicariously though the teams we love and to feel as one with their successes just as we suffer the hurt of their failures without being forced to view our own mortality.
When Shannon Stone fell, this wall between fandom and reality came crumbling down. We were reminded that life could follow us through the arena/stadium doors, and provided proof that stages we seek to cleanse of life’s crueler tenets cannot always escape their touch.
Even when the reasonable parameters of being a “good fan” are being adhered to, void of the irrational actions of drunkenness or in a straying from decency, tragic outcomes can still invade.
Mr. Stone wasn’t acting like a drunk, didn’t even approach crossing the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Josh Hamilton’s was acting with gracious and friendly intents. What should have been nothing more than a simple act of kindness ended horrifically, and there is no one to blame. It shouldn’t have happened.
Anger can be a healthy part of the healing process, but where do you place it when none seem worthy?
Life is unfair.
Organized sports go to the furthest of means to construct rules and guidelines to ensure fairness. Winners are meant to earn their victories, just as the losers are meant to have come across their failures admirably, justifiably.
There is nothing fair or just in what happened to the Stone family, or to whatever scars Josh Hamilton may hide.
We’ve seen athletes die or become paralyzed due to the risk they accept when taking part in physical contests where things always have a chance of going wrong. We’ve seen illness or bodily defect swipe their youth. Yet, we can always trace our way back to a reason why.
In this case, we can’t. I can’t. There’s no logic to define why this took place, why a child will grow up without his father, or why he’ll carry these memories forward. Knowing it boils down to nothing more than an accident doesn’t sooth the palate. It burns the chest, tears at the heart.
Inevitably, we’ll all move forward. We aren’t sentenced to endure the burdens now saddled to the Stone family, and our lives will continue on. This will become a moment we occasionally recall with sadness. Down the line, we’ll wonder how the family has coped and again send our thoughts and prayers in their direction before returning to our own lives.
As cold as this truth is, and as much as time seems to pause for those directly involved in life-altering events, the world doesn’t wait on any of us. The next second will come whether we’re ready for it or not.
Before I allow time to feed its undeniable will, while realizing that this could have easily been any of us on a nondescript day, in a random, previously insignificant moment; I’ll try to take a moment to gather the gifts still encircling me. Sometimes we can’t fix what’s been broken, but we can do our best to learn from it.
I’ll hold my wife and son a little closer and a second longer. Spend an extra minute with those who find my love rooted in them. Attempt to force a moment of awareness for any blessing I’ve allowed to be taken for granted.
Life has a strange way of falling to the background, of being buried in the monotony of the meaningless. So, I’ll do my best to peek behind the curtains of frustration, sadness, hurt, disappointment or any other emotions that seek to become obstacles on the way to what matters most and remember the good in life needn’t sit on the other side of those curtains.
Though this may be trivial in comparison to what one family lost, perhaps it can bring some small semblance of good to my own. Perhaps it can stand as one kernel of what doesn’t amount to a silver lining, but one molecule of silver stitched to the edge of an otherwise dark cloud.
I can’t fix it, can’t make it right, but I’ll try to learn what I can.
To help the Stone family, you can donate to the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation Memorial Account in Honor of Shannon Stone.
You can also donate to the Brownwood Fire Departmentor to the Brownwood Chamber of Commerce.