August 19, 2017

Alone among the crowd.

The most recent baseball game I attended was with a group of coworkers, as a way to celebrate our new team at work and to spend time together outside of the office.

To call them coworkers is perhaps reductive: these are my friends, people with whom I share my thoughts and ideas and ups and downs. These are people who make me laugh every day, make me proud to do the work I do.

We all gathered on the Flight Deck” at the SkyDome, allowing us to move around, socialize, enjoy each others’ company more than we could have had we been confined to our seats.

Despite the amazing company, the allure of the hot dog stand nearby, the fun conversations happening around me, I found myself drawn to staring at the game, alone surrounded by people, focused on every pitch, every decision made on the field.

Such is my way, when I go to the ballpark: I always go with a group of friends, but undoubtedly end up spending most of the afternoon wholly engrossed in the action in front of me, focused on the game more than the people with whom I came.

Like it has for Stacey May Fowles, baseball has taught me many things, but mostly it has taught me that I am okay being alone while surrounded by people. It has taught me that, in everyday life as well as at the game, it’s okay to focus on the things that inspire me, that help me grow, that bring me joy—even while everything and everyone around me is moving at a frantic pace, I can slow down and be me and only me.

Among many others, this passage in Baseball Life Advice resonated deeply:

Now that every one of my workdays requires at least eight hours of being completely by myself, I’ve had to relearn that skill of solitude, to admittedly mixed results. Some days, I’m optimistic and think I’ve really come into my own voice as a result of that ever-present quiet. Other days, I worry that I’m descending into a kind of anxious, shut-in void that makes me reluctant to put on pants and go to a social event.

What the experience has taught me is how often we measure our skills and our talents—and understand our beliefs—relationally and competitively, and how in doing so we ignore who we are and what we really want. We habitually compare ourselves to others to a debilitating degree, believing our successes can only be captured by how much we’ve outpaced someone else. We deal in acceptable ideas. We disregard our own capabilities. We waste a lot of time and emotion on what everyone else is doing well or badly, when we should be investing in and celebrating ourselves. And sometimes we simply forget that we like our own company, or that we love things for our own, deeply personal, individualistic reasons.

In short, we forget ourselves, and how to be alone.

I am re-learning how to be alone. Working from home, going out for solitary meals, strolls in the park where I don’t take my headphones with me, trips to the ballgame where I am lost in the game rather than the people around me: these have all reminded me that I like my own company, that I love things for my own deeply personal, individualistic reasons.

There are an immense number of revelations in Baseball Life Advice, all coming from the experience of the beautiful game of baseball, but that’s not the only reason you should read the book. More importantly, Baseball Life Advice is an illustration of someone who really loves something, and a reminder that we, too, have things we really love and that we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace that passion.

Towards the end of the ballgame that I attended with my coworkers—a game filled with more excitement than I’ve come to expect in a trip to the ballpark—Steve Pearce came up to the plate with the bases loaded in extra innings. The sounds of the stadium were loud, but I couldn’t hear anything but my own heavy breathing, completely engrossed in every pitch, every swing on the field in front of me.

Pearce blasted a grand slam to left field, just barely staying fair, and I breathed a sigh of relief. It was then that I was no longer alone in the crowd, and that everything around me came back into focus. Everyone yelled and screamed and gave each other high fives in jubilant celebration, and I joined right in.

I was reminded that there are times to be alone, and then there are times to be together. Often, those times collide at just right moment.

→ Marginalia