A Light on the Field

I went into my windmill motion, snapped my wrist and released the softball.

"Ball!" the umpire called.

This would be a much cooler start to my story if it had been a strike, but the honest to God's truth is that it was a ball. One more and I would have walked two batters.  Then, BAM, I was nailed square in the nose. Not by a line drive up the middle, but by a throw back from the umpire. Embarrassingly, me.

The umpire threw the ball back to me without making sure I was paying attention first. That's my version of the story at least. Needless to say, my nose bled like a faucet for nearly ten minutes. Before that night I was a fourth grader who dreamed of pitching in high school. After that night, I was a fourth grader who wanted to play a different position.

Fast forward to high school when I made the Junior Varsity softball team at Immaculate Heart Academy.  Call it luck, good karma, or the workings of a few sympathetic angels, anyway you slice it; I made the cut. IHA has one of the best all-girls' athletic programs in the Northeast so just being on a team is an honor. I wasn't great. I wasn't awful. I was good enough. Good enough to battle for second base the entire season. Bottom line, I had the speed and defense to do my part on the field and my teammate had the power and swing to get a few runners around the bases.  We were two halves that made a whole.

 So when I started at an away game because of my fielding skills, it was expected that I of course catch the pop up that was hit directly over my head at second base. I mean I was on the Junior Varsity after all, this was a routine play. After a near collision by two of our outfielders during the previous game, our coach made us all run laps until we understood the meaning of the phrase, "I got it." She wanted to hear us yell it and she wanted to hear us yell it LOUD. 

Apparently I was more focused on the "I got it" and getting the ball back to the pitcher so I could announce the second out then I was on catching it. Because......oh no, I didn't have it. Correction I did for a fleeting second, but instead of putting my right hand over the ball when it was in the mitt to secure it, I allowed it to pop out. 101 softball, folks.

My sister Christy would never have allowed a softball to bounce out of her glove like that. She also would have never been in a dual for a position in the first place and certainly not one on the Junior Varsity.  For shame. As a Freshman, she was placed on the Varsity as the starting short stop. Talk about living up to expectations. Growing up everyone thought I was going to be as good as Christy at everything sports-related.  As if short stop wasn't enough, she was also starting forward on the Varsity basketball team and was often approached by the track and soccer coaches to give those sports a try as well. I mean the girl didn't know how to be bad. I would seriously be nauseated if I didn't love her so much.

So when I attended basketball camp in seventh grade at IHA before I even attended school there it should have been no surprise that one of the head coaches asked me to show the other girls how to do a proper lay-up. To be fair, I could have meekly digressed and told him to carry on with his instruction, but what fun would that have been? Why not give it a go. I had seen it done a million times.  It was just two steps, which I counted OUT LOUD and a hop off the standing leg while bouncing the basketball off the backboard into the hoop. Cake.

True to my dance roots I threw my leg up like any ballerina would— toes pointed,  shoulders back,  and head up.  I even managed a little graceful hand arch.  Needless to say, the ball ricocheted off the rim and headed straight for me. I leapt to the side, barely escaping the orange blur. Finally finding my footing, I looked over towards the coach. He had the look of someone who had just been told that his long-term girlfriend was really a man.

I never redeemed myself on the basketball court, but I held my own the rest of that sophomore softball season after the pop up incident. I carried on with the next game with my face in the dirt and my mitt on first base. I had caught a line drive and dove back to first base to double-off the runner. I can still remember looking over at my parents who were cheering in the stands. I remember thinking, "How the hell did I just do that?" I overcompensated the rest of that season, which cost me a near concussion and two jammed fingers, but I would be damned if I made another error in the field. 

It was right on par with what my parents always taught my sisters and I growing up. The ol' at first if you don't succeed, try harder next time was always in my inner ear. There was this insatiable spirit that kept my sisters and I always wanting more for ourselves and for the people we loved around us.

Despite what we've been through, Christy and I will continue to get up after our collision at home plate because that's what we were taught to do. We'll go home, ice our wounds and happily watch the bruises turn a plenty of colors knowing that we earned those scars and that we are better for having them. Because in those scars are memories that we are better for remembering and visions of our youth that many people would dream to have had.

We count ourselves lucky for having known two beautiful women that peppered our lives with love and happiness and continue to do so still to this day. My sister and I are thankful for this and for each other. We've laughed despite the pain and moved on despite the mountain ahead. Christy taught me that with every sports-related award she was presented and every humble smile she exuded that what was most important were the people she surrounded herself with. She raved about her teammates and idolized my parents, teaching me to do the same. Also foremost is her knowledge of the undying spirit to continue on.

It reminds me of one of the times Christy and I ran together a few years ago. She had cautioned me to slow down my pace so I would make it through the run, but I wouldn't be the tenaciously over-eager younger sister had I actually heeded her warning. So as we turned the corner onto Midland Avenue, I whipped out my iPod for a good finish line song to get me through the last mile when I fell off the curb. I didn't just fall; I splattered. My hair band, iPod and shoe spilled out from under me on the concrete.

I imagine that I fell just as hard as the Giant in the children's story, "Jack and the Beanstalk" would have; like a buffoon. Instead of crying, I laughed because in super awkward situations I get giddy. I'm not saying I didn't start crying when I hobbled the half-mile back home, but in those first moments you may as well have been following my sister and I with a fart machine. We are good for each other in that way. Finding humor comes naturally. Thank you for that, Mom!

What also comes naturally to me is being the baby sister so sometimes I wait for help rather than grab the bull by the horns so to speak. So it probably took me a good five minutes for Christy to convince me that my ego was hurt more than my ankle and that I could walk home without being slung over her shoulder. Christy doesn't get enough credit for being the amazingly talented and encouraging spirit that she is and because of this, she is a true light in difficult situations.

The light that my parents ignited in us is something I carry with me every single day. I can't stop and won't stop believing and knowing that with every step I take, I can change my life. My sister and I have learned that reinventing our lives and highlighting the beauty of what we have is essential. It's not what we lost that will define us, but how we choose to live now that will.

Madison watching the fireworks on July 11 with her cousins.
Always remember, Maddie, light will shine where you allow it to. Open up your blinds and let it in. You were late seeing fireworks this year because you were under the weather, but a week later you made it there.  The color was waiting for you on the other side. There is always light around you. Sometimes you just have to look up to the sky to see it....


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