Today on Facebook, an old classmate from Sweden messaged me to say that next year, they’re planning a 40th reunion for the school I went to. He was going to send me an invitation soon.
I suppose one should be glad to be alive for the 40th reunion of anything. Some of my classmates didn’t make it this far. And the way the coronavirus has been rampaging both through Sweden and the USA, some of us still might not make it to the reunion next year.
Holy cow, it’s been almost 40 years since I, as a 15-year-old, decided to leave Sweden and move back to America.
What would my life be like right now if I hadn’t made that decision? Are we destined for the same fate, no matter where we are? Would the alternate Swedish version of me have a house, and a wife, and three kids? Would I be spending today chatting with old friends on Facebook about our school reunion, and then watching an A’s game streaming over the Internet?
I might not be in America at all if not for one particular day in PE class in that school, when our teacher decided to give a speech about our future. I might have just stayed where I was, letting one day after another roll by, if that PE teacher hadn’t, for some reason, chosen me to use as an example for his story. He pictured me living in a nice Swedish apartment, with a nice steady job, and a beautiful summer cottage, where I’d spend my glorious five weeks of summer vacation relaxing on a small boat on a lake.
I felt the weight of all those days to come. “A boat? A lake? Is that my aim in life? Is that my future? That’s not what I want! Give me instead the American dream! I want to fight, strive, battle, conquer, win!”
The American Dream is about playing in the seventh game of the World Series, about having the fate of everything in your hands, about being ready for that moment, and succeeding. But the reality is, most of the time in most of our lives, we’re the playing in the seventh game of the regular season, an ordinary road game in an ordinary season against an ordinary opponent.
Most of the time, our lives are a 5-3 loss in an empty stadium in Seattle. Maybe our pitcher is Sean Manaea, who might have some good moments at first, throwing his fastball 91-92mph, but then just sort of runs out of gas, and the fastball slows to 88-89mph, and he tries to trick people into believing he’s a hero, but the deception doesn’t work. And maybe we don’t give up. Maybe we keep grinding through the game, and maybe we make a comeback, of sorts, turning a 5-0 deficit to 5-3. But it’s not enough.
This is the beauty of baseball. It captures the American Dream better than any other American art form. It holds the carrot of triumph out in front of us, making sure it always remains a slight possibility, while actually subjecting us to an insanely long sequence of one small indignity after another, until the dream is eliminated.
So who made the better choice? The people who stayed behind, the people who chose the standard-issue minor accomplishment, the nice job and the nice home and the nice relaxing five week vacation with the boat on the lake? Or the person who rejected that life for the small chance of some bigger glory but usually came up short?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Seven games go by, 162 games go by, 40 years go by, and we both end up in the same place.
I told my friend who invited me to the reunion that I hoped I could make it, but that right now, we Americans aren’t allowed to travel to other countries.
Not because the US Government won’t let us go, but because nobody else will let us in. Because we suck.
Rumor has it that several members of the Miami Marlins, while playing an exhibition game in Atlanta, Georgia, went out at night, partied a bit, and visited some bars, Which the MLB rules of pandemic baseball didn’t exactly expressly prohibit doing, and the State of Georgia didn’t exactly expressly discourage. Which led to them contracting COVID-19. Which led to an outbreak on the team.
And rumor has it that some member of the St. Louis Cardinals traveling party visited a casino at some point. Which led to them contracting COVID-19. Which led to an outbreak on the team.
Did the player visiting the bar meet his dream girl? Did the person visiting the casino win a bunch of money? This is the untold story.
The told story: a bunch of baseball games have been cancelled. The cancellation of this entire baseball season is now a real possibility.
It is hard to believe that MLB would do that. It is easier to believe MLB will muddle through and try to make it work somehow.
The story of America is that Americans can, will, and do suffer a lot of indignities. We will suffer children being shot down by machine guns in our schools. We will suffer Black men being choked slowly to death by indifferent police officers. We will suffer 4,000,000 citizens getting sick of a preventable disease. We will suffer 200,000 American people dying of that disease, for no good reason.
But the one thing we will not suffer in America is the loss of our carrot, the loss of the possibility of triumph, the loss of the dream of success. If that disappears, the idea of America falls apart. If that disappears, America becomes Sweden. If that disappears, America goes mad.
The more impossible the American dream becomes, the stronger and more loudly we cling to it, even though our choices make no sense, like opening bars in a pandemic, and then going to them, like opening casinos in a pandemic, and then going to them, like opening schools in a pandemic, and sending our children and teachers into enclosed hallways and classrooms, like going all around the country, traveling in cars, and buses, and planes, and entering elevators, and hotels, and locker rooms, and ballparks, in order to play a game of baseball in order to keep the dream of victory alive whatever the cost.