As the ball hit the infield, Missy came down the base path. One hand clung to her coach as he helped her toward home plate. The other waved as her eyes sought us out in the stands.
“All right, Miss!” Heather and I shouted.
Missy smiled. Brilliantly. Blindingly. Joyfully.
I’ve never enjoyed a softball game more.
Yes, our Miss Melissa has a second life as a softball star. For years, she’s spent her summers on the Niwot Nightmares, a team of disabled players united by sun-yellow shirts and an unremitting love of the game.
Granted, this isn’t softball as it’s played at the company picnic. There’s no foul territory, no outs, no limit on the number of strikes you can take before a swing (alone or assisted). There’s not even a scoreboard.
It doesn’t matter. Not a bit.
Don’t me get wrong. I’ve got nothing against games that have winners or losers. To my mind, one of the most harmful trends to ever hit a public school was the “everybody gets a blue ribbon” fixation, where achievement becomes meaningless and character-building is turned into esteem-buffing.
But there’s a place for joy, too. There’s a place for fun, and for laughter, and for remembering that we play games because they make us feel good. And in a life where even walking – or rolling – to first base can be an achievement, that lightness of spirit is all the more important.
Especially since it doesn’t stop with the players.
If you see a Nightmares game, watch the faces in the crowd. Watch the eyes sparkle and the lips smile. The enjoyment is contagious, the most elemental of all: watching someone you love do something they love, and feeling that love enter you.
In my short time of knowing Missy, I’ve felt that love a number of times.
While watching her link hands with my wife Heather and swing them in time to music, dancing as only she can.
While seeing her reach out ever so gently for the hand of my infant niece, and then be touched in return.
And yes, while watching her swing a bat with her coach’s help and then smile at cute boys from her post at second base.
At those moments, life is good.
At those moments, we are truly a family.
They’re not stopping any time soon. Oh, the game’s in the books and the post-game celebratory dinner with it. But Missy and Heather tell me she’s got another big day coming soon – a bowling trip.
I can hardly wait.