The threat of rain had passed. The clouds lingered, leaving a perfect day for softball. Missy and her friends were all geared up, and nothing could stop the launch of another great season.
Not even a little thing like having enough players.
Some of you may remember the Monday night softball league from previous columns. The rosters feature disabled players, great enthusiasm, and absolutely no concern for strikes, balls, outs, or even runs. It’s an hour in the sunshine to hit, throw, and run (or walk, or wheel) to the cheers of friends and family as each lineup makes its way around the bases.
“There’s a lot of love on this field,” one parent told me at the season opener. I had to agree.
It’s a couple of steps beyond informal, and that’s its glory. Sun Tzu once called a formless strategy the pinnacle of military deployment. I’m not sure how many softball teams Sun Tzu coached, but the same idea applies here: things are so loose that anything can be adapted to.
So when one team showed up with practically every member who had ever worn the jersey, while another had a bare handful signed up and ready to play, the answer was obvious. No, not forfeit.
Minutes later, about a third of Missy’s teammates had crossed to the other dugout. The uniforms no longer meant a thing. The game had always been friends playing with friends, now it became even more so.
The different teams didn’t matter. The game was more important. And the game went on.
That’s an example to learn from.
It’s easy to get attached to teams. One way or another, we do it most of our lives, and not just in Bronco orange or Rockies purple. We stake out grounds based on politics. Creeds. Histories. Origins. We find a thousand ways to draw the line and define who we are – or, sometimes more vividly, to define who we’re not.
Now an identity is not in itself a bad thing. I’m not advocating that we all join the ranks of the formless, the gray, the uncommitted who just move through the background and leave without a ripple. Ideas CAN be important; concepts CAN be urgent enough to fight for or toxic enough to oppose with spirit and conviction.
But when the team becomes more important than the game, something is out of balance.
It happens when winning becomes more important than how you win. It happens when rules, or consideration, or even simple civility become less important than self-aggrandizement. It happens when conversation stops and the participants begin talking past each other – beyond not seeing each other as equals, all the way to literally not seeing each other.
It happens when “I” becomes paramount. When “we” becomes the people that agree with me. And when “they” ceases to exist in our awareness altogether.
Each of us could quote a dozen examples in just a week’s headlines. I won’t waste the space here. But we all know the atmosphere it creates, as deadly as any greenhouse gas.
The thing is, teams are temporary. The Federalists were once the hottest thing going. Now they’re a line in a Broadway musical. Parties, movements, loyalties of a hundred kinds are born of a moment in history. They change, they grow, they merge and split, they even disappear – and the players almost always find another team.
But the game has to go on.
Without the game, there’s no reason for a team at all.
I’m hoping that most of us believe that. If we do, if we act on it, the toxic clouds can lift again. We can have disagreement, even passionate argument, without the discord that drowns out any useful theme.
We can walk in the sunshine again. I think we will.
Maybe we can even play a little softball.