The gravel under my shoe
The sound was distinct, and the meaning was clear. The last step I had taken was onto gravel, and that resonant sound made things light up. Rocks under foot when only one step away was the grass. My eyes were focused but my gaze was up not down. The steps were well practiced, and my senses were keen, attending to every differentiation that could be noticed. Now it was gravel. Not rocks like on a road, but small bits of stone that shifted slightly under foot. Then the next step, right and left were there, and then one more… and the wall was coming next. Focus, adjust, brace for the impact, adjust for the change in wind, reach, grasp. Nothing.
The track around the diamond is there for all to see, and some to touch. It is about the same distance in every field of play, but there are some closer than others. It is an awakening. An alert to the focused player that the wall is near. The edge of time when if only a small bit of difference in arc or wind or direction of flight or length of arm, that ball would not be a home run. Silence and then mayhem…. Hero or zero. Exuberant return throw or a quiet walk back to the starting position.
The warning track is for the one in the field. The one that is called to keep the ball from getting away. The one called to be focused, but aware of the dangers. The outfielder… attentive to every potential, but out of the play so often that school kids don’t value the position. I understand that, and as kids the activity is limited to only a few that can hit a ball that far, so there is not much to do. But in the “big league”, with money and reputations and next year on the line, it matters. And then there is the gravel.
There is a warning track for a great many other places in life, and to the uninformed, the novice or the distracted, the times that the ball will drop or we will hit the wall with a jolt is only a surprise to us. In Nascar the adage is to never look at the wall or it will draw you into it. Perhaps that is true in other places as well. There is only a warning when racing, “Stay away from the wall”. It is the same for other activity, often called “vices”… and they will squeeze you with their power.
For humans there is a term for some things that the warning track is of no help. You can see it coming, hear the shift in sound and crash hard anyway. One term for them is “besetting sin” which simply means that what others can walk away from, for you it is that which draws you in like the Nascar wall. You can make a few trips around the path and then suddenly the damage is real and the awareness of its history is just as real. The list is too long and varied to spend much time with, but there is one item that needs to be spoken of. The idea that since you don’t have that struggle then it should not be a struggle for others. This is a pernicious version of the same thing. Since it seldom gets you in the paper or jail you blithely wander around in the grassy field of the uninitiated. Perhaps you look at the butterflies, or perhaps you are catching all of the fly balls hit your way. Throwing them back with a clean and tidy “but of course” kind of cavalier whimsy. The indifference to the outward expressions of inner struggles is completely lost on you.
Interestingly, most of the time the behaviors take place in your midst and you are oblivious, or worse simply smug. Heedless that the warning track is attempting to alert you to the reality that a wall is near, you keep running fast. When things hit close to home, when the child of a dear friend gets overtaken, a spouse leaves and takes the checking account with them. The danger signs that you were blind to, the awareness that the power hitter had stepped in and changed the line-up. The hit that came your way and your backpedal was too fast and you fall, or worse it is over your reach and gone. There were signs. You didn’t see it coming. You, perhaps, didn’t pay attention. Sin. Actually, this is an archery term meaning that you missed the mark. Besetting, in that you cannot gain complete mastery. Pride of ignorance is usually held by only one in the group, as everyone else in that group has it figured out. Besetting, because to know is better, but to continue to struggle, isn’t. You may avoid many opportunities to fall, but you still fall.
I knew a man with a sex addiction, that he couldn’t use the urinal due to the temptation to look into the one next to him… I didn’t even know that was a thing. Ignorance and the wall arrived when he told me. I didn’t see it coming, now I can’t step onto the gravel without it spinning through my mind. The same for the gambler and the gossip. The workaholic and the vain “workout” a-holic. Since I don’t have “that one” it is easy to dismiss the issue, but perhaps that is my “issue”. It is no one I know that is homeless and disheveled. It is not my spouse that is dealing with a debilitating issue keeping them sequestered at home and isolated. It is not on my radar to be attentive to the human trafficking or the friend who lost a child to it, too afraid to talk about the pain. Besetting, because you get numb. Besetting because you are afraid to try to hope. The sound of gravel is real. So is ignoring it.
There is freedom in knowledge, but it comes with pain. The pain that you were not as aware as you had believed. The truth that you are now learning means that there might be more that you need to learn. More pain to come, is part of the pain. Knowledge is better, but growth to achieve it is hard. Gravel and reaching and leaping will perhaps put your ribs on the top rail of the wall, but it can also get the glove around the ball. Victory without sacrifice is still a win but getting to a new level of success requires the leap and the attempt and the possibility of failure. Do try. Step onto the gravel. Step again, leap, grasp. Hear the sound of your own knowledge racing through your mind. The knowledge that the gravel is your friend and not to be feared. The knowledge that your friend can tell you things you didn’t know, and it may hurt. That you will be stronger and better and more aware of that sound of gravel when you hear it next. Under your step. In the field of play. When the ball is hit your direction, and you step once again. When next you hear the sound of gravel under your shoe.
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