Last week I traveled to Philadelphia to attend the board meeting of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, to which I was elected last March. I’m honored to serve my association, and that service brings me back east twice a year.
While my schedule permits me only so much time to extend my trip either on the front end or the back, this time I was able to come in a day early to get settled and adjusted before the meeting started. (Unlike last time when I took the redeye, arriving just a few hours before I needed to focus on the work at hand.) And while I usually like redeyes, since I am able to sleep and don’t feel like I am losing any time, this trip I was on the plane during the daytime Sunday. I wasn’t prepared to sleep, I needed to keep myself occupied during the time.
But the bonus is that being a Sunday, I was able to pick up the Sunday New York Times and actually read it through. While I do subscribe, my duties at the congregation occupy my Sundays usually, so the Times remains a luxury spread out over the week, if I even get to it at all. But here I was in the plane dutifully getting through the paper.
When you read the paper on paper, as opposed to on line, you are able to peruse in a new way, and glance through articles you might not look at. Reading on line lends itself to more targetted reading, while the layout of the page allows for more casual.
All this to say that last Sunday, two sports stories caught my eye.
This is the week of the World Series, and as I write the match-up between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals is tied at 1-1 out of a seven-game series. With my first team the New York Yankees, and my adopted team of the Seattle Mariners, not in the running, I am at a lost to decide for whom to root, if at all.
One of the stories touched on the old St. Louis Browns, a former baseball team that still has a following. A regular convention brings together players and fans to reminisce and share stories about the team. Organizers, however, lament the fact that they gatherings may not continue much longer as former players are fewer and fewer and interest wanes. The power behind these gatherings, which I think extends to all of baseball, is the power of nostalgia. Our remembrance of the past informs our future, and it is hard to talk about a baseball team without talking about its history, its “glory days” (if the category applies). Players of the past are spoken of just as much as players of the present.
As we read in our Torah reading this week about the stories of Abraham and Sarah, our spiritual ancestors, we engage in the spiritual practice of reflecting on the past to inform our present and the future.
The other story was (primarily) about the Boston Red Sox, but truly something more. One of the memorable moments of the playoffs was in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series when the Red Sox were facing the Detroit Tigers to see who would make it to the World Series. David Ortiz launched a grand slam home run to turn the tide of the game, and in an attempt to catch the ball, outfielder Torii Hunter went over the wall. The photograph of the moment captures the excitement, as Hunter’s legs match the shape of a Boston police officer’s arms raised in celebration.
The story in the Times reflected on this play, but noted that the power of this moment is determined not so much by what it meant at the time, but what it meant in the larger scheme of things. Because the Red Sox went on to win the series, and thus go to the World Series, the home run meant something more than if the Red Sox had ultimately lost the playoffs. The author went on to cite other examples of memorable plays whose power is determined by how it fit into the larger story.
How true is this in our own lives, that individual episodes are granted their importance by what comes after. That in the moment they may seem big, but later episodes and experiences make those moments even bigger. Individual moments have power, but how they fit into the larger narrative adds to that power.
Baseball, like life, is not just about the power of nostalgia, but the power of narrative. That too, is what our Torah teaches these weeks when we read this important stories of our origins.
The narrative is impacted as well by episodes which may not even have to do with the immediate story line. The rise of the Boston Red Sox this year also comes soon after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, so the story is not just a team narrative, but a civic one as well.
So as we approach this series, I am torn. As a Yankees fan, I am conditioned to hate the Red Sox. Going to Yankee games as a kid I remember seeing T-shirts that read, “Bosux” or “I root for two teams: the Yankees and whoever is playing Boston” or ones which will go unprinted.
On the other hand, as a rabbi, I love a good narrative.