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Chicago and Baseball: Compassionate Community

I was excited that the Cubs won the World Series. I saw them as a kid when I went to visit my grandparents in Chicago. Baseball shows up in the diaries of my mom, Joan, in the 1930s and 1940s. It sparks a moment of communion with a young man whose leg has been amputated.

Saturday, May 31, 1941

. . . Went to Billings this morning [to volunteer] and, as they had measles, they sent me downstairs to read Captain Horatio Hornblower to a boy. Turned out to be Joe. . . 19-year-old freshman from Purdue. Leg amputated just last week. Hurt it playing basketball. Nice-looking boy with good lean features, bright blue eyes and dark hair. I didn’t read at all, we just talked—about college and everything. . . .

Wrigley Field in 1935

Wrigley Field in 1935

And all the sudden leaning there on the bed—he was telling me how he felt at first and I thought my god, he’s got one leg cut off—oh poor boy—how terrible! — but I couldn’t let him see I was thinking it. . . .

Somehow then the scene from All Quiet on the Western Front came back to my mind—where the two soldiers visit their friend whose legs have just been cut off and they realize how helpless they are—and I had that same feeling. So I smiled foolishly and we went on talking about college and baseball. . . . And I think perhaps he was fooling me, too, talking about such trivial things—when there was a consciousness of something else there . . . A nice-looking boy I might play bridge with in the Coffee Shop or meet on a double date. People, all round the world.

But he said, “I’m not going to let this thing get me down.” I felt so moved in front of so much reality. After a while, my friend, Emily, came for me and we laughed that we hadn’t been reading at all. Well, Joe Harmon, good luck to you. . . .

Time goes on . . . as I rode home I thought of that phrase of Francis Bacon’s in his utopia[1]—used of the Governor, “He had a look as if he pitied men,” and I think that it the most beautiful trait of all—“a look as if he pitied men.”

Trivial things–like baseball. But baseball allows us to build community and pierce through the walls we build up to protect ourselves. On the field, in the stands, or in our homes, we find mutual joy–together.


[1] Francis Bacon, who died in 1626, wrote of a utopia in New Atlantis.

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