The Secret

While I’m boiling maple syrup my thoughts wander. It is sort of like having a good think while driving, except the consequences of failure are less, so the thoughts can be deeper. On this occasion I was thinking about my life, and about the many good parts of it. I wondered if there was a pattern that I could share with others, especially those early in their life’s journey, so they too might have a shot at such a good ride.

I was reminded of a memorial service I had recently attended. This being held in a Lutheran church, there was a meal after the service. Alice and I happened to sit across the table from an old colleague from the university, Randy Freisinger. Randy was a professor in the humanities department, and although he and I had only crossed paths a couple of times in the 22 years I worked at MTU, we’d developed a friendship. We hadn’t seen each other in probably 12 years, but the reunion conversation sparked into high gear very quickly.

Somehow the conversation turned to the volunteer work I do at the fire department in Tapiola. Randy asked me if that wasn’t the fire department that was right next to the Tapiola ball diamond, and I said yes it was. Randy explained that he’d played slow-pitch softball there many times over the years and had fond memories of the place. In fact, he said, he’d even written a poem about it. In the poem, he named it the Alston ball field, but only because the words worked better. Between you and me, he told me, the poem is about the Tapiola ball field.

It seemed that after that interaction, several more such interactions occurred. One a phone call from a long lost friend and colleague in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one a chance encounter at the hardware store, several others on facebook and email. I realized after these chance encounters that my life had been enriched because of the caliber of the people I had shared it with. And that is where the advice comes in.

At your young age, you may not be planning your life out, because you are so busy living it. You haven’t had many opportunities to see the effects of good decisions and bad, so you are concentrating on cruising along and having fun. Good for you! If I could get you to slow down a minute and consider one small change in your life, it would be this:

Associate yourself with exceptional people. It is your peers that will do more to point you in a positive direction than any other force. Start with your life mate. I was lucky in that regard, but there is only one of her, and she is already taken. Make a supreme effort to find a partner that will lift you up. Do whatever it takes to win the hand of that person. It is an investment that will pay you the best return of your lifetime.

Once that is done, educate yourself, and expose yourself to educated people. Be friends with folks that seem to “understand.” Folks that know how to think and are willing to lend a helping hand. And you be willing to lend them a helping hand. Forge partnerships with people that impress you. Always being on your guard, however. There is no pain in life like the pain of betrayal. You can find yourself reaching out and becoming vulnerable to another, only to have your faith in them betrayed. Learn from these encounters and grow stronger and more capable, rather than bitter.

Notice how open-ended all this advice is. What does he mean by “educated?” “understand?” “impress?” Good questions, and ones only you can answer. Educated to one person can mean something totally different to another.

The concept is to look at a person in terms of the life they are living and have lived, and decide if you’d like to be wearing similar shoes. If so, cultivate a friendship with that person if possible. And remember that a lot of ground can be covered in good literature. Read and understand, and test your understanding in the real world. Concentrate on actions, not words. The world is full of good talkers. “Talk is cheap” is one of my Dad’s favorite sayings.

Oh yes, the poem. It has been published twice, initially in The Laurel Review and then as part of a chapbook entitled Hand Shadows (GreenTower Press, 1988). The author is my friend Randall R. Freisinger, and his poem is reprinted here with his permission.

Slow-Pitch Tournament, Alston, Michigan
–June 15, 1986

It’s Sunday, mid-June. Somewhere south of White Pine
Borges, Benny Goodman, and Alan Jay Lerner are dying.
Here in Alston even death and metaphysics have turned
more palatable with bratwurst, beer, and near-perfect
weather. A bracket tacked up by concessions
lists thirty teams in double elimination.
Just two–a scrub crew of local oldtimers and
some college kids from a nearby town–
remain for the championship game. Losers gather
to stare at the bracket’s absolute right
tracking logic, yet even loss is half
illusion here when there’s always the next
weekend in L’Anse or Ontonagon.

Out along both foul lines behind snow
fences players and girlfriends or wives
drink Millers and Strohs, complaining,
regretting their losses, but they know
there were plenty of reasons to lose,
and now unstrung muscles and sore arms
don’t much matter, for somehow this milieu–
closed and precisely composed of forgiveness
and second chances–is what they’ve always needed
in a universe. The older players are young
enough still to win and remember.
There’s a jigger of sun after winter
and hundreds of hearts chafing for base
hits or running one-hand catches.
Even two kids whisked away last night
by ambulance after being hit on their motorcycle
by a drunk driver are back stitched
and on crutches, clear proof if any were needed
this brief conjunction of space
and time has dispensed with rules.

Everyone says the leftfielder, who’s five
for five, hides a bag under his loose uniform–
they don’t know, cancer, maybe. They say
he’s a hell of a guy, only twenty-nine,

(No Stanza Break))

a real fighter they say. In the last
of the ninth he slides on his side deep
down the line at the back of the warning
track to end the game. A thin membrane
of silence snaps when he rises, intact,
and no one thinks to stop clapping.

It’s the infinite, fugitive moment
for the young winners, composed they say
mostly of Apostolics, non-drinkers,
but even that is believable here
in the dénouements of final beers and
mosquitoes. A ground crew retrieves bases.
Old, bruised heroes sprawl on car hoods,
drinking, rehearsing plays that did them in,
the ones that by winter will slide
toward myth. They are far from bitter
at the end of this familiar script
which soon takes them home to make love
to their women who all day have grown
steadily, suddenly more beautiful.

2 Responses to “The Secret”

  1. Shalini says:

    This is definitely one of my favorite installments in your series!!

    • Ted Soldan says:

      I am happy to hear from one of the exceptional people I was referring to in the piece. You light up the lives of so many people Shalini. It is a privilege to be your friend.

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