Inside Looking out: Memories of the bigger picture
When you look back to bad experiences you had a long time ago, does the camera in your mind’s eye zoom in on an awful moment or can your memory see the bigger picture?
Living into my senior years has afforded me the opportunity to reflect upon some devastating and disappointing personal experiences I had when I was a teenager. Yet the passing of time has changed my view and now I can see the bigger picture through my memory’s wide-angle lens instead of zooming in on what I had once hoped I would forget forever.
When I was a sophomore in high school, a history teacher murdered my Spanish teacher on the Friday afternoon of the junior prom where she had been expected as a chaperon. She was my favorite teacher. Of course, I was devastated. We had known they were a couple and the news that night reported that she wanted to end the relationship, but he decided he couldn’t be without her so he decided to shoot six bullets into her body at a traffic light in Plainfield, a few miles away from our school. The prom ended before it had started, sending teachers and students home in tears.
On Monday, our principal made an announcement through the public address speaker. “What happened on Friday was a terrible tragedy and we all must find our own way to move on. Have a good day.”
I walked into my Spanish class. There stood our new teacher. “Open your books to the chapter where you had left off,” she said. And that was it. In those days, there was no crisis counseling so we just were left trying to figure out by ourselves how to deal with this horrific event.
Now when I think of Miss Piserchia, I don’t dwell on the tragedy of her death. Instead, I see her teaching me on that very same day she died, trying her best to help me understand Spanish. She cared so much about her students and she became an inspiration for me to become a teacher. She remains very much alive inside of me.
The other event was certainly not a tragedy in the same sense. During the following summer in the ’60s, my friend Eddie and I put together two teams to play a marathon softball game. We set out to break the New Jersey state record of 40 hours and 15 consecutive minutes that was stated in the Guinness Book of World Records. That meant we were starting our game at 8 p.m. on a Friday night and we needed to play through 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The rules required that the 18 players must play the entire game with no substitutions. When the word got out, we were the talk of the town. Eddie and I even did a radio interview about how we were going to break the record.
We began playing on a field with no lights, but several parents had parked their cars beyond the outfield with their headlights glowing across the field when night time had come. Just before we were to begin, we realized one of the players had not shown up. A kid about 12 years old rode by on his bike. We chased him down and we strong armed him into playing.
Right at the beginning of the game, we did everything wrong. Without realizing how difficult it would be to play until Sunday afternoon, we didn’t conserve energy and ran the bases like it was just a nine-inning game. Local eateries donated pizza and sandwiches so we gorged on food. We kept playing through the night. The morning sun blazed the field with 95 degrees. Exhausted and disillusioned by the brutal heat, we limped onto the field until our team’s pitcher walked off the mound at 11 a.m. “I quit!” he shouted. We had fallen a full day and a few hours short of breaking the record.
Disappointed beyond belief, Eddie and I were the last to leave the field. As we walked up onto the road, a man in a car stopped us. I read the words, “Cooperstown NY Baseball Hall of Fame” across his front door.
“Were you part of the marathon softball game?” the driver asked.
“Yeah, but it’s over. We didn’t make it,” I said. “But we were playing softball, not baseball.”
“We have a section in the Hall for records set in other sports and softball is one of them. In case you didn’t know, if you had set the New Jersey marathon record, you would have also set the national record, too.”
Now when I think of that day, I’m glad we at least tried to break the record. I still laugh when I think of my friend Chip sleeping on the ground inside the right field foul line which was allowed by rule because he was technically still in the game. I laugh again when I think about the 12-year-old kid on his bike who thought we were just playing a regular softball game. Because he had never gone home, his parents called the police and reported their missing child. Two police cars arrived at the field at 2 a.m. Once they saw he was with us, they wished us luck and drove away. That would never have happened today.
Seeing the bigger picture has me thinking how privileged I was to have Miss Piserchia as my teacher and how much fun I had playing in that softball game with my friends.
Time passing doesn’t heal all wounds, but it allows us the opportunity to zoom out our focus and redirect our perspective on what once were unforgettably bad memories.
And any time I look into the fading darkness of a night sky and see the peek of an emerging sunrise, I understand why.
Rich Strack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.