Mr. and Mrs. October (Genesis, 5777)

30/10/2016 at 15:58 3 comments

“Mr. and Mrs. October”

 

Parashat Bereshit

Neil F. Blumofe

29 October 2016

 

Each day, as I was growing up in suburban Chicago, when I would come home from school in the afternoon, it seemed that I would return home and the Chicago Cubs game would be on television – WGN, channel 9.  These were the days before there were lights in Wrigley Field, so each home game would start in the afternoon, just after 1:00.  I would tune in around the 6th inning or so, and invariably would hear Jack Brickhouse, Steve Stone, and of course, Harry Caray – call another Cubs defeat – trying their best to make it interesting, as the last pitches were thrown.  I knew the entire roster of these teams, and in between my own Little League games, I would be outside for hours, hitting tennis balls against the house, imagining I was each player in the Cubs starting lineup, and having a catch with my father, my brother, some of my neighborhood friends, or anyone else who would take the time to throw a baseball with me.

 

The bones of these afternoon and early evening rituals, lasted through high school – it was only when I was leaving for college – in August of 1988, that Wrigley Field installed lights and that the Cubs began playing night games at home.  At that point, I was through playing serious baseball – I could neither see well in the stadium lights nor hit a curve ball — plus — I had other activities to which I was devoted – and the Cubs were so bad, year after year.

 

As I went on to live in other cities – New Orleans, New York, and Austin – I picked up other teams that I could celebrate – I remember living in New York when the Yankees won the World Series, in 1996 – I had a newborn at the time and I remember thinking that this is what it feels like when a team becomes a champion.  Elijah and I rooted for the Yankees as they won in 1998, 1999 and 2000 – and my oldest son became a Yankees fan – the Cubs were honored, but were talked about essentially, in past tense.

 

So, this is a strange year.  To say the “Chicago Cubs” and “late October” in the same sentence is a bit surreal – as Jack Brickhouse has said, “any tem can have a bad century.” And, to be completely honest, and I know that this is a bit treacherous to say publicly, my interests are not locked in on sports.  I am glad for the Spurs when they win – I would be happy if the Rangers made it back to the World Series, I am happy for the Blackhawks fans – and of course, I would be delighted to celebrate another Longhorn winning season, someday soon.  However, it was with the Saints winning the Super Bowl in the 2009 season – a triumph after Hurricane Katrina, that I thought I reached an apotheosis in my sports rooting career.

 

And now that the Cubs are playing in the World Series this year, I not going to argue now who’s a more devoted fan – and who is a Johnny-come-lately in these final games of the season.  For me, this last series has more to do with honoring all of the past seasons – and particularly, honoring the memories of my parents, who having lived in Chicago their entire lives, watched or listened to a losing team each year of their lives – speaking in hushed tones about the demise of the Cubs and the rise of the Miracle Mets in 1969.  In connecting with this series, I have experienced a very powerful feeling of sharing these days with my parents (OBM).  As the recent Yizkor prayers of Yom Kippur and Shemini Atzeret ask us to do – it is in these games that I quite unexpectedly feel their presence, and I realize that for all of my adult years – since 1988 – I have made do with surrogates.

 

In the context of this week’s Torah portion – with this perspective I can more readily understand the difficulties that surface between the brothers, Cain and Abel.  They are living as second best – trying to adjust to life outside of the Garden of Eden – they were born in exile, and all they know are the stories that their parents have told them of the good old days – and without having witnessed Paradise first hand, knowing that they are not part of a championship life – they bicker and ultimately come to dastardly ends.  Defeats begets iniquity – and as Cain has his children, each farther removed from the stories of winning, the moniker of losing becomes more hotly imprinted in their psyche – perhaps even as we get to the later generations of Cain’s descendants – and see the tragedy of Lamech, who, our tradition teaches, was blind and accidently killed his ancestor Cain and his son Tubal-Cain, we may wonder as the study of genetics is currently teaching us, if trauma is actually encoded into our genetic material.

 

To postulate this in the context of the legacy of the Chicago Cubs, may be overreaching.  However, I cannot explain to you the rush of déjà vu when I think about this baseball season – and rooting for a team now in a place where it seems that they do not belong.  Our mystics talk about a concept in Judaism called tikkun – which is to repair something, beginning at the granular level – this is not just to apply a coat of paint to something and proclaim it better.  Rather, to fix something is to do the work to bring about systemic change – to reroute the thing you would like to fix, for the better.

 

And here, as I have struggled with my memories of my parents – living in a sea of what I feel are missed opportunities – for we never fully engaged as adults – when I left for college, I essentially left – the Cubs are giving me a direct access to a time before I left home – and the opportunity for tikkun, for it seems that I can more easily relate to my parents now in a language that we both understand.  For me, Aroldis Chapman is today’s Bruce Sutter.  At second base, Ben Zobrist holds a place for Ryne Sandberg – and the possibilities that have opened within me recently as I connect differently to my parents, are a tremendous blessing.  With the Cubs in the World Series, it is as if Adam and Eve took their family into the Garden of Eden for a day and said, “this is where we grew up.  By seeing this today, you may know us better, and consequently then, cause less harm while being better to each other.”

 

So, it’s not so much the pride I would have in the Cubs themselves, if the Cubs win the World Series this year.  Rather, in their victory there is the beginning of tikkun – for it’s the pride that I already have for thinking that my parents are part of the starting roster too, and I will be acutely wistful when that feeling ends.  So, I hope that we can keep flying the W this week and that the series goes to seven – and then inevitably, we will turn our attention to other things, as we see the election looming – and so many other issues and dilemmas with which we must grapple — yet this moment has inexplicably become magical for me and it is with pleasure and a bit of surprise that I honor the memories of my parents each night as each championship game begins, and I root for the Cubs as I once rooted for the Saints in 2009 – to deliver this moment so we can continue to repair the past and concentrate on the essential yet difficult things that we must, to make a more brilliant and enduring future.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Virginia Raymond  |  30/10/2016 at 17:07

    wonderful. thank you

    sending to Becca, whose interest in medicine was piqued by her work with homeless people and wanting to learn about trauma at a cellular level

    Anne sent me a sweet photo of her with her dad, mom in the background, and I am happy to see tgis evidence of physical healing, too

    take care, virginia

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Reply
  • 2. Maenaden  |  30/10/2016 at 23:58

    Immensely thoughtful and well-said, 0-particularly tilkkun as something beginning repair at the granular level. Didn’t grow up in Chicago, but spent 2006-2014 living in its suburbs, prior to Austin move. It’s a special time in many ways.

    Reply
  • 3. Maenaden  |  31/10/2016 at 00:10

    Excuse the typos. Late-night and spellcheck do not agree with me 🙂

    Reply

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