Dancing With A Slump

There are worse things than swinging and missing. We’ll get to that.

She was on the plane, pulling away from the gate, headed to Europe to give a talk. Six hours later she was looking for a hotel room, the flight having been cancelled. (“If they had cancelled immediately rather than waiting for six hours, I could have caught another flight and made it in time!”)

Twenty-two years earlier she learned that her college admission would have to be deferred a year because she could not get to orientation due to needed surgery. Five minutes of crying, and then she devised a plan for how to spend that long year.

Fifteen years before that she was standing at the corner of Pearl and Battery Streets when what is now a skateboard shop was dishing out “creamies” – soft ice cream. A warm summer afternoon, she had the cone in hand and anticipated the sweet and cool. Her first lick sent the mound of ice cream onto the hot summer sidewalk. There is no “five-second” rule in such circumstances. Joy immediately turned to deep disappointment which quickly became a three-year old’s total emotional meltdown. That one we could handle with a quick second purchase.

Some disappointments can be quickly assuaged. Some hit you with a sting that leaves a lasting impression.

Life itself is the admission ticket to “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. Baptisms and b’nai mitzvah, graduations and marriages and anniversaries and new jobs – all those “home runs” that are so exhilarating. Life also assures us a front row seat to the full range of disappointments – the job we didn’t get, the diagnosis we most feared, the marriage that doesn’t work – all those “swing-and-a-miss” moments, some of which literally bring us to our knees as disappointment pushes us toward despair.

The most difficult disappointments are the ones the people you love have to endure, the ones you have no control over, the ones you would gladly take upon yourself if it were possible so as to spare the child, spouse, parent, sibling, dearest friend the pain of it.

Who helps us, teaches us, practices with us, walks with to show us how to endure life’s disappointments? Is that somebody’s job? Our therapist, pastor, parents or some unsuspecting teacher? In a culture where  “everyone gets a trophy”, how do we learn how to cope with failure? Ultimately, that’s what disappointment is – failure. And for some reason, that’s become a bad word.

It was my third year of little league, and talk about pressure! Our team wasn’t doing so well; I wasn’t helping with a batting slump that rivaled Craig Counsell’s or Bill Bergen’s. My situation was a bit complicated by the fact that I am left handed to throw, eat, use scissors … but when I first grabbed a bat, I went to the plate as a “righty”. (Same with a golf club, and I probably missed the ball more swinging a golf club than I did swinging a bat.) As my slump began, one of my coaches (my Dad) suggested I move to the other side of the plate. So I started batting lefty. My slump continued, as did my team’s. I think we were 0 for 24 (exaggeration) and then, out of the blue, the head coach (Mr. Nadell) was pitching at little league practice one night and I was swinging the bat as if to kill flies. “Mark,” he said, “go back to the other side of the plate.” My teammates were sitting down in the field; when I was up for batting practice they really didn’t have anything to do.

So – after weeks of flailing as a lefty, which had been preceded by weeks of flailing as a righty, I was back on the right side of the plate. The ball came at me and I hit it hard – hard enough so as to injure the kid who was sitting down between first and second. The sound of the crack of the bat woke people up, but no one saw it coming – pitch after pitch, I was hitting them all – hard grounders, lofty flies out to center field. My Dad was grinning ear to ear; Mr. Nadell was cheering me on. And – no kidding – after I was done, one of my teammates looked at me and said: What happened to you? I think there was some suspicion of steroids.

I learned how to deal with disappointment surrounded by (not-always-supportive) friends, with a Dad (and a Mom) who believed in me, and a coach who had the intuitive wisdom to teach me an important aspect of “repentance” – Turn around! There are worse things in life than batting slumps – unless you are in fourth grade. There are certainly more painful things than swinging and missing. When disappointment is your dance partner, swing around and keep the beat. Let yourself believe that joy will find a way to cut in.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.