Right now, it’s playoff time in American major-league baseball, with its heady atmosphere and personal stories of its players seeping through newspaper ink, the airwaves, the ether, and even, at times, my mind with its limited awareness of this national pastime. However, one player’s story from a recent New York Times editorial leapt off the press for me.
Did you know that there is a terrific pitcher on the New York Mets team who was an English literature major in college and who used his literary skill to write a “well-received” recent memoir about “his own struggles with childhood sexual abuse and adult loneliness and shame”? Meet pitcher R.A. Dickey who is 37 (old for a pro baseball player) and just started with the Mets in 2010. Like the protagonist of Bernard Malamud’s book, The Natural, DIckey spent many years in the minor leagues before getting his big chance.
In my forthcoming book, Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance, there is a chapter called, “Defining Success on Your Own Terms,” in which I write about the quality of “soul” that is the essence of fulfilling work and lives:
....I am stirred by what Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, says, that work is “central to the soul’s opus.” I want to know more about work as “soulful.” When we say something has soul, like joyous music, we mean that it grabs our spirit and sings out to us. When something feels soulless, like certain work environments, on the other hand, we have a feeling of deadness or lack of energy in its presence.
Soul is a feeling of life and vibrancy that we can feel within from our experiences and relationships in the world. Soul is real and tangible, and it deeply affects our ability to feel satisfied with the lives that we create for ourselves.
Returning to R.A. Dickey, I find his story simply fascinating as regards the evolution of “soul” in the sudden arc of success in his work and life. As the NY Times editorial says, “before joining the Mets . . . he had played pro ball for 16 years. They were difficult ones . . . He was a middling pitcher . . . He got bumped around, sent down and passed over. He started getting old.” Did Dickey start to feel an urgency at his age and stage of life that his work begin to grab his spirit? Was he looking for a change of career-- or for a way to succeed as a baseball pro? Certainly, he was feeling the need for something that might call forth his spirit more than warming the bench in a baseball minor league.
I don’t know his whole story or what motivated him to start practicing the knuckleball-- “a spinless pitch as difficult to master as it is to hit.” Whatever it was, he came through this season as a winning pitcher with a unique pitch-- “the bright light” of a team in trouble. More than that, however, he also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year to help raise money to support women and girl victims of slave trafficking in India. Plus, he wrote his book.
Success with soul for Dickey was clearly more than making it to a major league in baseball, though that was certainly important and gave him a larger platform with which to share his voice. In his mid-thirties, he opened his heart from his own sufferings and took conscious, visible action on behalf of the sufferings of others. He found the “soul” in his “success”-- “a feeling of life and vibrancy that we can feel within from our experiences and relationships in the world.”
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