On Ebb and Flow

By  |  May 24, 2018
Photo by Niketh Vellanki on Unsplash Photo by Niketh Vellanki on Unsplash

The Glimmering Hush


 

In March, my husband and two children and I went to watch the Reds and the Nationals play in Cincinnati. It was Opening Week, the second game of the season, and a rare, sunny, warm(er) day—a welcome oasis among plenty of rainy, cool, blustery ones. I was reminded again how baseball games are surprisingly quiet. Sure, there’s the crowd noise and the vendors hawking beer and peanuts and hot dogs up and down the aisles, but the game itself is quiet. There are no sounds as the pitcher barely nods or shakes his head at the catcher—the battery, in silent concert. Strikes and balls are pretty quiet, save for the smack of leather and the umpire’s call. The thwack of a home run or a line drive is one of my favorite sounds ever. The crowd noise takes its cue from the action of the game. There are times to get loud; there are times to do nothing but hope and hold your breath and wait. There’s the gasp-almost-cheer of a long ball that goes foul and the deep thump of fireworks when the home team’s ball really does go out of the park. And when the game is almost over, when the visiting team’s batter is down to his last chance—two outs, full count, top of the ninth, payoff pitch—the crowd likes to stomp and clap to show support for their closer. There are sounds, plenty of them, but they mimic the ebb and flow of the ocean—waves of noise, followed by silence. And again.

I was surprised by the quiet when I started going to baseball games regularly! Used to watching them at home, I missed the commentary and constant updates on what was happening. All the baseball lore the commentators so gloriously recite—whether the batter’s grandfather served in the Pacific theater, which outfielder is from the mountains, whether or not the southpaw pitcher has or hasn’t stolen a base, etc. Storytelling and history are big, important elements of baseball, but at the park, I grew to appreciate the pauses unfilled with explanation. And what fascinates me about baseball, what makes it so beautiful is that absolutely nothing happens, until it does. It’s a puzzle; it’s stubbornly slow, methodical. There are times to play it safe and times to sacrifice. A baseball game has no time limit; it takes as long as it takes. Reminds me of that John Green quote that was so popular on Tumblr some years back: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” That’s how baseball is—slowly, and then all at once. And that’s how I fell in love with baseball, too. I grew up going to games sometimes, but baseball became one of the greatest loves of my life about ten years ago, once I realized how much it soothed me.

Baseball sounds are incredibly pleasing to me whether I’m watching a game at home, at the ballpark, or listening while I’m in the car. At the end of the games on the car radio, the commentators do a rundown of the numbers. The baseball numbers make me feel better about the world. In a way I cannot fully explain, listening to someone read the number of hits and strikeouts and relaying the temperature and crowd size is really soothing to me. I talk a lot about soothing because I’m a person who has to turn off my lamp when the bulb is too loud. Even the gentle buzzing hum of light can irritate me and my nerves and make it hard for me to think—especially when I’m tired, world-weary, and needing rest. We were on the road when I listened to the Nationals vs. Diamondbacks on a Sunday afternoon. It was fifty-four degrees in Washington, DC. The first pitch was at 1:36 PM, the game lasted two hours and forty-nine minutes, attendance was 30,285. There were two home runs. The Nats won 3-1. Thank you, baseball numbers.

 

I wasn’t able to make it to Virginia for their book festival because of inclement weather, which was a bummer, but on the bright side, I got an extra day off to rest. And resting is very important to me and my mental health when I’ve been so busy. I had five events in four days when I was in Atlanta. Atlanta was loud, Atlanta was busy, Atlanta was so welcoming and warm. It was a wonderful whirlwind and everything was new. I was meeting (almost) entirely new people every day and having events in spaces that were new to me. I am easily overwhelmed when everysinglething along the way is brand-new, when I don’t have anything to root me. But I can’t put into words the kindness I encountered and how much it helped. I was invited to read at both City Hall and MailChimp, and Atlanta made me feel so comfortable, so at home.

In April, I read in Lexington, was on a panel at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green and was also on a panel in Little Rock at the Arkansas Literary Festival. Little Rock was sweet and so pretty. I got to see the Oxford American offices and the flowers still not yet in bloom in Kentucky were putting on a spectacular show in Little Rock. Azaleas in every possible happy shade of pink seemed to greet us around every turn. We walked five miles and the weather was spring-perfect, the sky a forever blue. And I saw an eastern kingbird by the river—a bird I’d never seen before! I thought of Brinkley, Arkansas, and Sufjan Stevens’s song “The Lord God Bird. Those reverent lyrics, the holy quietness of it. In the delta sun, down in Arkansas. It’s the great god bird with its altar call.

We stopped in front of the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. We drove past the site of the Fort Pillow Massacre. In Memphis, my husband and I showed our children the Lorraine Motel. Storytelling and history are big, important elements of our family, of who we are. Within the span of one month, our children had stood on the front porch of the house that Martin Luther King Jr. was born in and also stood in the parking lot looking up at the balcony where his life was so cruelly snatched from him. Beginnings and endings. Life and death. Happiness and sorrow. Ebb and flow. That bright Arkansas blue sky stretched all the way to Tennessee. And like a pitcher and catcher—a watercolor-violet sunset spilled across the Kentucky horizon in silent concert with the low, pink moon.

We drive from city to city, across the flatness and up and down the hills. We listen to country music and Sam Cooke, Otis Redding. We listen to sermons that remind us who we are, who we worship. We listen to ballgames. Sometimes we don’t listen to anything at all—we turn the radio off and read to each other, or talk about anything and everything. The rest of May takes me to Tennessee and North Carolina to read from and sign Whiskey & Ribbons, with stops at the Greensboro Literary Festival and bookstores in Nashville, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. After that, I am taking June off. My family and I are going to an island for small, quiet time and rest. Something we’ve had planned for a while as a reward for my book, our work, an escape from the world, if even only for a bit. I am often drawn to the ocean to reset—to shut down and power up. Off and on. Quiet and loud. Rest and work. Ebb and flow.

  

The Glimmering Hush Playlist: May


“The Glimmering Hush” is a part of our weekly story series, The By and By

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Leesa Cross-Smith has been a finalist for both the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the Iowa Short Fiction Award. She is the author of Every Kiss a War and the novel Whiskey & Ribbons. She lives and writes in Kentucky.