The following story is excerpted from Ben Petrick’s new book, “40,000 to One.” To find out more about the book, and to place an order, please visit www.BenPetrick.com.
Ben is founder of Faith In The Game. A former Major Leaguer with the Colorado Rockies and Detroit Tigers, Ben has Parkinson’s disease and recently underwent an aggressive surgery called Deep Brain Stimulation to alleviate his symptoms. A recent ESPN feature on Ben and his family can be found here, and a television news story on Ben’s amazing recovery can be found here. Ben chronicles his progress, along with stories of faith, family and baseball, in this blog.
In the film “The Tree of Life,” the mother says in narration, “There are two ways through life — the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.
“Nature,” she goes on to say, “only wants to please itself. Get others to please it, too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it.
“But grace doesn’t try to please itself. Grace accepts being slighted, forgotten. Accepts insults and injuries.”
It’s not adequate to say that my mother possesses grace. Grace is my mother. The two are interchangeable.
I’ll pause right here and say that I realize it’s not uncommon to write about your mother in awe-inspired terms, as if you’re seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. But if you met my mother, you’d know.
You’d know she’s a revelation, like seeing anything for the first time must be.
How graceful is my mother? My father wet himself on their first date, and she still married him.
My father was on football scholarship at Southern Oregon University, when into the cafeteria walked Marci Snyder, the shy daughter of a Methodist turkey farmer from Oregon City by way of Waverly, Neb.
“Gobble,” he and his friends called out as she walked past. “Gobble, gobble, gobble.”
I’m not sure how this technique wore down her defenses, but it did.
Their first date was to a dance. My dad arrived late with a big bandage around his knee, as he was injured in his game that day. At some point in the evening, the ice pack inside the bandage burst, soaking my dad’s pants and bringing the night to an early conclusion.
When they reached her dormitory, my dad asked my mom three questions:
“Do you smoke?”
“Do you drink?”
“Do you believe in God?”
With that, they were inseparable, and my father had the love he’d never experienced as a kid. My mom made him his first birthday cake. She brought him to church. She indulged his dream to become a coach, moving wherever and whenever. When they had children, she put her needs third, then fourth, then fifth without a hint of complaint — the personification of the Biblical saying, “Be joyful always. Give thanks in all circumstances.”
Piano lessons. Paper routes. Games upon games upon games. Still, she found time to be a leader in our church, to work with emotionally disturbed kids, and clip every coupon in a 10-mile radius.
Without exaggeration, the majority of my friends have never seen my mom sitting down unless she was in a car or a church.
Like anyone, she looked forward to the golden years of retirement and grandchildren. She talked with her sister about trips they’d take someday. She bought a bike, which she leaned up against the wall in the garage for future use.
Until then, every long trip would end up at a baseball diamond with a geometry identical to the last.
My mother had many tasks growing up on her family’s farm. One of them was helping take care of her grandfather, who had Parkinson’s disease and died from its complications.
So when my father’s secretary said she’d noticed his hand tremoring when he talked on the phone, she knew. When he was announcing a volleyball game and couldn’t hold the microphone still, she knew.
And when her son said he was having trouble with one hand not doing what it was supposed to, and his feet were getting stiff … somewhere inside, she knew.
Doctors say there is no biomarker for Parkinson’s — no known genetic link that suggests it is passed from one generation to the next. But if it’s possible to be haunted by this disease, she has been.
Her whole life she’s deserved to see the world; to be restless and explore. And yet she’s spent her life close to home, taking care of men who long only for stillness.
Still she smiles. Still she goes from family member to family member, giving out grace like a scuba diver offering oxygen from her tank.
They say the worst thing one can experience in life is losing a child. I would think that somewhere close to that would be watching your child watch himself slowly come undone, desperately grasping for normalcy while experiencing circumstances wildly out of his control.
But instead of looking away, she brought us closer.
Kellie and I had decided to follow my mom’s lead and rely on grace. We decided to have a baby. The plan was that Kellie would teach, while I would stay home and take care of the child. I’d willed myself through four big-league seasons with Parkinson’s; I could will myself to do this.
One day, my mother called.
“The house across the street from ours is for sale,” my mother said. “You should take a look.”
Soon after, we were moving back to “Petrick Lane,” across the street from my parents and two doors down from my brother. When we did, my mom surrendered any last semblance of independence she had left in favor of full-time grandmotherhood — all with a total absence of longing.
On those days where I wasn’t feeling too well — which became increasingly frequent as time passed — I’d bring our baby through my parents’ garage and into their kitchen. My mother would take it in her arms, give me a knowing smile, put her hand on my shoulder, and walk me out.
Out of the corner of my eye, I’d catch a glimpse of her bike.
But she never did.