Take a BowBlog, Books, Essays — By Ethan Bryan on September 20, 2012 at 4:39 am
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Ethan Bryan’s new book, Run Home and Take a Bow.
I remember helping Grant the Programmer paint a bedroom while listening to Royals on Radio and peeking in at the broadcast on TV during breaks—Mike Sweeney had a great game that night. Grant the Programmer and his wife, Casey the Violinist, were expecting their firstborn and, thanks to a planned C-section, knew to the minute when he would arrive. Grant and I are spades partners and quite good ones when Grant pays attention to what I play. When the girls were younger, Friday nights were reserved for dinner and spades. Grant and Casey played with the girls—reading books, playing games, crafting crafts—and helped us with the adventure of getting them into bed. When we learned that Casey was pregnant, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Grant would be a great dad. Thanks to technology, we learned that they would be having a boy. He would be named Colten.
In February of 2007, Colten was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Blue Springs, and immediately the doctors knew something was wrong. He was transferred by ambulance to Children’s Mercy Hospital in downtown Kansas City, where he was hooked up to numerous monitors and tubes. He didn’t cry. He didn’t nurse. He was limp as a rag doll. The hoped-for post-partum celebration turned into a day-by-day time of prayer, waiting for the specialists to announce what was “wrong.”
At some point in this period of waiting, I wrote a lullaby for Colten. I asked Casey, who has played in the worship band with me for years, if I could bring my guitar to the hospital and play my song for Colten. She escorted me back to the NICU and gently untangled Colten from a mess of cords. As I started singing, a couple of nurses gathered nearby. It was probably one of my most important concerts, for an audience of “only” four—not counting the angels in that sacred place.
In due course of time, Colten was diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS). An extremely rare syndrome occurring in one out of every 20,000 births, PWS is a genetic-deletion syndrome affecting the 15th chromosome. It is characterized by low muscle tone, a reduced metabolism, and, as those affected get older, a voracious appetite. In simple terms, our bodies tell our brains when we are full, although, as a culture, we tend to ignore that signal. Colten’s body simply doesn’t produce that signal. If presented with the opportunity, he would eat until his stomach ruptured. To date, there is no cure for PWS.
For the first couple years of his life, Jamie was Colten’s babysitter. She tried to teach me about counting calories and portion sizes and which foods we simply could not eat in Colten’s presence. My family now understands firsthand the struggles with meals and snacks, not to mention our country’s obsession with unhealthy eating tendencies. But we live in an era of hope, where every day holds the possibility of discovering a cure.
On Labor Day, my family joined Colten’s extended family and other friends for a party involving wonderful food and a tour of Colten’s grandpa’s garden and the construction work in his basement. Something resembling a softball game, with baseballs and unlimited strikes but without base running or score keeping, broke out. After an hour’s worth of chasing down fly balls and praying that the grounders wouldn’t bust out a tooth, I took a break. Colten was standing on the driveway with a glove in-hand and wanted to know if I would play catch with him. It took a couple minutes to place the too-large piece of leather on his left hand, then on his right hand, then back to his left hand and finally, back on his right hand. Standing three feet away, I stretched out my arm and dropped the ball into his mitt. Colten grabbed it, bent his arm behind his head, and threw the ball as hard as he could with his whole body. It made it to me in the air.
Colten loves music. He has heard Casey and me play hundreds of times, even though he is only four. Colten applied what he knew of music to baseball: instead of seeking applause after a good catch or throw, Colten bowed. Whenever I threw him the ball, Colten said, “Take a bow, Ethan. Take a bow.” He would not throw the ball back until after I bowed. I had never bowed playing baseball. Until then. Lifting my arms up high, I bowed as deeply as physically possible. Colten cheered and threw me the ball.
* * * * *
The end of the season is near. After tonight there are only thirteen games left, as the Royals will not be playing in the postseason. On my last couple of trips to Chick-fil-A, I have asked to talk to Jake, to break the bad news. I have yet to see him. Grant the Programmer and I entered the stadium early enough to partake of the last “T-Shirt Tuesday” offerings, and we both sported new, white, long-sleeve shirts with the Royals emblem on the front by evening’s end. There was a taste of fall in the air, and come the later innings, the extra layer felt good.
Tonight’s game was for pride. A victory tonight would guarantee that the Royals’ would not lose 100 games this season. A victory tonight would also keep the Royals out of last place in their division. The Royals have been playing good ball in recent weeks, and tonight was no exception. Bruce Chen gave up two hits in eight scoreless innings pitched. And Alex Gordon put up an impressive line—three hits, one homerun, and two RBI’s.
Alex led off the bottom of the third inning with a long home run. The stadium thundered. I must have been inspired sitting next to Grant because my first thought was, Take a bow, Alex. I am now officially campaigning for Alex Gordon to win the MVP award for the American League.
In reality, I know that Alex doesn’t stand a chance to be voted as MVP, though he should definitely be a frontrunner. It’s hard to be an MVP on a losing team. It’s even harder to be an MVP on a losing team in the Midwest. In order to win the award, Alex will be compared to every other superstar on every other team, especially the coastal teams. He has played near-errorless ball in left field and leads the majors in outfield assists. With a little luck over the final couple of weeks, he will hit over .300 and post his best numbers in every offensive category, including home runs, stolen bases, RBI, doubles—you name it. However, a cursory search of “American League MVP” online reveals that Gordon’s name isn’t even listed as an honorable mention.
When we read Scripture, we often point out the numerous MVPs of faith, propping them up on pedestals, trying to live like them. Many people refer to Hebrews 11 as the “Faith Hall of Fame,” which I don’t think is fair to the rest of us. Not that I begin to qualify to be included in that list, but there’s a part of me that is always comparing myself with what little I know of my faith predecessors through their stories.
Comparing myself to others is a dangerous exercise. In the sports world, numbers are used for everything. But towards the
end of Galatians, Paul writes this:
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t
be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
Part of the struggle of living in a consumerist culture is our obsession and drive to compare apples to oranges to organically grown cell phones. We compare so we can hand out our prestigious awards—valedictorian, magna cum laude, Rhodes scholar, New York Times best-selling author—and so we can order our top-ten lists. Maybe our desire to find persons worthy of such prestigious awards comes from our hope to discover extraordinary heroes living among us—individuals of remarkable strength, ridiculous intellect, and selfless character. My experience tells me that there are people like that in this world, but our gate-keeping-dollar-driven media will never find them. The real heroes live and serve behind the scenes. They don’t seek attention or fame. They simply look at their corner in this world and strive to be a light and source of hope.
* * * * *
Toward the end of the game, Grant the Programmer and I were watching from near the fountains, having already decided to leave in the top of the ninth inning. Walking to the gates, we heard a little boy yelling, “Dad, where are you? I can’t find you.” We watched for a minute, waiting to see if “Dad” would appear. Grant walked over to the boy and asked, “Are you lost? Do you know where your Dad is?” The boy told us his name and we introduced him to a Royals’ Event Staff person wearing headphones. The boy said that he was five and described Dad as being older and taller and someone who might have some gray hair, but without a tattoo on his nose. (I prompted that last detail.) The search for Dad lasted the entire ninth inning. As the fireworks were blasting off overhead and the crowd of twenty-five thousand plus were celebrating the shutout victory, a second Event Staff person appeared and directed the boy around the concourse toward Dad. Dad lowered himself to his knees, and the boy ran and jumped into Dad’s arms. Immediately, my eyes started watering and I choked up. Grant leaned over to me and said, “Just think if that had been Colten. With his speech difficulties, it would have been a nightmare.”
We never introduced ourselves to Dad and, after witnessing the Hollywood ending, Grant and I headed for the car and forvhome. Grant was tonight’s MVP. Take a bow, Grant.
* * * * *
When I got home, I went straight for the girls’ room. They were both asleep; Kaylea was snoring. I leaned over to kiss them both, humbly whispering prayers of thanks for these two amazing little persons who love and trust and play with me. I know that, if I had had a little boy, I would have secretly or not-so-secretly held onto major league dreams for him. I refuse to say that the chances are impossible, but even for me, it is hard to imagine Colten playing ball professionally. So whether it’s at his house or mine or the lawn of the church, any time he wants to play catch, I’ll be honored.
Even if I have to take a bow.