Monday, April 01, 2013

A Thundering Silence

US Cellular Field, Chicago (aka Comiskey Park)
It's Opening Day for baseball and I, insufferable baseball fan that I am, find myself and son Jeff at Comiskey Park in Chicago awaiting the first pitch in a contest with the Kansas City Royals (a team of destiny--you heard it here first).

Jeff and I are the baseball geeks of the family. He lives in Chicago but has kept his allegiance to his hometown team in Kansas City.
An opening day game in Chicago between the White Sox and the Royals was too hard to resist and, even more importantly, gave Jeff and me a chance to hang out together for a few days. We expect great things from our team this year. The non-geek members of our family hiss derisively at such comments, rudely claiming that they have heard all this before. But it's different this year. It is. They just don't get it. They'll see.

But this post isn't really about baseball, even though my thoughts were prompted by the pre-game ceremonies and nurtured with a sense of being cupped with 39,012 strangers in the opened hands of Comiskey Park. (For the record, the ballpark is officially named US Cellular Field after the sale of naming rights. The park opened for the 1991 season after the White Sox had spent 81 years at the original Comiskey Park. The new park opened with the Comiskey Park name, but became U.S. Cellular Field in 2003. But old habits die hard.)

And yes, the game could have gone a bit better for this young Royals team, but not a lot better. The ace pitcher acquired during the off-season was outstanding and the game was a nail-biter right down to the last pitch. It ended in a 1-0 loss for the Royals but no hanging heads here. It was a terrific, well-played game, perhaps short of a classic but certainly an Opening Day gem.

A common site at ballparks
But then there was that minute of silence.

It started just like I have experienced hundreds of times before at such events. Ball players with heads bowed and caps over their hearts. People gathering in community centers so as to be with friends and neighbors at a time of tragedy. People coming together across their differences to lift the human spirit. It is common, it is what we do.

But this minute of silence was deafening.

The announcer requested that everyone remove their hats and observe a minute of silence in remembrance of those from the White Sox "family" who had passed during the past year, along with those from the Armed Forces who had died in service of their country. All of this is what occurs many times in untold numbers of events in various venues across the country. But then came something different.

The announcer asked us to remember in that minute of silence the Chicagoans who had died in gun violence in recent months and also the 20 children lost in the tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. It was as if the air was sucked out of the ballpark taking with it every sound. There was no crying baby, no drunken yelp, no scoreboard exploding, no vendor selling, no horning traffic, no popcorn popping, no airplanes flying. There was nothing--just a mind-numbing, seems-like-it's-lasting-forever, incessant, oppressive, loud, loud, loud silence.

It was like being on the inside of a balloon, air having filled it to capacity and knowing that in just a moment the air will burst the fragile membrane and it will explode with a huge swish. And then it's done.

Dave Specter and Jimmy "Bar Room Preacher" Johnson
at B.L.U.E.S.on Halsted
The night before, Jeff and I did a little Easter Sunday blues and jazz clubbing in Chicago. There was very  little silence in those places, but neither was the noise a cacophony of disconnected sounds. The dissonance was meaningful, the rhythm burrowed into the soul. The music isn't heard, it is ingested.

The small club called B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted exudes character and history. Legendary blues musicians drop in--their pictures adorn the walls, the frames dusty and often askew. Sometimes they pick up a horn or bang on a drum, sometimes they clamber up onto the stage and play a set.

A troubled aspiring musician lifts his voice and reaches for a microphone, trying to garner a moment of self-promotion. He behaves in strange ways, sometimes alarmingly so, but the locals seem not to notice. He's part of the woodwork. The band plays on and the patrons actively listen, as if drawn into a cocoon, captured for a while, heads bobbing to the beat, life set aside for just this small slice of time.

I found the intimacy of the Blues din and the enormity of the Comiskey silence to be signature pieces in a bigger reality. At the ballpark almost 40,000 souls brought the joy and pain, the hopes and dreams, of their lives to a baseball game. Many had come early and by the opening ceremonies had lubricated themselves at the sports bars or concession stands. Others were keeping their children in tow while gulping down a Chicago dog.

But then in that brief unexpected moment the human family became as one. Whatever troubles we have seen were momentarily the troubles of us all. In a way I will never be able to fully understand or explain I found hope and a sense of peace in both the noise and the quiet.

I love baseball and it is Opening Day. After a long winter it is time to play ball. Never before have I wished that moment wouldn't come. Not just yet. I wanted to linger for a while in the silence. It has so much to teach me. And us.