Thursday, September 24, 2015

Taking the Fork in the Road: The Words of Yogi Berra and Pope Francis

It's unfortunate, in a way, that the death of baseball's philosopher-king overlapped as it did with the visit to the United States of the "people's pope." Yogi Berra is one of the most beloved baseball personalities in the history of the game. Pope Francis doesn't have as many years in the limelight, but he is making his mark in the world, even among those not members of the Catholic faith.

Both of them have a rightful claim to the world's stage and on another occasion they would only have had to joust with Donald Trump for front page news and airtime on the network broadcasts. Trump would have been buried in either case, and that is a break all Americans needed, however one might feel about this aspirant for the presidency.

I suspect Trump would have been highly interested in Catholicism if he had heard about the canonization of a new saint. Among other things, you are supposed to have been credited with two miracles to qualify. He could easily cite the last two Gallup Polls as evidence of Trump fulfilling that requirement. Since he also recently claimed that he had nothing for which to ask forgiveness, it would appear that Donald Trump could well be a candidate for sainthood. Better a saint than president, one is tempted to observe, at the risk of sounding snarky.

I have been transfixed by the arrival of Pope Francis, his first visit on American soil. The reception by the 78 million Catholics in the United States is perhaps predictable, although the church has been experiencing significant losses as a result of the sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests, and the resulting coverup attributed to the church's hierarchy. Pope Francis has moved resolutely to resolve the problem, beginning with asking forgiveness of both God and the victims.

But it has not been just Catholics rejoicing in the visit of this good and humble man. The media, usually jaded by matters religious, has been almost fawning in its coverage. One suspects that reporting on the American political scene leaves one yearning for words of hope, softly spoken, and sincerely lived.

Which takes me back to Yogi. If it is the use of words that gives the Pope the ability to encourage and inspire his followers, it is the misuse of words that gave the Yankee catcher the charm to state things that everyone could understand, despite the malapropisms that made English teachers cringe.

Now some spoilsports at the New York Times have done research that shows that some of Yogi's sayings didn't come from Yogi at all.  In some respects it doesn't really matter; we don't just read those quotes, we "hear" them and it is always Yogi we hear. Even he acknowledged that he may not have been the source of all those sayings, admitting such in a book entitled, The Yogi Book: I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said!

I recognize that it is a little unusual to be mentioning Yogi Berra and Pope Francis in the same sentence, especially in reference to their use of words. But listening to the message being eloquently delivered by the Pope this week, I think there are a few Yogi-isms that are Pope-worthy.

  • The Pope declared that he was anxious to engage in a time of listening and sharing. Yogi said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
  • The Pope talked about the direction of the church. Yogi cautioned, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
  • The Pope invited the faithful to keep moving forward. Yogi warned, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
  • The Pope acknowledged that many had erred and made mistakes. Yogi commiserated, noting that "If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be."

And finally, the Pope took on his critics and at the same time impressed the faithful with his openness and his loving spirit.

As Yogi said, “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”

Friday, September 11, 2015

Why the Reasons Joe Biden Should Not Run for President are the Reasons He Should

Vice President Joe Biden on Late Night with Stephen Colbert,
September 10, 2015.
Vice President Joe Biden’s remarkable interview with Stephen Colbert, an unforgettable moment in only the third episode of Colbert’s new late-night show, was a powerful demonstration of the soul of American democracy in a political season that has generally exhibited its underbelly. Whatever one thinks of the Vice President or the current administration, I think most will agree that his open heart and honest feelings are the very qualities we most need in those who would lead the nation.

The interview between Colbert and Biden was a meeting of two men who had both suffered extraordinary pain and tragedy. Biden lost his wife and 19-month-old daughter in a 1972 automobile accident, and most recently his 48-year-old son to a brain tumor. Colbert, similarly, was ten years old when his father and two older brothers died in a 1974 plane crash in North Carolina.

If the shared experience between the two men established the evident rapport in the interview, the crescendo of response overnight makes it clear that they touched a universal chord that resonates with the entire human family. It makes one wonder why this should be. Why are we surprised and touched when a politician shows up with feelings on his sleeve and tears in his eyes?

I don’t know whether Joe Biden should run for president or not. If he chooses to do so, he has my ear. I have always admired him as a person, appreciated his broad domestic and global experience, and chuckled at his occasional good-hearted gaffes. He has always been the real deal.

Vice President Joe Biden with his son, Beau,
who died earlier this year.
But the tortuous road he has traveled to a decision has given us an even deeper insight into the human being behind the political persona. One has to believe that many other politicians have gone on similar journeys; they have just chosen to make it an inward sojourn, perhaps thinking they would otherwise appear weak or indecisive. Just the opposite is true.

Meanwhile, the ship of fools that is the 2016 presidential campaign paddles on. This morning, in the wake of the beautiful and heartfelt experience of Biden/Colbert, we hear about whether Carly Fiorina is attractive enough to be president, whether Donald Trump’s hair resembles a squirrel, and whether Hillary Clinton’s handlers should have leaked that she is planning to be more spontaneous.

I understand fully the reasons why Joe Biden hesitates to take on a national campaign while his family is awash in the life-changing, life-questioning, life-affirming experiences that shape what it means to be a human being. We feel their pain, and not in a sloganeering way. We truly feel their pain.

The problem is that that is exactly what we need in a president -- somebody who feels our pain.