Going home

Very few of us can time our deaths the way our births are timed.

Nine months from conception, there’s a due date. With a natural birth, that’s a pretty good ballpark estimate. For a Cesarean section, the parents get to choose the specific date of birth.

Rarely does that happen on the other side of life.

Every death is sudden, even if it’s expected.

The guarantee

In the span of two days last weekend, five friends or acquaintances breathed their last breath.

They ranged in age from 81 to 43. Four of them had long-term conditions; two were in such severe pain, I’m sure their loved ones saw their passing as relief.

But still.

The fifth friend shocked everybody. He was healthy, to my knowledge – no one saw his death coming. He was 62. (I’m 58; he’s my generation.)

Two of them lived in Northeast Ohio, the other three in mid-Michigan (my old stomping grounds).

Death is guaranteed for each of us.

Later rather than sooner, we hope.

Unexpected deaths are the ones that make the news – traffic fatalities, drug overdoses, crime victims, that sort of thing. Most of us won’t leave Earth like that, thankfully, but there’s no guarantees about that, either.

Another friend’s granddaughter died about two weeks ago. She suffered numerous health issues from the day she was born. She was 21.

No one ever said life was fair.

Homegoing

Sometimes, those who suffer have the best dispositions. They are thankful for the blessings they have, even if good health isn’t one of them. Our 81-year-old friend was like that. He had debilitating headaches his entire adult life, but he looked on the bright side every day.

His strong faith allowed him to do that.

He is in heaven now with his savior, Jesus. He knows that with certainty. So does his wife. They were married 61 years.

We visited her yesterday afternoon to offer our condolences. She said she’s not planning a funeral for him, but a homegoing. We knew what she meant.

Funerals are sad. We mourn the loss of our loved one. Rightfully so. But that’s where the focus remains.

With a homegoing, family members and friends know that death is temporary – just a transition to a better life. Healing is promised in heaven. Physical, emotional and every other kind of healing that each of us needs.

The end of time

We mourn the loss of our loved one here on Earth and we miss him or her terribly, but we know we will see him or her again.

Earth is a temporary home, full of pain and struggle, as well as joy and laughter. We know this. Good vs. evil. Unconditional love vs. selfishness. Right vs. wrong.

These battles are fought in the human heart and mind, aren’t they?

We play them out in society, but the real battles take places inside each of us.

When eternity comes, those struggles will end. For better or worse.

We’ll either stand with God in heaven, or we’ll spend forever without Him. The Bible talks about a lake of fire. I wonder also if hell will be a lonely place. We may not see our friends and family any more. Ever again.

I can’t imagine a worse fate than that.

My choice, your choice

We get to choose where we live forever. We determine our own fate, really.

I can’t choose for you, and you can’t choose for me. This is personal, and it’s individual. I can give you chapter and verse, but you must decide whether to accept the gift of life forever or not.

Life is a gift.

Life on Earth is a gift. Each of us must thank our parents, both mother and father, for giving us life. You and I had nothing to do with it.

Life forever is a similar principle. There won’t be marriage in heaven, but we will have a Father. He’s the one who offers us that gift of life eternal.

Most of my friends who just died will receive a homegoing, a celebration of life on Earth and the promise of a wonderful, perfect forever future in heaven.

We can’t wrap our minds around forever. The end of time. No more alarm clocks or deadlnes.

Nor can we fathom perfection. Beauty for beauty’s sake. No hidden agendas. No secrets. No pain or suffering, of any type. No getting tired at night. Never a cold or fever, much less any other sickness or injury.

Mental illness? No such thing any more.

The big picture

One day, we will see the big picture of life. We don’t now. Each of us sees only our small part in this big universe. There’s so much of life I can’t see or understand. I write to try to make sense of it all, but as the Bible says, now I see in a mirror dimly, but then (in heaven) face to face.

I have strong views on certain subjects, and you may have a differing viewpoint on those same subjects. We both might be right, because we see the issue from different perspectives. Neither of us understands the big picture. We try, but we just cannot.

That’s why we need to talk, to listen, to respect each other, to learn from each other.

One day, all the issues we wrestle with will come together. The God of the universe, the One who created us and everything else in it, will reveal all to us.

For now, God has given us earthly minds to learn and grow. None of us can know everything about life.

We desperately need this perspective today.

We need each other.

We NEED each other.

We can’t make this life work without each other. Even though we try.

Oh, we try.

The more I learn, the more I discover how much I don’t know. Keep teaching me, each one of you. I’ll do the same for you.

Meanwhile, as we do that, I’m ready for my homegoing, when all will be well. I’m not expecting it any time soon – I’m still relatively young and in excellent health, if I can say that. No guarantees, of course, except that I will die one day. But whenever the day comes, I hope you’ll celebrate it with me.

And I’d love to celebrate yours, too.

Just not for awhile.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate this life on Earth together. And remember with gratitude those who are already home.

Sure sign of spring: Play ball!

Reds Indians Spring Baseball
Cleveland Indians first baseman Yonder Alonso (17) celebrates his home run against the Cincinnati Reds with Melvin Upton Jr. during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

It’s officially spring.

Not by the calendar or the weather, but by the only measure that really counts.

It’s time for baseball!

I heard the first spring training game of the year on the radio yesterday afternoon. When baseball starts, spring has begun and summer is not far away. The groundhog is forgotten and irrelevant by now.

Emotions drained far too often

We need perspective from all the rough events flooding our news feeds these days – Russian indictments from the 2016 election season, the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., potholes galore (it’s not the city’s fault the freeze-thaw cycle is bad this year), the unstable stock market, massive federal debt – and on and on.

Even many sports have become social platforms: taking a knee at NFL games, LeBron James and others speaking out on politics and other issues, the USA gymnastics/Michigan State/Larry Nassar fiasco, talk of paying athletes and/or families in elite college basketball programs …

Here in Cleveland, baseball averted such a situation by leaning hard on the Indians to eliminate the Chief Wahoo logo before the 2019 All-Star Game at Progressive Field. Perhaps that was a cop-out to political pressure, or perhaps it was a wise move to keep the focus where it belongs: on the playing field.

America’s Game

Baseball is America’s Pastime for a reason. It pioneered free agency (remember Curt Flood in 1970?), but for the most part baseball is celebrated for what happens between the white lines.

(The exception: steroids and the Hall of Fame. That’s for another day.)

Many people say baseball is too slow. Football and basketball are headed that way with endless “this play is under further review” situations. Baseball also has instituted replay reviews, but they are limited and very fast. I can eat dinner in the time it takes the NFL to review a wide receiver’s catch.

Ah, baseball.

Video (did not) kill the radio star

As I was driving for work yesterday afternoon, I had the van radio on the local AM station that carries the Indians broadcast. This points to another problem with society: We are too visual. We’re all about television, video games, and “if you didn’t take a photo, it didn’t happen.”

We’ve lost our imagination.

Baseball is best consumed with our ears. I still have a transistor radio set to the Indians’ station, and I’ll turn it on as the summer goes along. I enjoy Tom Hamilton, the Indians’ lead announcer since 1990:

It’s a long fly ball, a-wayyyyyyy back, gone!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jqOASqRXYs

Gives you goose bumps, doesn’t it?

Every baseball announcer has a calling card, a special phrase or moment he is known for. Growing up in Michigan, I was spoiled with Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey:

He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vGEcx4RSZU

Now when we visit our sons or my parents in Michigan, we’ll listen to Dan Dickerson and Jim Price:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0azRYW9I38

During my high school days in the Pittsburgh area, I listened to Milo Hamilton, who broadcast for seven teams over a 65-year career. He’s most well known for broadcasting for the Houston Astros:

Holy Toledo! What a finish!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KrdS0Jn7dk

Take me out to the ball game

I’ve attended Major League Baseball games over the years that provided great memories:

  • I saw Earl Wilson, a Detroit Tigers pitcher, hit a home run in old Cleveland Stadium in the late 1960s. The Indians beat the Tigers, 2-1, in that game.
  • I was in Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh the day Rennie Stennett, the Pirates’ second baseman, got his first major league hit in 1971. He had 1,239 hits over an 11-year career, mostly in Pittsburgh.
  • My oldest son and I attended a Detroit Tigers playoff game in 2006 when Kenny Rogers outdueled the great Randy Johnson, then with the hated New York Yankees. The atmosphere of that game was nothing short of electric – from the opening pitch through the final out. I’ve never experienced anything like that before or since.
  • For my birthday in 2014, my family treated me to a baseball game at Progressive Field in Cleveland against the Detroit Tigers – which just happened to be the day Omar Visquel, an outstanding shortstop and then (and now) a coach with the Tigers, was inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame.

The games we play

Perhaps another reason I enjoy baseball is because I played it. I was a Little Leaguer as a youngster – I couldn’t hit, but I played the outfield because I could catch the ball.

As an adult, I played slow-pitch softball for about 25 years. As my three sons grew up, they played too. That’s one of my favorite memories from my sons’ childhoods: playing on the same softball team with all three of them.

(They were, and still are, much better athletes than I ever was. But softball sure was fun.)

Baseball is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. Run the bases.

Even if you don’t get into all the analytics – which many baseball purists do – it’s a simple game, really. Difficult to play (try hitting a pitched baseball with a 32-inch bat if you haven’t done that in awhile), but a game that many Americans – women as well as men – have played, and still play as adults.

Some of us pseudo-athletes do better with softball, fast-pitch or slow-pitch, but the idea is still the same. Pitch the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball.

Baseball season is here. I heard it on the radio. That makes it official.

And that puts all of life in the proper perspective.