The girls had petitioned me to come and watch one of their games, and so, on that afternoon in early May, I took a set of papers to be graded and made my way to the bleachers at the softball diamond. There were few people - only a handful of parents and some students who had come at the urging of their player friends. While the team warmed up, I shuffled through the essays making customary remarks and assigning grades, glancing up now and then to watch one of the girls get a hit or field a ground ball. After three innings, our team was ahead by fifteen runs, and when the score reached forty-five to one, the game was called after the fifth.
As the team huddled for a briefing about the next day's practice, and parents folded away their lawn chairs, I suddenly remembered that I would be away from school the next day and needed to ask one of the students to lock up my room after the last class. So, I waited patiently for the team to come out of the dugout.
The western horizon over Copperas Mountain behind the school had darkened giving every indication of an impending rainstorm. I hoped they would hurry. When, at last, the girls emerged, I walked toward Karen shielding my essays from the droplets of rain that had begun to fall. She stood next to her uncle and coach, and I heard him say, "I think this game will give you enough stats for a scholarship to play softball when you go to the college this fall." His voice was animated with the excitement that his own niece would be on the university softball team. All his expectations for her seemed wrapped up in her abilities to play shortstop. He threw his gear into the back seat of his car, waved goodbye, and pulled out of the parking lot.
As Karen and I faced each mother, I asked, "So! Did you get a scholarship?" Karen turned to me, her face full of pain and anger.
We stood in silence for moment. Here, before me was a young woman who had called me the previous summer asking for a list of books to read; a young woman who had read over seventy books on her own during the school year; a young woman who, after being in my classes for two years, had finally shared with me her private writing - writing with voice that was fresh and clear. Writing she had not dared to share with anyone else for fear that it was not good - for fear that her intent would be misunderstood.
I remembered the day she had stayed after school and, after handing me one of her stories, had turned her head away not wanting to look at me as I read in silence.
An intense wave of heat gave a silent warning that the area was in for some lightning that would grip its stony, white fingers into any unsuspecting tree or farmhouse. Then it came. Far off in the distance across waving fields of half-grown corn, the lightning flashed its cold glare arid passed its voice across the cool breeze. The sweat that had been gleaming on Mary's arms and across the back of her shirt was now glued to her body, drying, raising goose bumps across her stomach and causing the hair on her forearms to stand at attention. 'Help me shut them windows before it starts pouring outside and gets my curtains all wet,' she softly said to Thelma Jo. The sheers were delicately poised above the kitchen sink, the yellow linoleum acted like a magic carpet to allow the force of the storm to wonder its way through the window.
I had continued to read, heavily impressed with Karen's natural ability for description. Her story had concluded when Alton, Thelma Jo's father, had showed up at Mary's to take Thelma Jo home.
Mary could not stop Alton from going to the back bedroom, grabbing Thelma underneath her arm, and pushing her into the truck. He was a big man, &4' with a big gut that swelled underneath his flannel shirt. Thelma began to snivel and blow bubbles of spit out of her mouth He was hurting her arm, and she was afraid. Don't leave me alone with him, her eyes pleaded to Mary as Alton's truck pulled onto the road.
Mary knew deep down that she couldn't have done anything to stop him. The next few hours would change Thelma Jo's simple life forever and would serve as an unspoken guilt that would bum Mary for the rest of her life. She had let Thelma slip through her fingers and out her own front door into a world of misery, her innocence gone forever with the sweaty thrusts of her own father.
Now, Karen and I stood together in the middle of the parking lot and, having coached for eighteen seasons, I myself was no stranger to athletics, but to measure the worth of this young woman by only one gift seemed somehow wrong, deeply sinful. In that moment, I was brought face to face with the truth of how often we place our young men and women into one category or another - failing to appreciate the dimensions of all their gifts. I thought about those ancient Greeks who had sought excellence not only in athletics but in philosophy, drama, art, and architecture. The same people who had produced a Homer had also produced the Olympic Games. I looked at Karen and saw her life as a microcosm, a world in miniature; a young woman who understood better than I that in both sports and in the gifts of the mind, life is crystallized and made intense. As a classroom teacher, I owe her 'one moment in time ... so that each day she lives, she has a chance to be more than she ever thought she could be - the assurance to know that she is not alone and that her finest day is yet unknown."
Karen and I continued toward the school, the grayness of the western horizon already touched with the soft blue sky.
Reference Citation:McClain, Ruth. (1998). "Seizing "One Moment at a Time." WILLA, Vol. VII, p. 36, 39-40.