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Today, I lost one of the greatest blessings to have ever entered my life: my beloved Boxer, Rocky.
It is amazing how quickly that which seems stable and calm in life can be thrown amiss. I had seen him just three weeks ago, during my last visit to my parents’ home in Westchester. At the time, I had been very happy to hear that he was dealing well with the recent heat wave, surviving by huddling near the dining room air conditioner or lying spread out below the living room ceiling fan. He seemed more energetic than he had in a while, and I was looking forward to seeing him during my next planned trip, on my upcoming birthday. Rocky had always loved our family birthday celebrations, trampling excitedly through the torn wrapping paper as gifts were opened and jumping up on the kitchen table as cake was presented. No matter whose name might be on the cards, the family dog was always the center of attention.
Rocky won’t be there for my 30th birthday, or for my father’s birthday a few weeks later, or for my brother’s a few months after that, or for my mother’s the month after that. He won’t be there to sit beneath the table, begging for a piece of the turkey, on Thanksgiving, or to lay serenely by our fireplace on Christmas Eve. My buddy is gone, and I will miss him dearly.
My mom contacted me via e-mail yesterday morning; her message was sitting in my inbox when I came into the office, a quick note under the subject heading “Rocky”. He had developed congestive heart failure and was having trouble breathing. My parents hadn’t decided yet when they were going to put him to sleep, but they could tell he was beginning to suffer. My mom, in her infinite tenderness, asked if I wanted to come home to see him, or if I wanted to remember him as the energetic ball of joy that he had always been. I told her without hesitation that I would be home that evening, just in case the situation worsened faster than expected.
Last night turned out to be one of the most surreal and absolutely devastating nights of my entire life. Rocky looked the way he usually did. Aside from a nasty cough when he moved around, he was every bit as affectionate and excited to see me as he had ever been. In many ways, it was just like every other visit: the frenzied greeting when I walked in, the overtures to rub his belly, the constant desire to press up against me no matter where I was seated. And yet, all the while, I knew that it was unlike any other meeting between the two of us, as this would be the last time I would ever see him.
I cried when I entered the house, unleashing the pain that had been slowly building up all day. I sat beside him and petted his head, ruffled the scruff of his neck as he gently lapped my nose. I lay beside him and scratched his tummy, laughing as he kicked me with his back legs each time I stopped. And then, as I prepared to go, I gave him a hug, told him how much I had loved him, how much I would miss him, and said goodbye. As he always did, he attempted to follow me out the door as I made my way outside. Realizing that he could not come along, he ran back into our dining room, jumped up on the table near our front window and stared at me as I descended the stairs. My mom came up from behind him, took hold of his right paw, and waved goodbye. And there, as I watched him for the final time, tears streaming down my face, I mouthed two words to him: “Thank you.”
In relating the night’s events to my brother, I told him that that final image of Rocky watching me from the window was perhaps the most fitting of goodbyes. It was in that spot that he had greeted me each day, jumping up and down and barking, when I would come home from work while living with my parents. It had always been one of my favorite of his quirks: he knew the sound of the Metro North train that I took home, and the approximate time of my usual arrival, and would always position himself in anticipation as I made my way up the street. This look of excitement when welcoming me was matched by the sense of panic he displayed any I time I would depart. It is how I will always remember Rocky: as a friend, as a family member, as someone who loved me so unconditionally that he couldn’t wait to see me come home and could not bear to see me leave.
In thinking back on the last few days, I find it somewhat ironic that Rocky’s sudden passing came just a few days after I had put up a new profile on the dating website OkCupid: As I began my search for the happiness that a relationship offers, a remarkable source of affection in my life faded peacefully away. Love has always been elusive for me, the great white whale that has been both my greatest desire and most evasive quarry. There have been a number of reasons for this, but they are bound together by a common thread: self-doubt.
There was period during my teenage years when puberty overwhelmed me, and there is still a part of me that deals with the scars that those sullen days of low self-esteem left behind. I was reminded of that when I recently visited my alma mater, Regis High School, for an alumni comedy show. Following the performance, I took a trip down into the locker room, stopping in the restroom. I stared into the mirror hanging from the wall, bathed in pale, white light. I thought back to a time 15 years ago when I was too afraid to gaze at my own reflection in that very looking glass for fear of what I would see: a poor complexion, hair out of place, dark circles beneath my eyes. I thought back to my years in college, most of which were spent with a Mets cap pulled low across my face. To look at my own reflection and to hate what I saw was a torment I carried for many years.
I’m happy with my appearance as I approach thirty, if a bit worried about the increasingly-rapid onset of gray hairs slowly creeping up my sideburns, but it does not mean that I am wholly confident. And while I look back on past relationships, and unrequited longings, with the ability to recognize that the women I thought I loved were not the ones with whom I was meant be, I still feel the sting of those rejections: the sense that I was not good enough, that I could not compete for their attention, that in my shyness, I could not find the right words to make them love me back. I have spent an adulthood hating my imperfection, wishing that I could be someone other than myself.
It is only recently that I have begun to find solace in my own skin, to accept that I am good enough and that I need to change for no one. But it has been a struggle, and as such, I find myself becoming truly emotional when thinking about the people and things that have made me feel loved over the years, even when I did not love myself: My mom. My dad. My brother. My friends.
And Rocky, my faithful companion, who never stopped caring for me for a single day that we were together. I will never forget the beautiful creature who entered my life 12 years ago as a rambunctious pup and who brought me nothing but joy in our intervening time together. To him, I say thank you for bringing light into my life, no matter how dark things might have seemed outside of the confines of our home. I will miss you always.
As my mother said last night, in between the tears, while petting his head: “You sure gave a lot of love, sir. You sure did.”
 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”  He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
There is a photograph that sits upon a table in my parents’ bedroom that comes as close to saying a thousand words as perhaps any picture I’ve ever seen: It is an image of my mother, holding me as a baby, her forehead resting gently against mine, a look of innocent wonder upon my face, a look of tender serenity upon hers. It is without a doubt my favorite of all the snapshots that have captured random moments throughout my twenty-nine years, a timeless memento of the unconditional love that I enjoyed growing up, and continue to receive to this day.
I’m reminded of that photograph each time I hear that friends of mine have been blessed with the birth of a child. It’s been happening with increasing frequency lately; most recently, two close friends from college, Mike and Meagan, welcomed a baby girl, Avery Devine, into their lives. As is so often the case, they shared images of their daughter’s first few days, including several of each of them holding her in their arms. The joy in their eyes and in their smiles is as palpable in those images as the peace and calm found in little Avery’s resting face. It is the very portrait of love, every bit as much as the photo of my mother and me: One finding solace in the comforting arms of another.
In recent years (perhaps due to the impending onset of my thirtieth birthday), I’ve found myself becoming more reflective, paying closer attention both to where my life is currently and to where I want it to go moving forward. I have so much to be thankful for, so much that has brought me far more joy than I had any right to expect: a healthy, supportive family, a loyal group of friends, a wonderful education, a fulfilling job, and, at long last, my first apartment. And yet, even with so much, there are many moments when I feel that there is a gaping maw in my life, an emptiness that keeps true happiness just slightly out of reach.
I finally found the perfect expression of those emotions last year. As my 29th birthday approached in September, my mother, in her role as official family procurer of gifts, asked me what I would like as a present. Much to her surprise, I’m sure, I requested a poster-sized version of a painting by an artist named Carl Bloch, entitled Gethsemane.
This image entered my life a little over a year ago, during the Christmas season of 2009. At the time, I was in the midst of a social network serial, posting a countdown of my favorite Christmas songs from December 1st through December 25th on my Facebook page. Having already decided well in advance that “O Holy Night” would claim the top spot, I set out to find the perfect version. Pavarotti made a valiant effort. Fellow Italian tenor Mario Lanza was a finalist. But the most beautiful interpretation I found, perhaps the most moving piece of music I have ever heard, was a masterful performance by Swedish tenor Johan Jonatan “Jussi” Björling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvMQlMgjoPY. Someone had posted his rendition on YouTube, accompanied by a slideshow featuring various paintings of Christ; among the images included was Bloch’s painting. It moved me immediately upon seeing it, and I made it my goal to find it and obtain it in portrait form.
And then life grew hectic, and I switched jobs, and moved out of my parents’ house, and soon forgot about Gethsemane. That is, until that moment when my mom asked for my birthday wish list, and it was the first thing that entered my mind. That painting now hangs in the hallway of my apartment, the first image you see upon entering my new home.
I’ve thought long and hard about why this painting moved me, about why I felt that this image should take up so prominent a place in my residence, should represent me in such a dramatic way. What is it that speaks to me, that stirs my heart? I’ve realized that my adoration for that image draws from the same place in my soul that will always cherish that photo of my mother resting her head against mine. I’ve realized that it provided a vivid expression of what I’ve been searching for and longing for: Love, unconditional and unrelentingly compassionate.
We are so accustomed to the traditional images of Christ: the babe of the Nativity, the assured teacher surrounded by his disciples, the inexorable redeemer suffering unspeakable brutality, the glorious embodiment of triumph. And yet, it is this incarnation that pulls at my heart the most: the image of He that would be called Lord vulnerable and finding comfort on the shoulder of another.
All of the success that I have achieved, in school, in my career, in any aspect of my life, has brought with it the specter of great responsibility, much of it self-induced: I feel the constant need to use my abilities to their highest capacity, to lead, to push myself to the limit and then strain to go that much further. Such an attitude has brought me high marks in school and a nice salary, but with them, a constant need to always be perfect and a sense of disgust with myself at even the slightest mistake or instance of failure. As I move through adulthood and find myself on my own, separated from the constant nurturing of my parents, there are moments when I feel the proverbial weight of the world on my shoulders, when I feel the pressure of my own immense expectations. It is in those moments that I want so badly to have someone to turn to, someone who will love me even in my moments of weakness, and will unflinchingly offer a loving shoulder upon which I can rest my head. I have not found such affection yet, and I know that therein lies the missing piece to my puzzle.
As I write this, I wonder how those of you reading these words will react. I suspect that those of you currently searching for that special someone may relate to some extent. Others may find these ruminations depressing. Rest assured, they are not meant to be. I am fully confident that my future wife is out there somewhere, oblivious to the life of conservative rants and Mets melodrama that awaits her. The very act of expressing these emotions is a step towards breaking down the final stumbling blocks of insecurity and doubt that have held me back, and I move forward more self-assured than I’ve been in a very long time. In short, I’ve realized that the reward is far too great to allow temerity or fear of imperfection to stand in the way. The reward is love, the very essence of life, the circle around which we all revolve. It is the steady stream that carries us through each stage of our existence: The love we receive as infants, in the form of the smiles we gaze upon as we are held in our parents’ arms, or the gentle touch of our mother’s forehead against ours, becomes the template for the love we give to, and receive from, our husbands and wives, our boyfriends and girlfriends, as adults, before it is passed on to the next generation. We find solace in another, we find a shoulder to lean on in times of doubt, we pass that tenderness on to those who need it. And so the cycle repeats. I look forward to all of the joys that it has in store.
May God bless Mike, Meagan and Avery, Tim, Alex and Stephen, Tom, Jessica and Madeline, and all of my other friends who have recently experienced the happiness of welcoming a child into their lives.
A national tragedy occurred on the morning of January 8, 2011, when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, hosting a small gathering of her constituents outside of a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona, was shot in the head at point-blank range by a 22-year-old named Jared Lee Loughner. Amidst a hail of indiscriminate gunfire, fourteen people were wounded, and six more lost their lives, including U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl named Christina Taylor Green.
After the initial moments of shock and concern for the victims, particularly Rep. Giffords, attention began to focus on Loughner and the possible motives behind his attack. Several YouTube videos that he had posted in December emerged, including one evincing a hatred of the government for, among other things, its attempts at “mind-control” through the use of grammar and its decision to employ a currency not backed by gold. Such details added fuel to a fire which had begun to burn almost immediately after the shootings took place: the incendiary notion that the highly partisan rhetoric of the last few years was responsible for the day’s awful events.
This narrative was even echoed by Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who took time from reporting the facts emerging from the investigation to editorialize, “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government – the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country, is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” During an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on Sunday, Dupnik offered further clarification for who he believes is responsible for the nation’s dark tenor, stating, “We see one party trying to block the attempts of another party to make this a better country.”
And so it is that the Republican Party, or, more accurately, the conservative Tea Party movement that has revived it over the last two years, has been accused of creating the monster known as Jared Lee Loughner. Keith Olbermann, taking to the airwaves Saturday night to comfort a grieving nation with a “Special Comment”, spent the majority of his address laying the blame at the feet of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sharron Angle. The left-leaning UK Guardian questioned whether “rightwing rhetoric” was responsible for the shootings. Perhaps the most over-the-top reaction came from New York Daily News columnist Michael Daly, who claimed that “Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ blood is on Sarah Palin’s hands.” Apparently, Palin had had the audacity to illustrate the common political metaphor of “targeting” a district on her PAC’s website, marking close races on a map of the United States with what appear to be crosshairs. “[A]nyone with any sense at all knows that violent language can incite actual violence, that metaphor can incite murder,” Daly argues. “At the very least, Palin added to a climate of violence.” Set aside the fact that, as of the date that Mr. Daly’s article was published, very little was known about Loughner’s true political leanings and motivations, and absolutely nothing had emerged to link him with Sarah Palin or the Tea Party movement. Set aside the fact that what was found on Palin’s website was, again, simply a depiction of a common political term and was no different than what was found on the website of the Democratic Leadership Council. Does Mr. Daly not see any irony in arguing against overheated rhetoric with a column entitled “Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ blood is on Sarah Palin’s hands”? Can one assume that if any violence were to come to Palin, her husband or any of their children, that Mr. Daly would accept the blame for ratcheting up the vitriol?
The meme that spread with viral speed through the media over the weekend, and which will continue to be repeated in the weeks to come, has found an accepting audience amongst two groups. The first are men like Olbermann and Daly, liberal political commentators, and the Democrats they seek to support. Their rationale for pinning the ultimate blame for these events on the right is clear, and it is surely not, despite their protestations, to bring unity to the nation: it is to advance a political agenda. Specifically, it is an attempt to buoy a liberal ideology that was soundly defeated last November by placing the blame for an unspeakable horror at the doorstep of the conservative opposition and its champions, notably Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. A “veteran Democratic operative”, speaking to Politico, acknowledged as much, advising his ideological brethren that, “They need to deftly pin this on the tea partiers… Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.”
And so these unabashed hypocrites take to the airwaves and proclaim that the rhetoric has reached unprecedented levels of negativity, pretending that the utter hatred directed over the course of two presidential terms at George W. Bush, and in recent years, at Sarah Palin and her family, was simply a civil difference of opinion. Ignore the 2006 film entitled Death of a President ,which depicted the assassination of President Bush (and was subsequently lauded with several international film awards). Ignore the fact that it was the left, led by Ted Kennedy, who introduced invective rhetoric into what had once been a collegial Supreme Court nomination process with a crass denunciation of Robert Bork in 1987. Ignore the fact that it was our president himself, the supposedly cool, collected centrist Barack Obama, who in 2008 rallied his supporters by saying, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,”and who, during the 2010 elections, implored Latinos to “punish” their Republican “enemies.” Per Olbermann, Paul Krugman, James Clyburn, Sheriff Dupnik and what will surely be a cavalcade of others during the coming weeks, the dangers of partisan dispute did not truly begin until the inauguration of our 44th President on January 20, 2009.
That this group of Democrats and liberal commentators should drive this line of thinking, aided and abetted by a supposedly impartial “mainstream media”, is not surprising: they have much to gain, either politically or financially, by not letting this crisis go to waste. What is more disappointing, and in many ways more dangerous to the future of our nation, is the second group: those who earnestly believe that the true blame for Saturday morning’s events lies with a former Alaska governor and groups of middle-class Americans concerned about taxation and growing debt. The willingness to blame rhetoric, words, no matter how heated, for the actions of a deranged young man signal a growing decline in the value of personal responsibility.
Suppose for a moment that Loughner’s YouTube videos had indicated vociferous support for the Tea Party, or that he had truly been inspired by seeing the “crosshairs” on the SarahPAC site. Why would that have made the Tea Party or Sarah Palin responsible for Loughner’s actions? Did any of them force him into the Safeway parking lot, or pull the trigger of his Glock 19? Pulling back, is the message of the Tea Party violent overthrow of the government? Does Sarah Palin advocate the literal assassination of her political opponents? Does she, or any politician for that matter, have complete control over how every individual interprets their words and actions? At what point do we stop excusing the actions of evil men and women by arguing that society drove them to their crimes? At what point do we assign the blame in this instance to the young man who decided to purchase a gun, murder six individuals and wound fourteen others?
I am shocked to read the words of my late-20’s, early-thirtysomething friends, cavalierly assigning culpability for this massacre in their Facebook postings to the conservative opposition to President Obama. To those of you who have accepted that line of reasoning and who may be reading this: Set aside your own political ideology for just a moment. Doesn’t it anger you on some visceral level that the individuals you support politically, or follow in the media, don’t find you, or your fellow citizens, competent enough to hear debate and opposing viewpoints without potentially resorting to violence? To put it another way, would you feel comfortable accepting the blame for the wrongs of another simply because they misinterpreted something you had said with wholly innocent intentions? Why have you deemed such a rationale adequate in the context of our national discourse?
There is a difference between a true extremist and someone engaging in honest disagreement over some of the most serious issues of our time. While it is undeniable that there are “right-wing loons”, true radicals, the majority of conservatives and Republicans are peaceful, average Americans with legitimate concerns for their future. Contrary to Sheriff Dupnik’s naïve interpretation, neither party has a monopoly on the truth, or goodness, and it is utterly disingenuous to argue that one side is trying to “make the country better” while the other is simply attempting to block this progress out of spite. To suggest that Americans who are concerned about a national debt that just topped $14 trillion, and which threatens to undermine our financial security in generations to come, are a threat to our safety, or that those concerned about a federal intrusion into the private health care system are insidious and lacking any claim to credibility, is absurd. If you disagree with that statement, simply look at the argument from an alternate perspective: If the conservative movement ever achieved a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, would the liberals among you sit idly by as Roe v. Wade was overturned? Would you keep quiet in the interest of civility if a Republican president enforced an Arizona-type immigration law nationwide, or led us into war with Iran? Or, would you come together to ensure that the people in authority heard your voice as loudly as possible?
Just as you would be entitled to raise your opposition, conservative groups, commentators and politicians are permitted to speak their opinions on the issues of the present day, as passionately as they choose, thanks to our nation’s Constitution. As long as they are not making actual threats of violence, they are protected under the very First Amendment that Rep. Giffords read on the House floor last week. Any attempts to stifle such expression should be viewed as the true danger to our society. It would be the ultimate imposition of the nanny state that has begun its slow creep into our daily lives: If the government can decide what you are, and are not, allowed to hear, it means that it can control every aspect of your daily life. It is a tacit acceptance that you, as an individual with free will, are incapable of making proper decisions for yourself, and an assertion that you simply cannot be trusted to properly construe the words that, dare I say, assault you on a day-to-day basis.
If that is the case, if Americans, specifically our nation’s youth, are willing to accept such intrusive supervision, then we have lost far more than the six unfortunate individuals who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in Tucson: our liberty will have been a casualty as well.
My father and I shared a moment last night in the wake of our traditional, Italian, Christmas Eve seafood dinner. Like many of our “moments”, this one came following the consumption of a fair amount of alcoholic beverages: in this instance, roughly two bottles of white wine and a few glasses of brandy. As the fireplace surrendered its last flickering embers, and Bing Crosby crooned, I looked down at my dog, a Boxer named Rocky, sleeping quietly on the floor. Turning to my dad, I said, “That was one of the best decisions you ever made.”
It had been my father who had first suggested buying a Boxer back in late 1999. Like many of his “suggestions”, there was an aura of inevitability to the idea, and before long, our house was home to a rambunctious, brown pup with floppy ears and an oversized head. I hated the name my father gave him: Rocky seemed so on-the-nose and unoriginal for a “Boxer”. At first, I wasn’t a huge fan of the dog itself either. Upon meeting him for the first time during a trip home from college, my initial impression was that he was a perfect incarnation of the old warning, “Be careful what you wish for.” We had previously adopted a greyhound from a rescue shelter in Connecticut, and I had quickly learned that that dog took his “retirement” from racing quite seriously: most of his days were spent lying motionless on the floor, the promise of food at dinnertime his only motivation to ever be active. “I wish I had a dog who would play,” I would complain to my mom, time after time. Be careful what you wish for.
Rocky loved to play. Indeed, it seemed like there was never a time when he didn’t want to play. Every moment that he saw me became an occasion for displays of what appeared to be boundless joy and energy: I could not walk into the dining room without being greeted by a wild dog running at full speed around the table, attempting to coax me into chasing him before collapsing into a fit of panting. Hugs for my mom were interrupted by our new brown-haired companion, leaping impatiently at our feet. Petting him was out of the question: he would continually move his head back and forth, trying mischieviously to nip at my fingers; there was simply no off switch on this dog. “You always said you wanted a dog who would play,” my mom would remind me.
Because I spent most of those early years in Massachusetts, attending the College of the Holy Cross, it was a long time before Rocky and I bonded. He wriggled his way into the hearts of my parents much sooner. At the time, both of them were working in Stamford, Connecticut, running their own drycleaners. The workload was abysmal, requiring both of them to be on their feet for long hours, laboring in brutally hot temperatures. After a few years, my mother’s health started suffering due to the stress of the job and she began dreading going to work each day. My father decided to start bringing Rocky to the store each morning, and a little pen was set up near my mother’s station at the cash register. Suddenly, she had a companion, a lovable little ball of energy who adored any and all attention directed his way. While my mom was still not a fan of the drycleaning business, the days started going by a little faster. My dad often remarks that Rocky saved my mother’s life.
After graduating in 2003, I returned home to live with my parents. By that time, Rocky was a full-grown, regal-looking Boxer, big and muscular, his once floppy ears pointed and standing at attention. While he was still incredibly exuberant and active, he had toned it down a bit since his days as a puppy. Not only would he now allow me to pet him without too much trouble, he would often sit by my side, put his head in my lap and encourage it. After a long day at work, it was always nice to be greeted by Rocky’s enthusiastic sprints around the table; it was as if I had been gone for weeks, rather than a few hours. I think the moment I remember really falling in love with him was the day my mom told me that he had become familiar with the noise of the Metro North train I took home from Manhattan, and had started standing by the front window each night to await my arrival.
We learned more of Rocky’s quirks and endearing traits as the years progressed: He continued to react to hugs between my mom and me with what can only be described as jealousy, and he was now big enough that he could actually leap up and insert himself between us. He also established himself as a huge fan of birthday celebrations: much to our delight, he was smart enough to understand that presents on the dining room table meant cake later on in the night. He would display visible excitement as everything was prepared, and would put his front paws onto a chair and lean onto the kitchen table as the cake was lit and presented, helping the lucky recipient blow out the candles. My mother was always nice enough to give him a small slice for his efforts, which he would consume in seconds.
I eventually came to realize that Rocky was exactly the type of pet that I had been hoping for my whole life: We had always had animals in our house, from dogs to cats to rabbits, and so many of them had acted disinterested or shy. Rocky adored us all and he wanted to be around us as much as possible. He could never get enough attention. What I saw over time was that this dog had granted us each his unconditional love.
As I made my way along the winding path to adulthood, it was so wonderful to have him as a friend by my side. There was something comforting about his constant affection; he was always there, no matter how bad things might be in other areas of my life. I screwed up something important at work? Rocky was there to greet me when I got home. I got into an argument with a friend? Rocky would lay next to me while I sat in the living room. I was depressed over a breakup? Rocky would put his front paws on my lap and invite me to scratch his neck. He would always remind me that no matter how many mistakes I might make, I was still a good person on the inside; I still had this dog who loved me no matter what.
I took another step along the path to adulthood this past June: I finally moved out of my parents’ house into my own apartment in Queens. While I have enjoyed the freedom that this has brought me, there is one thing that makes me very sad: leaving Rocky behind. Obviously, I love my parents, and I miss them both very much when they’re not around, but they have the capacity to understand why I left. They can comprehend that I needed to become independent and act as my own man. Rocky does not have the benefit of such reasoning. I feel guilty sometimes because I imagine the confusion he’s felt over the last few months, as his friend, the guy he continues to wait for by the window each night, has stopped coming around on a regular basis. I worry that I’ve broken his heart.
Rocky is now 11 years old, 77 in those mythic dog years, and the age is beginning to show. My dad put it in perspective last night: “When we got him,” he said, “I was the old man, and he was the baby. Now he’s the old man.”
“You’re still pretty old, Dad,” I responded, but I understood his point. The brown on Rocky’s face is slowly becoming more and more grey. His eyes have been clouded by cataracts, and his hearing is starting to go. I didn’t realize how bad the latter had gotten until this morning, when my family came home from church. Until not too long ago, our trip up the front steps after even the shortest excursion outside of the house would be met with loud barks of excitement, a happy dog bobbing up and down in the front window, relieved at our return. This afternoon, we made it all the way into the house to find Rocky fast asleep on the dining room floor, unaware of our presence. It wasn’t until my father knelt down and stroked his stomach that he jolted awake and began his usual, frenzied greeting.
I see Rocky get older and more frail each time I come home to visit, and it breaks my heart. I know that at his age, we probably don’t have much time left with him. My eyes tear up when I think that this might be the last Christmas we get to enjoy with him. He has meant so much to my parents, my brother and me; he has become much more than just a dog, or a pet: he has become a member of our family. The love that he has shown has touched me on a deeper level than I could have ever imagined back in the fall of 1999, and I will never forget him when he’s gone.
It is one of the tragic facts of life that all of the earthly joys we experience, no matter how meaningful or profound, are in the end, fleeting. The individuals who come into our lives, individuals who we care for and who show us affection, will leave us someday, if we do not leave them first. I look at Rocky slowly fading away and I realize how hard this will be for me to accept as the years go on. I have been so blessed during my life to have had such a wonderful family, and the thought of living without the love of my mother or my father is heart-wrenching to comprehend. And yet, I know deep-down that it is a reality I will have to face one day.
So what, then, is the meaning of our lives? Are we simply destined to experience incessant sorrow, interrupted by temporary moments of happiness, before our own existence is forever extinguished? Or is there something deeper that we can hold onto? While I do not deign myself worthy of solving the riddle of life’s meaning, I can tell you where I find meaning in my own life: in the promises offered by the man whose birth we have just finished celebrating.
I have definitely not been a model Christian. I have long been a Christmas and Easter churchgoer, and I have certainly made my share of mistakes with regard to my treatment of friends and family over the years. And yet, I feel as though the older I get, the stronger my bond with Christ becomes. I believe it’s because I’m becoming more cognizant of my own mortality, and that of those around me. The thought that this life, this eye-blink in the grand temporal scheme, is all there is and ever will be is an incredibly depressing, terrifying thought. I find solace in believing that we are all a part of something much greater.
Clearly, we will never know for sure what lies beyond this realm of existence during our lifetimes. If we had a definitive answer about the veracity of God’s actuality, there would be no need for “faith”, the belief in the things for which we lack concrete evidence. And yet, we also do not have definitive proof of God’s absence. Science can take us to the point of the Big Bang, but it can go no further; it cannot describe what preceded the origin of life, or what set it in motion. Thus, I would argue, we are each presented with a choice: On the one hand, we can believe that we are simply a collection of molecules, brought together through a series of accidents, leading lives without an overarching purpose, before we simply cease to exist.
Or we can find sustenance in the promises offered by religion. As Christians, we can believe that the stories of Jesus are true. We can believe that there is a Creator who made us in his image, who built a universe and did not recede from it, and who placed human beings at its center. We can believe that he has put us here with a purpose, to live good lives as compassionate human beings, using the gifts he has granted us to better the world for those around us. We can believe that he sent his only Son to guide us, so that one day we might experience an eternal reward in Heaven. We can believe that there is hope after the tragedy, that those who have been torn from us are those with whom we will one day be reunited. We can believe in a God who loves us unconditionally, a God who is always there to offer comfort when we are scared, or sad, or hurt, a God whose unending devotion we can gleam through the affection of our family, our loved ones, and our friends… or in the expectant gaze of an excited Boxer, waiting by the window for our return.
I, for one, choose the latter.
Merry Christmas to you all.
PART FIVE: THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES
Oh! what a tangled web was woven,
When Joe Torre fell and faltered,
Leaping back into the past,
Time’s current torn and altered.
Two glowing crystal balls,
Carried back into aught-three,
Soaring through the storied past,
Of New York Yankee history.
In a blink, the orbs had gone,
With a wink, both crystals vanished,
Stolen by a wrathful wretch,
From God’s Kingdom fore’er banished.
Then with a flash, a mighty crash,
In the second subsequent:
The orbs returned and in the hands,
Of an angel, Heaven-sent.
Such sweet relief to stop the thief,
Did Jeter Fair now surely feel,
And in praise for his success,
Now unto God did Jeter kneel.
Then rising, having prayed,
And given thanks unto the Lord,
Fair Jeter placed the orbs,
Upon the stand where they were stored.
And having done this deed in times of need,
He did prepare,
To journey back in time,
To his right “when” and proper “where”.
But he could not resist,
Just one glimpse of days to be,
Before he ventured back,
And took his place in history.
Then walking through the halls,
Of that hallowed Yankee Stade,
He saw that photographs,
Of Yankee greats were there displayed:
Joltin’ Joe, the Great Bambino,
Phil Rizzuto, Ford and Case,
The Mighty Mick and Roger Maris:
M & M boys giving chase.
And there too he saw a few,
He recognized from his own era,
Like Coney and O’Neill,
Andy Pettitte, Mo Rivera.
And high amongst the hangings,
Much to Jeter’s great delight:
An image of himself,
Leaping up and taking flight,
Surrounded by his teammates,
On what seemed a joyous day;
In the background, on the scoreboard,
“Mr. November” did it say.
And standing there, in awe,
Excitement flowing through each wing,
Fair Jeter wondered wildly,
What his future days would bring.
Then with a flash, having repaired,
The sin that he was sent to fix,
Fair Jeter left to join his team:
The Yanks of ’96.
Now high up in the rafters,
Watching, waiting all the while,
Gazing at his younger self,
With a most enchanted smile,
Was the Jeter of the present,
Now a Yank for countless days,
Whose exploits on the field,
As the Captain won him praise.
And flying up above,
To watch his wide-eyed twin depart,
Fair Jeter felt a sadness,
Gnawing at his elder heart:
For while he had succeeded,
Winning rings through his career,
He missed that innocence,
That with time does disappear,
That awestruck sense of wonder,
When all seems bright and new,
To those rookies entering,
The ranks of baseball’s chosen few.
But such thoughts were fast to flee,
For Fair Jeter here had traveled,
To catch the vile villain,
Whose heinous plot he had unraveled.
And just as Jeter hoped,
Like a moth unto a flame,
In that moment, Satan’s demon,
Into Yankee Stadium came:
Joe Torre, bruised and gory,
With a face all scarred and swollen,
Traveling back home with the last,
Of the powers he had stolen.
Then leaping with a shout,
Fair Jeter burst down through the air,
Grabbing onto twisted Torre,
His opponent unaware.
Then pinning down the pawn,
Of the evil Prince of Lies,
Fair Jeter, with great anger,
Looked into the demon’s eyes:
“Through the eons did I chase you,
“On that ballfield did I face you,
“Then went home to sit beside you,
“And in our happy times, embrace you.
“You were but a nameless beast,
“Whom I pursued for God Above,
“Unaware that under there:
“The father figure that I’d loved.
“How it breaks my beating heart,
“To know our team you tore apart!
“What happened to the one,
“Who gave me guidance from the start,
“Of my career, who I held dear,
“Who showed me strength when I did fear,
“What say you, twisted traitor,
“Now that your end is surely near?”
To which Torre replied, with laughing eyes,
“Good never wins,
“And I have found true power,
“In the devil’s den of sins.
“And ’tis you who should prepare,
“To look into your Maker’s eyes,
“For ’tis you, oh foolish fair one,
“Who is about to die.”
And just then, from behind,
A mighty blow to Jeter’s back,
That echoed through the chamber,
With a loud and booming crack.
Then glancing up above,
Jeter saw a brute uncanny,
A fiend in Stockings Red:
The mythic monster known as Manny.
And as the room resounded,
With the wicked laugh of Joe,
And as the fell beast Manny,
Did prepare his killing blow,
A light of brightest white,
Did appear then suddenly,
And the sound of beating wings,
Caused the villains then to flee.
Then squinting in the glow,
Jeter saw a welcome face:
The Hitman, Donnie Baseball,
Returning to his rightful place.
Then checking on Fair Jeter,
Making sure his friend was fine,
Donnie said, “I’m off,”
“For to waste, there is no time.
“For in this very room,
“The New York Yanks I did betray,
“And that is still a debt,
“That I feel I must repay.
“So I will track down Joe,
“That deadly demon, I’ll approach,
“And win his trust again,
“And become his hitting coach.
“And though he shall believe,
“That to his side, I did ally,
“In truth, for New York’s Yankees,
“Shall I be a faithful spy.”
Then wishing him Godspeed,
Jeter bid proud Don farewell,
As the Hitman went in search,
Of the vile hosts of hell.
And as he then prepared,
To flap his wings and fly away,
His eyes caught sight of something,
Which did cause him great dismay:
There upon their resting place,
In that legendary park,
Aura and Mystique,
The orbs from Heaven had gone dark.
Oh! what sorrow swept the land,
Pre-empting pinstriped Yankee pride,
Oh! such a misery,
That sweet Suzyn Waldman cried.
And when asked where winning went,
Michael Kay did cry out, “See ya!”
And fans across the land,
Cast out that their Yankee memorabilia.
And for the Yankees’ Sterling voice,
Doubts did run mighty “high”,
And hope was so “far” “gone”,
That he could muster but a sigh.
And as the Bombers floundered,
Bereft of their old magic,
As playoff dreams collapsed,
Replaced with losses oh so tragic,
Out west, Joe Torre laughed,
To see such fate befall the good,
As he and Manny found success,
In the hills of Hollywood.
And soon the thoughts crept in,
That maybe sin had overcome,
The forces of the faithful,
Who fought for the Holy One.
And seeing that God’s gifts,
Of gratitude had lost their glow,
The thought that God had left them,
Within the chosen ones did grow.
And yet there was still one,
Who refused to turn away,
Who spoke out about the threat,
Of falling under Satan’s sway:
The one the Yankees long ago
Had chosen as their leader,
The future Hall-of-Famer,
The Captain, Derek Jeter.
And setting out to prove,
That the Almighty’s love was true,
Fair Jeter began constructing,
An altar grand and new:
A revised Yankee Stade,
To offer praise to Him Above,
A token of affection,
To the God Fair Jeter loved.
And as the losses mounted,
Brick by brick did Jeter build,
A temple to the Heavens,
That God’s will might be fulfilled.
And when at last he’d finished,
To the fans he then appealed,
To join him in ’09,
At this pristine Yankee field.
And yet the fans still doubted,
To them, the future still seemed bleak:
“How are we to win,
“Without Aura and Mystique?”
And as the season closed,
Several Yankees did lose heart:
Abreu, and Giambi,
And Mussina did depart.
And sitting all alone,
In this home that he had built,
Fair Jeter sat and prayed,
His tortured soul now racked with guilt:
“Oh! if you deem it worthy,
“You in whom I do believe,
“Please give me a sign,
“And this grief, from me relieve.
“For I have tried my best,
“To follow light in times of dark,
“To show my faith in you,
“By off’ring up this brand new park.
“And yet, my teammates leave,
“And the fans are filled with fright,
“Please give me a sign,
“Show me how to set things right.”
And then Fair Jeter waited,
Hoping to him God would speak,
But he did not receive,
The sign from God that he did seek.
Then glancing up above,
He offered love then turned to go,
When at once he felt a rumble,
That started softly, then did grow.
The sound of metal hooves,
Galloping throughout the halls,
A sound like rolling thunder,
That did shake the concrete walls.
And then at last, there did appear,
A great ghost of Yankees past,
Lou Gehrig, ‘pon on Iron Horse,
Riding hard and charging fast.
Then raising up his steed,
To a stop, this legend came,
And Jeter saw that in his hand,
He held a torch, aflame.
“Fair Jeter,” said the ghost,
“I am here to offer thanks,
“For you have made us proud,
“We who claimed the name of “Yanks”.
“For you have learned the lesson,
“That God hath taught you well:
“That true strength layeth not,
“In those things material.
“The gifts that that God has granted,
“In ourselves they do reside,
“Belief in our own talents:
“That’s the source of Yankee pride.”
And then the legend Gehrig,
Did leap down and pass the torch,
And the flame did burn so bright,
That the Heavens, it did scorch.
And this brand new Yankee Stadium,
Did blaze with a gleaming light,
As the cherubs up above,
Raised their voice in song that night,
And rejoiced at Yankee triumphs,
In the battle against sin,
Crying out, in unison,
“The Yankees win! THE YANKEES WIN!”
PART FOUR: LEGENDS
Now faster than a rocket,
In the sky did Jeter fly,
On a race, through time and space,
The devil’s dark dreams to deny.
And with a power from Above,
Filled with love, the rookie raced,
Tracking Torre, his fell quarry,
Setting off a cross-time race,
Sprite and demon, ancient beings,
One so chaste and one immoral,
Hurtled back through Yankee history,
In a tussle trans-temporal:
Grappling near the outfield wall,
Manned by Barfield and Mel Hall,
Then past the ‘pen these two did plough,
Over Hawkins, Plunk and Howe.
Throughout the 80’s, so arrayed,
Opposed as foes while Winfield played,
Raging through Rickey and Rags,
Rushing past Randolph and Pags.
Crashing, clashing near Claudell
One sent from God and one from Hell,
Striking blows throughout the park,
Home to Meacham and Jack Clark.
Then through the 70’s, swiftly swirling,
Wing-ed warriors wildly whirling,
On they flew, these fateful two,
Through the cages of Bronx Zoo.
And though Torre struck at Dent,
His fell blow did Jetes prevent,
And as the demon rolled and roared,
O’er the Monster, victory soared.
And though the Bronx did surely burn,
Such concern was soon interned,
For Reggie’s strength came straight from Heaven,
In Game 6 in ’77,
And thanks to Jeter, Torre missed,
A killing shot at Chris Chambliss,
Then to the 60’s, surging on,
Jeter tailing Satan’s spawn.
An aging Mick was soon replaced,
BY Mighty Mantle giving chase,
In the quest for 61,
And God’s will was surely done:
Torre sought to change the truth,
By Jeter’s aid, Maris passed Ruth,
By providence, the Yanks empowered,
Those teams of Skowron, Ford and Howard.
Then to the 50’s flying on,
Jeter’s journey, days bygone.
Grappling in God’s Holy Name,
Saving Larsen’s perfect game,
Preserve the past, his sacred vow,
Scooter shouting, “Holy cow!”
Blasting right past Case and Berra,
Through this hallowed Yankee era.
Then in the 40’s, Torre did seek,
To thwart the Clipper’s hitting streak,
But while Torre whispered, “Walk”,
On his path, did Jeter stalk,
And by God’s Grace, DiMag extended,
Satan’s vile plans, upended,
And that streak, still it would run,
To 56 in ’41.
Then to the 30’s, giving way,
Granting Lou his lucky day,
Beaming on a steaming course,
Racing past the Iron Horse.
To the 20’s, Joe did sow,
Seeds of doubt ‘pon Murderer’s Row,
But on his tail was Jeter hot,
And Ruth did call his famous shot!
And the Maker’s might fulfilled,
Yankee Stadium did Ruth build!
Home to all this Yankee lore,
Saved by Jeter, strong and sure!
Then shouting with great rage,
Mephisto’s monster then did flee,
To the dawn of Yankee legends,
‘Pon the Hilltop in aught-three.
And as he flew, Fair Jeter knew,
The battle’s end was surely nigh,
That the duel would be decided,
‘Pon those holy Lands most High.
Then halting in mid-flight,
He did descend onto the field,
Then calling out to Joe, his foul foe,
He shouted, “Yield!”
But Joe could not be seen,
This vile fiend had gone to hide,
Taking cover in the stands,
While Jeter Fair, the villain eyed.
His plot thus far prevented,
This demented demon schemed:
One more chance to take the vengeance,
Of which his sinful soul now dreamed,
And with the sacred orbs at his command,
Fell Torre planned,
To kill the Lord’s first Yankees,
Whose arrival was at hand.
Then summoning the powers,
Of great Aura and Mystique,
And laughing with delight,
At the damage he would wreak,
Torre did call forth,
A bursting blaze of energy,
To be directed at each angel,
Who did claim the name “Yankee”.
Then from his spot near short,
Fair Jeter, ‘pon that fateful night,
Gazed out with great awe,
And saw God’s chosen ones alight,
Upon the field of play,
Landing softly out in left,
And their presence brought him cheer,
These pioneers, of sin bereft.
For though he had traversed,
The universe of Yankees past,
And encountered every hero,
That Yankee legends had amassed,
To see the likes of Chesbro,
And Wee Keeler made him burst,
For these were more than icons:
These great Yankees were the First.
And to see their innocence,
A wide-eyed wonderment so dear,
Did move the young Fair Jeter,
And to his eye, did bring a tear.
But as he watched in silence,
Staring at the hosts on high,
Torre leapt down to home plate,
Crying out, “Die, Yankees, die!”
And on that field most blessed,
So filled with rage and angry spite,
Joe unleashed his weapon,
Which ‘pon the angels would ignite.
And watching as it rolled,
Towards the hole ‘tween third and short,
Fair Jeter moved with instinct,
As sure doom he sought to thwart:
Ranging to his right,
The angel snared the bounding bomb,
Then leaping in the air,
A pirouette, with such aplomb,
He threw across his body,
A perfect strike, to home he sent,
And as the sphere exploded,
Into the air, fell Torre went,
Releasing both the orbs,
Those precious gifts bestowed by Heaven,
Which Jeter deftly caught,
To take them home, back to ’07.
PART THREE: THE ONE
Now tumbling back through time,
Twisted Torre and his liege,
The once heroic Hitman,
Here a monster, Mattingly,
Did surely go, to Chicago,
Upon the 12th of May;
In ‘96, ChiSox and Yanks,
Did play upon that day.
‘Twas on that fateful afternoon,
That Torre first believed,
That goals of Series wins,
Had a chance to be achieved.
For on that fateful afternoon,
Upon that crucial date,
His team did fall behind:
Yankees 0, ChiSox 8.
But rather than give up,
The Yankees chose to stand and fight,
And there in inning four,
A raucous rally did ignite:
The righteous ones, scratched out a run,
As Ruben ran ‘cross home,
And here is where our hero,
Makes his way into this poem.
Now after Fox did double,
Sending Backstop Joe to third,
A young man stepped up to the plate,
And turned his head skyward,
And with angelic calm,
He then did raise a prayer to Heaven,
To ask God to assist him,
With his team still down by seven.
Then with a steely poise,
And a batting eye precise,
This fledging, like our Savior,
Did choose to sacrifice.
And though he was a neophyte,
The Yanks did see a leader:
The man who would be Captain,
Their new Shortstop, Derek Jeter.
A legend for all time, who would combine,
A boyish bliss,
With the spirit of a warrior,
Every time he pumped his fist.
This angel unsurpassed,
Rejecting flash for stylish grace,
Whom men would dub Fair Jeter,
For his most cherubic face.
An angel without equal,
In the ways of bat and glove,
Who wore his pinstripes proudly,
Praising Yahweh up above,
And though he’d self-efface, he took his place,
‘Tween Ruth and Martin,
Number 2, whose legend grew,
with each foe he did dishearten,
And whose love was surely shared,
With lovely ladies everywhere,
But who vowed, by God in Heaven,
His virginity to spare,
Until his wedding day, but back in May,
His rookie year,
The world had caught but glimpses,
Of this storybook career.
Now from a creaky perch,
Atop the new Comiskey Park,
Joe Torre and the Hitman,
Vile villains of the Dark,
Did sit in sheer disgust; Chicago’s gusts,
Did not abate,
As the Yankees capped their comeback,
By a score of 9-8.
Led by Mighty Tino, like the Bambino,
While Paul O’Neill and Raines,
ChiSox pitching, did bombard.
Then Girardi drove in three,
And to the pen the Yankees gave,
A lead, which Mo would hold,
And which John Wetteland then would save.
And seeing this, the devilish,
Joe Torre sneered and snarled,
Then grabbed his evil ally,
With claws withered, worn and gnarled:
“How my blackened soul, as dark as coal,
“Does burn with hate,
“When I watch and when I hear,
“The Yankees cheer and celebrate,
“For long was I fool,
“Who did ally with pinstripe pride,
“’fore I found the force of fear,
“And their feeble God denied.
“And I did play a part, in the start,
“Of this latest streak,
“A dynasty, in the late 90s;
“How it causes me to shriek,
“For it was here, momentum built,
“Then quite a blaze it soon became,
“When Doc Gooden took the mound,
“On Yankee ground, in our next game,
“And though an age-d dolt,
“Whose talent long ago had quit,
“Doc Gooden pitched that game,
“Without giving up a hit.
“How it galls me, and appalls me,
“To think that I did cheer,
“So delighted and excited,
“At our prospects for that year,
“Never knowing that the reasons, for those seasons,
“Were a fraud,
“That no reward would be bestowed,
“By such a lying God,
“And the blood and sweat and tears,
“I surely shed, oh, so misled!
“Now I shall have my vengeance,
“When I strike these Yankees dead!
“And who shall be the first,
“But the Fairest one of all,
“Derek Jeter, sorry sop,
“Shall be the first of them to fall!
“Come my faithful liege, let us lay siege,
“To New York’s Yanks,
“Then unto mighty Satan,
“Shall we give eternal thanks!”
Then racing from the rafters,
Loosing laughter in his glee,
He called to his companion,
“Come and join me, Mattingly!”
But though he still felt spurned,
And surely yearned to curse the Yanks,
Who had deemed to squash his dreams,
Of managing their righteous ranks,
Joe’s murder lust, did still disgust,
Ol’ Number 23,
And in his heart, in no small part,
He still felt sympathy,
For the team who had been family,
For those who’d given him a home,
Who stood there by his side,
And vowed he’d never fight alone.
And there, with much despair,
The humbled Hitman did cry out,
To ask God for forgiveness,
Then with a mighty shout,
Did swoop down with great speed,
His Yanks in need of his assistance,
And catching up to Joe, he stopped his foe,
With fierce resistance.
The demon scratched and clawed,
In utter rage to be betrayed,
And struck at Mattingly,
For the weakness he’d displayed,
For just as Joe’s fell killing blow,
Was ’bout to be unleashed,
Young Jeter Fair, still unaware:
From Reaper’s reach released.
Then calling out below,
Mattingly bid Jeter, “Fly!”
But Fair Jeter, far from fleeing,
Joined the battle in the sky,
And with their might combined,
The once and future Yankee Caps,
Did fight the Satan spawn,
Till it did crumble and collapse,
But ever shrewd, the devil’s brood,
Did escape their wrath divine,
Fleeing then, to some new “when”,
Somewhere further back in time.
Turning then to Mattingly, Derek did see,
The damage done,
For Donnie had been ravaged,
Though the battle had been won.
“Hurry now,” the Hitman cried,
“In the balance hangs the fate,
“Of every legend, every epic,
“That past Yankees did create.
“That wicked beast, its hate unleashed,
“Stole the sacred crystal balls,
“God forgive me, and take pity:
“‘Twas me who opened up the walls,
“Of Yankee Stade; and now repaid,
“In utter shame I lay before you,
“To stop this villain, we must hurry,
“Now fly fleetly, I implore you!”
Then with a burst of light,
Out of sight did Jeter blink,
On the path, of Torre’s wrath,
Yankee history on the brink.
And watching from the ground,
Ol’ Donnie found an inner peace,
And the turmoil he had carried,
In that moment, did release.
He had been a hero,
Who had led the Yank attack,
O’er at first, but he’d been cursed,
By an ailing, aching back,
Wounded in the fight ‘gainst sin,
‘Till that day, it did arrive,
When he left the Yanks, retired,
At the end of ‘95.
And his career, did bring him cheer,
But of regrets, he did have one:
That he had not partaken,
In their magic championship run.
And as he watched the holy war,
From seats afar, his heart grew sad,
For he had missed out on the ring,
He had wanted oh so bad.
‘Twas not the piece of jewelry,
But that joy it represents:
To know your works and deeds,
Have shaped the course of life’s events.
A feeling that he felt right then,
A cheer that warmed his heart:
To know now, in that season,
He had played a tiny part.
And there, the elder Captain,
Found the joy that he did seek,
In ‘96, as glistening bliss,
Rolled from his eyes and down his cheeks.
PART TWO: THE ARTFUL DODGER
Now since those early days,
When rounded bat first met round ball,
When smiling boys of summer,
Turned to legends of the fall,
When fans in stands first held their breath,
Before the final score,
Many legends have been penned,
Enshrined in Yankee lore:
From the Iron Horse, and Babe, of course,
To the Mick and Joltin’ Joe,
From the great Yogi, to Reggie’s three,
To Roger’s homerun show.
From Gator’s K’s to perfect days,
For Larsen, Wells, and Cone:
When it comes to baseball grandeur,
New York’s Yankees stand alone.
And counted with the greats,
There was the angel known as Joe,
Whose constant stoic gaze,
A sense of calm, it did bestow,
Upon the team he managed,
Upon the Yankee squads he led,
And from his fearsome forces,
Frequent fiendish foes had fled.
For many years, the fans did cheer,
“In Torre, do we trust,
“A hero for the ages,
“He is merciful and just!
“We listen to the wisdom,
“That does fall forth from his lips,
“And we know that he will lead us,
“To unending championships!”
Now for a while, as was his style,
Wise Torre would ignore,
The hymns of praise, that marked the days,
The Yankees would outscore,
The other team in battle,
‘Pon the diamond field of play;
For as a modest angel,
It seemed the right and God-like way.
But several times, wise Joe would find,
That much to his surprise,
Such songs of hero worship,
Caused his inner pride to rise.
And though he stayed devoted,
To the service of his Lord,
He learned he liked the love,
That came with carrying His sword.
And slowly, such assertions,
Of his heart and bravery,
Did build within great Torre,
And erode his modesty,
And change that saintly angel,
Ever slightly, day by day,
Until his giving manner,
Did to selfishness give way.
No longer was a win o’er sin,
A triumph for the team,
A win was merely fodder,
For a swelling self-esteem,
And gone was any honor,
Found in wearing God’s halo,
Replaced by adulation,
At an altar built to Joe.
Then suddenly, sustained glory,
Gave way to seeds of strife,
As Series wins, did then begin,
To wane from Torre’s life,
And hymns of praise, did swiftly fade,
Replaced by hissing sounds,
As Yankee teams, with Canyon dreams,
Did flounder in first rounds.
“We want him gone,” the people cried,
“For he has lost his touch!
“Seven years without a crown,
“Is seven years too much!
“Twenty-six World Championships,
“Were won in praise of Heaven,
“How much longer must we wait,
“For number twenty-seven?
“For seven years, he’s failed to bring,
“The ring that we’ve desired,
“The choice is clear, before next year,
“Joe Torre must be fired!”
His pride aroused, by thoughts espoused,
By bleacher creature folk,
A vicious rage, unlatched its cage,
And in this angel woke.
He then took flight, in darkest night,
To take from those he served,
The glory that Joe Torre,
Truly felt that that he deserved.
Flapping feather wings,
With a white-hot frenzied fire,
Spurned to speed with urgent need,
To unleash a raving ire,
‘Pon the Boss and GM Cash,
If their response did not appease,
The greed and egotism,
That had spread like a disease,
Within this fallen angel,
Who had tumbled from the heights,
Believing hype he had received,
Aggrieved by perceived slights.
Now soaring past facades, and promenades,
He reached the peak,
Of the storied Yankee Stade,
And did find those he did seek.
With power lust, the Yank brain trust,
And brass he did beseech:
More contract years, to quell his fears,
And like a lowly leech,
He got down on his knees, and made his pleas,
For higher fees,
A raise, deserv-ed praise,
For what he’d done with these Yankees.
‘Pon hearing this, Joe’s selfish wish,
Young Cash began to stand,
But George the Boss, now looking cross,
Did rise and take command:
“It saddens me, oh Joe Torre,
“To hear such avarice,
“From the one I’d deemed a warrior,
“For his utter selflessness.
“No true Yankee is Joe Torre,
“If wealth is your desire,
“Such vile thoughts are conjured up,
“In Satan’s pit of fire.
“For love of God, our path is trod,
“To praise His Holy Name,
“No more, no less; our happiness,
“Lies not in wealth and fame.
“And if the Lord, is not reward,
“Enough to please your soul,
“We’ll cast you out, from this high mount,
“Down into Satan’s hole!”
Then in reply, a ghastly cry,
As fire did erupt,
From within Joe’s heart of sin,
Now withered and corrupt.
And out into the night,
This flaming fiend did fly away,
Vowing George, he would repay.
And as the fire burned away,
A face that had been wise,
And a viscous vicious red,
Did enter into Torre’s eyes,
As the wings, once so angelic,
Became a demon’s sickly spans,
All good was purged, as claws emerged,
From each of Torre’s hands.
Then down he flew, as hatred grew,
Within this blistered beast,
To Satan’s lair, to plan with care,
The wrath he would unleash.
Now back in baseball’s bastion,
Joe’s betrayal did bring tears,
From the New York Yankee players,
Who had loved him through the years.
But though he played the part,
Within the heart of one great Yank,
Thoughts turned to promotions,
And a hoped-for rise in rank:
Sage 23, Don Mattingly,
A halo who could hit,
A leader in the 80s,
Known for hustle and for grit,
Had often heard, his name proffered,
To one day follow Joe,
As Yankee skip, head of the ship,
That Godly gales did blow.
And so, though he did cry,
This did belie a fervent wish,
That George would name him manager,
And ‘pon him, praise lavish.
But much to his dismay, upon that day,
The Boss did choose,
Not Mattingly, but Girardi,
Which Don, this did confuse:
Was he not the chosen one,
Picked to one day lead,
The team for which he’d vowed to fight,
For whom he’d pledged to bleed?
And suddenly, just like Torre,
A rage then did arise,
Within ol’ Donnie Baseball,
Much to Lucifer’s surprise.
Soon Satan sent out Torre,
Evil minion, newly-minted,
With a plot, that he had crafted,
And which Torre then presented:
Now after Joe, became a foe,
Of pinstriped paladins,
His ability, to gain entry,
To the land devoid of sins,
The hallowed House of Ruth,
Eternal truth, enshrined inside,
Was taken from fell Torre,
Whom the Maker, he’d defied.
But Mattingly’s animosities,
Were not yet to the fore,
And he could still unlock,
The Yankee Kingdom’s divine door.
In brotherhood, the wicked stood,
As Don turned from the Lord,
And the two of them, to cause mayhem,
Did creep to where was stored,
The sacred secret source,
That did make the Yanks unique:
Two glowing crystal balls,
Known as Aura and Mystique.
Bestowed by God, to his saintly squad,
To grant them pious power,
Stolen now, by Satan’s slaves,
At this dismal, darkened hour.
Then feeling force undreamt of,
Surging through his vile veins,
This thief, this Artful Dodger,
Sought to inflict further pains,
‘pon the Yankees and their faithful,
With a most audacious crime,
By going back and changing,
Yankee moments throughout time.
With noxious glee, did Joe Torre,
The legends, seek to fix,
Beginning with the start of his,
For those of you who have never read one of these before, here’s the deal: After the Mets lost to the Yankees in the 2000 Subway Series, I decided quite simply that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Why spend every frustrating October rooting against the greatest team in baseball when I can very easily root for them and share in their baseball majesty? They are a New York team, after all! Sadly, it appears my bad luck has carried over, as the Yankees have not won a single World Series ever since. But we’re gonna keep trying, folks! So, as I do just about every year at this time, I’ve written an epic poem of biblical proportions in praise of my beloved Yankees.
And now, without further ado, I present to you Part I of this year’s exciting edition of Yankee Tales:
THE CAPTAIN: A YANKEE TALE IN FIVE PARTS
PART ONE: IN THE BEGINNING
And lo! it hath been written,
Within Scripture’s sacred pages,
Handed down from ages past,
By prophets, holy men and sages,
That at the dawn of time,
From a wholly empty state,
The heavens and the earth,
The one true God did then create.
And from the void of darkness,
Did the Lord bring forth the light;
The light became the Day,
And the darkness He called Night.
Pronouncing this as good,
His mighty hand then quelled the seas,
And upon the new dry land,
He did call forth the grass and trees.
And o’er the ground and water,
He placed the stars amongst the sky,
Then filled the land with creatures,
To go forth and multiply.
Then finally, His Divinity,
Did grace us with His love,
As the multitude of angels,
Did gaze in awe from up above.
And there upon the earth,
In His own image did He make,
Man to till the land,
And o’er the beasts, dominion take,
Man to tame the clouds,
Man to reach the ocean floor,
Man, whom God would cherish,
And above all things adore.
Then with his work thus finished,
He took the seventh day to rest,
To gaze upon the beauty,
Of the world that He had blessed.
But little has been written,
Of the day that followed next;
The eighth day is omitted,
From the Bible’s sacred text.
And yet that lazy Monday,
Still has meaning for us all,
For on day number eight,
God did bequeath to us baseball.
Returning to the Kingdom,
God did greet His Seraphim,
Who sang a prayer of praise,
To the mighty Elohim,
And since their love was true,
And since the Lord, they did revere,
The Lord did grant each servant,
Their own earthly souvenir.
Timber from a sturdy oak,
He gave to Gabriel,
And rocks from mountains high,
Were a gift to Raphael.
To Michael, the Archangel,
Leather gloves, He did bestow,
And reams of finest cloth,
Did cause fair Uriel to glow.
Now Raphael, then felt a swell,
Of boundless joy and glee,
And sought to share his present,
With the other angels three,
And calling out, a booming shout,
He threw his rock up high,
And seeing this, in utter bliss,
Did Michael start to fly,
And in his leather glove,
He snared the stone out of its flight,
And Gabriel, and Uriel,
Did laugh in pure delight.
“To me!” Gabriel exclaimed,
And grabbed his oaken branch,
And bent his knees and elbows:
An angelic batting stance.
And Michael, winding up,
Did toss the rock with all his force,
And sent a flaming fastball,
On its soaring, searing course,
And as the rock connected,
With the swiftly swinging oak,
It caused a thunderclap,
That simple words cannot evoke.
And seeing this, the Lord did grin,
A smile soft and warm,
At the merry, playful game,
That was beginning to take form.
And with a hearty wave,
And with a twinkle in his eyes,
God did cause a playing field,
And Stadium to rise.
Bases, first through third,
A pitching mound, a plate for home,
And yards of outfield grass,
Upon which angel wings could roam.
Then cherubim, most all of them,
Did in this rapture share,
And Uriel, did craft them all,
Some uniforms to wear.
And there upon the diamond,
In the Lord’s most Holy Name,
Did the angels play nine innings,
Of the Lord’s most perfect game.
And as God watched His angels,
There was a tug upon His sleeve,
The Son, the one called Jesus,
Come to ask his Dad to leave.
For in his tiny hand,
He held a ball and leather glove,
And he longed to toss the ball,
To the One who taught him love.
So, ‘pon Elysian Fields,
They did find an empty patch,
And there in Elysium:
The first Father and Son catch.
Now for a time, this most sublime,
Of sports there did abide,
Inside the walls of Heaven,
Where the holy hosts reside.
And down on earth, Man proved his worth,
And brought his God delight,
And gave much praise and worship,
To the Holy God of Might.
And seeing His creation,
The angels felt a surge of love,
And sought to grant a gift,
Sent from Paradise above.
Then Seraphim, who shared this dream,
Did go before their Lord,
With this request, that the Most Blessed,
Would grant them His accord:
“Because we care, we wish to share,
“This game we love to play,
“To grant baseball, to one and all,
“Upon this blessed day.”
And seeing their compassion,
The Holy Lord did then accede,
And sent these angels down to earth,
While wishing them Godspeed.
Like Moses from the mountain,
Bringing forth Commandments Ten,
This team of God’s most faithful,
Did bring forth the first bullpen,
And outfield walls, and strike three calls,
And balks and pitches wild,
Homeruns that drew wondrous gasps,
And curveballs that beguiled.
And though they called earth home,
These angels held the memory,
Of Heaven’s Gate, the pristine state,
Of God’s Eternal See,
And so they settled down,
Upon Manhattan’s Highest Lands,
To stay close to their Maker,
He who made them with His hands,
In Hilltop Park, this glowing spark,
Blazed with praise and “glory be”s:
These angels of the High Lands,
Would become the first Yankees.
It has become something of a cliché in recent days to invoke Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, when discussing the current turmoil afflicting the nation. The parallels between fact and fiction are unavoidable, however: As the United States of Rand’s novel descends steadily into a morass of economic despair, its government intrudes further and further into the affairs of the private sector, assigning itself ever-increasing power and authority. The regulations that are passed as a result of this government intervention, each ostensibly in the name of “fairness” and “equality”, serve only to snuff out the remaining flickers of personal initiative and undermine the very corporate leaders with the capability to reverse the nation’s plight. It is not until the emergence of the charismatic and enigmatic John Galt, Rand’s living embodiment of free market capitalism, that the oppressed and vilified are offered hope: At his urging, they withdraw from society, allowing the socialist playground created by the political establishment and the “intelligentsia” to collapse under its own weight.
While it might not yet be time for the nation’s business leaders to retreat to a hidden valley in parts unknown, the need for action and leadership grows more urgent by the day. With the removal of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner at the “behest” of the Obama Administration, the boundaries separating the public and private sectors continue to crumble, opening the doorway for a troubling reimagining of the government’s role in the business world.
Make no mistake: It was the Bush Administration that put the initial cracks in the citadel walls with its bailouts of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG and the auto industry, as well as its passage of the $700 bllion TARP plan. The siege, however, has intensified to levels thought unthinkable only a short time ago, spearheaded by President Obama and his Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, and supported by Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barney Frank. They have appropriated the current economic downturn, and the accompanying fear of the American public, and attempted to use the ever-increasing panic to push through a radical liberal agenda, one that includes nationalized health care, cap-and-trade environmental restrictions and a drastic increase in the government’s role in education. Such plans, it has been made clear, would be funded by an increase in taxes on the “rich”, a punitive confiscation of wealth from the top 5% of earners in this country.
As the crisis has worsened, and as public discontent has grown, the Obama Administration has fanned the flames even further by encouraging a populist revolt against the corporate world. The AIG bonus scandal was a disgraceful sham on the part of the President and Congress: Despite the fact that Secretary Geithner was aware of AIG’S intentions well in advance, and despite Democratic Senator Chris Dodd’s admission that the Treasury Department had insisted on inserting a loophole into the stimulus bill allowing for the bonuses, shock and anger were feigned all around. AIG CEO Ed Liddy, installed after the insurance’s firm’s downturn last year, was paraded in front of Congress for a show trial, during which he was given a stern rebuke by the very men who had voted in favor of the controversial payments in question. The House doubled-down on its hypocrisy by passing legislation to tax the bonuses at a 90% rate, retroactively attempting to recoup that which it had permitted.
In the days that followed, the Obama Administration continued its assault: Congressional committees were held to discuss limiting employee compensation, while Secretary Geithner laid out a plan which would allow the federal government to exert increased influence over non-banking institutions. Most notably, the proposed initiative would allow the government to take control of companies which it deemed a “systemic” risk to the economy.
And then on Sunday came word that the head of the troubled General Motors Corporation, Rick Wagoner, had been removed. The Obama Administration, upset with the progress the company had made since its initial bailout least year, demanded that the CEO be let go before it would consider providing additional funds. Wagoner stepped down immediately.
As the federal government crosses the imaginary line from impartial regulator, seeking to uphold the rule of law and protect private property, to authoritarian decision-maker, choosing executives and determining “appropriate” levels of compensation, the comparisons with Atlas Shrugged are hard to ignore. As Rand’s novel progresses, we watch with a mixture of amusement and anger as the story’s politicians continually undercut the very businessmen whose help they need the most. As the country’s infrastructure destabilizes to the point of collapse, two of the book’s protagonists, Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden, offer the nation its last glimmers of economic hope, Dagny with her successful management of the Taggart Transcontinental Rail Line and Rearden with the invention of Rearden Metal, an alloy that is stronger than steel and cheaper to produce. Rather than embracing the accomplishments of these corporate leaders, the government attempts to punish them, placing crushing restrictions on Dagny’s rail lines and forcing Rearden to release his formula to the public. Inevitably, the intervention of the government pushes each of these businesses to the brink of ruin, further degrading the domestic economy. Blind to their own hypocrisy, the very same political leaders who have nearly destroyed Dagny and Rearden then turn to them for help in fixing the nation’s problems.
It is into a similar quagmire that the current Administration is slowly dragging the real-life America of today, led by the ideologies of the President himself. It is crucial to consider Obama’s biography when examining his leadership during this crisis, for it offers insight into the course on which he is steering the country. The majority of his adult life has been spent advocating on behalf of the poor, first as a community organizer and then as an Illinois state senator. His economic philosophy has clearly been defined by those experiences: he is an admitted proponent of the “bottom-up” theory of growth, one which views prosperity as being generated from the lower and middle, rather than upper, classes. Not only does Obama refute the notion that it is the rich who produce wealth, he seems to harbor a resentment of them. This simmering disgust was on display during his recent interview with Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, during which he repeatedly giggled when talking about corporate failure and spoke in mocking tones when referring to the “best and brightest” on Wall Street. This is a man who long ago bought into the notion that the rich, through unrestrained greed, have stolen wealth from the poor and callously left them to suffer in misery. His recent statements and policy proposals indicate a determination on his part to correct this perceived wrong through a plan of government intervention and economic redistribution.
And yet by pursuing such a course of action now, during a recession, while at the same time encouraging a public distrust in business, Obama is every bit as blind and misguided as the cartoon-like politicians of Atlas Shrugged. Look at the astoundingly contradictory message his Administration has delivered to the business world within the first two months of his time in Office: We will tax you directly to pay for the nation’s health care. We will restrict your ability to grow by limiting your emissions. We will tell you how much your executives will make, and if we change our minds after the fact, we will take what we deem appropriate. We will parade your CEOs in front of a national audience and embarrass them, and if we disagree with their actions we will fire them. And if all else fails, we will take over your company and do as we see fit. You are gluttonous, you are reckless and you must held accountable for your avarice.
Now fix this mess.
How can Obama, in one soaring, Telepompter-induced speech after another, promise to restore our economy to its previous levels of success while at the same time doing everything possible to handcuff the very companies he will need to accomplish such a goal? How can our President expect prosperity when every action he has taken has served to fuel increasing levels of uncertainty? Do none of his vaunted advisors understand that putting undue pressure on our nation’s corporations will only serve to push them elsewhere, thus driving us further into our current predicament?
Look again at the examples of AIG and GM. As CEO Liddy explained during his testimony, the bonuses paid to the company’s employees were not performance bonuses; they were retention bonuses, incentives designed to prevent a mass exodus as the company wound down its financial products division. More importantly, the government was informed of these bonuses late last year and signed off on them, going so far as to create a loophole in federal legislation so as to ensure their payment. Immediately upon sensing public unrest, the government changed course, condemned the company, pilloried those who had received a bonus, and demanded that they return money that they had earned while working under a legal contract. What business will ever feel confident in this country if it believes that the government can intrude into its affairs and break binding agreements? That it can retroactively tax money it feels was not appropriate? Clearly, AIG is not blameless in the current financial mess, and yes, it must expect to alter its business operations while receiving bailout funds. But what is to stop the government in the future, once a precedent has been established today, from waging war against companies which are deemed “harmful” to its ever-changing prerogatives? What would stop the Barney Franks of the world from confiscating “excessive” compensation from oil executives, or tobacco company executives?
GM also suffered a betrayal by acquiescing to the demands of the federal government. What no one on the left will admit is that it is liberal policy which has crippled General Motors, as well as Chrysler and Ford. Under the weight of its commitments to the United Auto Workers, compensation packages which bring the hourly rate of a union worker to nearly $70 an hour, the Big Three have been unable to compete with foreign companies. It is the Democrats, led by Obama, Pelosi and Reid, who have emboldened the unions, leading to such oppressive contracts as those with the UAW. It is also the Democrats who have forced the Big Three to comply with CAFE standards, seeking to improve fuel efficiency by compelling these companies to build smaller, more dangerous cars that consumers do not want to buy. It is as a result of these obligations that the Big Three have been forced to alter their business models, pushed into a corner where no company can hope to succeed. And now they are eviscerated for failing to improve by the very government officials who have contributed to their downfall. Why would any company trust the government to provide room for success, when those in control are pushing an agenda that runs counter to growth? Why would such companies remain in this country, subjugated to oppressive standards and regulations, when they could flee to China or India?
And by the same line of reasoning, why would the rich that Obama has targeted remain here as their government absconds with more and more of their hard-won earnings? The supreme lesson of the Reagan Administration is that liberalism’s bottom-up economy is fatally flawed. The laborers and blue-collar workers of this country, the construction workers, the janitors, the electricians and the plumbers, are all vital components of our country, but in the end, they work as a result of the magnanimity of the upper classes. They work because one of those wealthy individuals that Obama seeks to punish decided to open up a business. Or grow a business. Or enjoy the fruits of his labor by building a home. It will not be the blue collar workers of the nation who will pull us out of this recession. That is the responsibility of the CEOs, the entrepreneurs, the small business owners, the capitalists: they are the ones who drive our economy. And it is only by providing a stable business environment, one that is less burdensome rather than wildly unpredictable and authoritarian, that they will have any chance of succeeding.
If we are to preserve our role as the world’s leading economic power, we must hope that this is a lesson that President Obama learns very quickly.