The Atlanta Braves are playing for a shot at the World Series. My wife and I are watching the game, cheering loudly, occasionally shouting expletives and flinging popcorn at the TV screen.
But as I watch America’s Team grind against the insufferable odds, locked in a barbarous battle against the LA Dodgers, I’m thinking about other things. Life things.
Because say what you will about these spoiled professional athletes, but these guys on the TV don’t give up. They never give up.
And that’s what has me thinking.
During Game last night’s game, for example, the Braves were behind, and the commentators were predicting a skull crushing loss. They experts said the Braves didn’t have a shot in a wintery hell. But they won.
This game. Same old story. The pundits all claimed Atlanta could never wallop the chosen from Los Angeles. But the Braves are fighting.
Bear with me, I know this baseball analogy is getting ridiculously boring. What I’m getting at is, these twenty-something multimillionaire athletes refuse to fall down and die. They do not give up. They will not give up. And I wish I were more like that.
In my life as a writer, I have been fortunate enough to meet and interview a lot of people who have faced dire scenarios and taken on the devil without flinching.
Children with leukemia. Old men who survived numbered wars. Single mothers who raised families on shoestring budgets. And the one quality I notice in all these remarkable people—simple as it may sound—is that they never give up. Not ever.
Take my mother. She is perhaps the strongest person I know. She possesses a strength I will never fully understand. She survived a husband who beat her, tried to kill her, and then survived his subsequent suicide.
After that, she went on to survive single-motherhood, thankless jobs, and the rigors of raising an American teenage boy who had an appetite like a hypoglycemic water buffalo.
And her trials didn’t stop there. When Mama reached the retirement phase of life, when most people her age start kicking back, buying RVs, touring national parks, and drinking Mai Tais in their muumuus, my mother developed a rare autoimmune disorder.
Her disease mystified doctors. Many a trained medical man looked at my frail mother and said, “You are going to die, ma’am.”
The disease was punching blueberry-sized holes into her muscles, and it was moving toward her heart. Mama whittled down to ninety-some pounds. Her hair became thin. There was a catheter port implanted in her gaunt neck. At her worst, she looked like a skeleton covered in skin.
But somehow she survived. The doctors at Emory University Hospital remarked that, throughout their combined careers, they had never seen a woman so doggedly tough.
Mama beat the rap and lived to tell. She never gave in. She never gave up.
But here’s the thing:
I give up all the time. Yes. I admit it freely, I am not a fighter. I surrender too easily. In my life, I have gone through some very hard times—just like you. But the big difference between you and me is, whereas you probably keep going, whereas you keep smiling, whereas you keep staying positive, I usually don’t.
I have my blackbelt in the art of sucking my thumb. I’ve always been this way. Growing up, I was the kid who got his feelings hurt and ran off crying for Mama. And I did this until I was roughly in my thirties.
I am not a strong man. In fact, sometimes I don’t know what I am.
Still, on nights like tonight, when watching these young ball players dance across a green field in Atlanta, chasing a five-ounce stitched leather ball, I find myself inspired by the memory of the woman who reared me. And I find myself humbled, too.
Above all, I find myself making a silent vow to myself. A promise I will probably break, but one I mean just the same:
One of these days I’m going to be a stronger version of me. I swear it. Someday I am going to be less afraid. Someday I will worry less about horrible things—most of which will never happen.
One day, I’ll be so strong you won’t even recognize me. And on that day, I hope some other hapless and defeated child, sucking his or her thumb, might look at me and feel courage.
Anyway, after the Atlanta Braves win the big game, I hear my phone vibrate on my side table. I pick it up.
“Braves win,” texts my mother.
Because, you see, that’s what happens when you refuse to give up.