Sun Feb 26, 2017, 10:42 AM

For the boys of summer

Last edited Sun Feb 26, 2017, 10:44 PM - Edit history (3)

The Green Fields of the Mind

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.

Somehow, the summer seemed to slip by faster this time. Maybe it wasn't this summer, but all the summers that, in this my fortieth summer, slipped by so fast. There comes a time when every summer will have something of autumn about it. Whatever the reason, it seemed to me that I was investing more and more in baseball, making the game do more of the work that keeps time fat and slow and lazy. I was counting on the game's deep patterns, three strikes, three outs, three times three innings, and its deepest impulse, to go out and back, to leave and to return home, to set the order of the day and to organize the daylight. I wrote a few things this last summer, this summer that did not last, nothing grand but some things, and yet that work was just camouflage. The real activity was done with the radio--not the all-seeing, all-falsifying television--and was the playing of the game in the only place it will last, the enclosed green field of the mind. There, in that warm, bright place, what the old poet called Mutability does not so quickly come.

But out here, on Sunday, October 2, where it rains all day, Dame Mutability never loses. She was in the crowd at Fenway yesterday, a gray day full of bluster and contradiction, when the Red Sox came up in the last of the ninth trailing Baltimore 8-5, while the Yankees, rain-delayed against Detroit, only needing to win one or have Boston lose one to win it all, sat in New York washing down cold cuts with beer and watching the Boston game. Boston had won two, the Yankees had lost two, and suddenly it seemed as if the whole season might go to the last day, or beyond, except here was Boston losing 8-5, while New York sat in its family room and put its feet up. Lynn, both ankles hurting now as they had in July, hits a single down the right-field line. The crowd stirs. It is on its feet. Hobson, third baseman, former Bear Bryant quarterback, strong, quiet, over 100 RBIs, goes for three breaking balls and is out. The goddess smiles and encourages her agent, a canny journeyman named Nelson Briles.

Now comes a pinch hitter, Bernie Carbo, onetime Rookie of the Year, erratic, quick, a shade too handsome, so laid-back he is always, in his soul, stretched out in the tall grass, one arm under his head, watching the clouds and laughing; now he looks over some low stuff unworthy of him and then, uncoiling, sends one out, straight on a rising line, over the center-field wall, no cheap Fenway shot, but all of it, the physics as elegant as the arc the ball describes.

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I was inspired to post that essay following the rediscovery of the following excerpt from a commencement address by Mr. A. Bartlett Giamatti (1938 - 1989) that spoke to me as I was finishing my studies at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) in the middle of the '80s. I clipped it from a magazine at the time and placed it in my antique secretary desk I emptied the other day in anticipation of our move to a new house.

As I think back and look forward, I see how nothing is straightforward, nothing is unambiguous. Salvation does not come through simplicities, either of sentiment or system. The gray, grainy, complex nature of existence and the ragged edges of our lives as we lead them defy hunger for a neat, bordered existence and for spirits unsullied by doubt or despair.

This simply means that love and hate are fed, as Blake said, by the same nerve, that the force that includes can also definitely exclude, that the desire for something more perfect can, in its very intensity, deny the freedom it would affirm. It means that while one must have courage it must be the courage of one's own convictions, not someone else's.

I also mean something else: That the health of education rests on the need constantly to be mindful of the crucial distinction between education and indoctrination. There are many who lust for the simple answers of doctrine or decree. They are on the left and right. They are terrorists of the mind.

Doctrine closes the mind and kills the spirit whenever it is construed as self-contained and closed, whenever it requires exclusivity of adherence or application or both, and whenever it claims to explain all that has happened to humanity or will happen.

There is a rage to purity in any doctrine so conceived that always means initially complete submission to the truth as compounded by the true believers. This condition obtained in Nazi Germany with the most systematically evil results; it obtains elsewhere, including at present in the Soviet empire, in parts of Asia, in parts of Latin America and, through the evil system of apartheid, in South Africa.

The best way to combat indoctrination by any system that would exclude or master others is to create and foster a principle and process of education that will continually test rather than impose the values it cherishes. Such an education is a lifelong process, and its purpose is to free the mind rather than enclose it.

At the heart of what we call a liberal education lives the conviction that freedom of thought is the necessary precondition to political freedom. If freedom, with all its freely chosen constraints, does not first reside in the mind, it cannot finally reside anywhere.

Such an education, with a sense of history at its core, does not magically confer freedom of mind and spirit. It is by the pursuit of learning for its own sake, by the pursuit of truth wherever it may lie, by the pursuit of those limits that must be leaned in order to be surpassed that the mind and spirit are exercised.

Such an education offers the noblest means by which freedom may be defined for our children, and by them.

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