Do you remember when you were a kid and everyone would race through the doors at recess and meet out on the baseball diamond for a quick game? You know the drill, captains are chosen and these captains take turns choosing team members. We would all stand around doing our best to look like it didn’t really matter if we got picked first, middle or last. We would scuff the tips of our shoes around in the dust of pitcher’s mound as we pulled our hats down to block the line of vision, or we’d start having conversations with the person next to us as if we were barely aware of teams being formed. I remember. It was always incredibly painful. I wasn’t usually picked last. I was actually pretty good at baseball, but I remember watching the face of the kids who were still standing when the teams were already swollen with talent. They say that pitcher’s mound is the loneliest place on earth. They’re only right if the kid standing there is the last one still waiting to be picked for a team.
We had a teacher who brilliantly decided one year that she was going to intervene. She made a chart on one end of our black board with each kid’s name. She set up this revolving system in which each of us got a turn to be captain and then when your turn came up in the lottery this teacher would pull you aside and tell you that you should pick a guy like Andy first for your team today. She would always go into this little lesson about how winning wasn’t as important as making someone feel good. It didn’t take long for word to get around on the ball field that the teacher was forcing everyone to choose a guy like Andy first. I remember one day watching as the captain called Andy’s name as the first addition to his team. Andy’s face belayed no eagerness, no joy. In fact poor Andy looked ashamed and embarrassed. I wanted so badly for that teacher to understand that being chosen because you don’t have a choice isn’t really being chosen at all.
The other day my husband and I played hooky. My husband is a farmer and we’ve been having a string of very rainy days. I work part time and this happened to be my day off. After I had fed the kids breakfast and gotten them off on their buses I settled down at the computer to balance my checkbook and pay some bills. My planner was spread before me with the hopes of great accomplishments mapped out boldly in it’s pages. Steve came over and nuzzled my neck. “Hey,” his voice lulled me away from my responsibilities, “How bout we don’t do any of this stuff and we just spend the whole day together.” He folded my planner and smiled wickedly. I was an easy target. An hour later I was sitting beside him in the car on our way out for lunch and shopping with plans for a movie in the later afternoon.
When we were driving home that afternoon I asked my incredible husband of 17+ years a question I have probably asked him a million times. “Do you love me?”
“So much!” He answered on cue.
“But would you love me if you had a choice?”
“I do have a choice. I chose you.”
“Yeah, but I mean. You had an unexpected day off and you wanted to go away and have a fun day out and really you kind of had to choose me to do it with didn’t you?”
“What’s your point?”
“I don’t know, it’s just that sometimes I feel like marriage makes me the kid who has to get picked first. The kid the teacher told the captain to choose.”
“I might need you to explain that one hon.”
“Yep. I’m good.”
We rode on in comfortable silence but my mind was still filled with uncertainty. If Steve wasn’t married to me would he choose me? And then I had a thought. I pondered all the instances I could remember as a motley crew of jr. high kids engulfed in baseball dust on the corner lot of our school’s playground. Never once did I remember a captain acting like it bothered him to choose Andy. It wasn’t that they were just being obedient either. We all embraced the thought that being nice to another kid was a good thing to do. The problem wasn’t that the teacher had made the rule. The problem certainly wasn’t that any of us minded choosing Andy first. Day after day we all chose Andy and we kept on choosing him all year long. The problem was that Andy couldn’t accept the grace that was being offered. He couldn’t get his own pride out of the way enough to enjoy being chosen.
When you really peel away all the layers, the question that’s being asked is a simple one. Is love really love, if there isn’t a better option?
I’m not sure I’ve figured it out yet. At least not completely but I do know this. Steve chooses me. He might not have any other options, but he could just pick up his bat and his glove and stomp off the field. He doesn’t. He shows up. He shows up every time and he picks me.
I’d like to think that if Steve had his options open he would choose me anyway. But I don’t think it matters so much anymore. I think the fact that 17 years later we’re still playing on the same team should be all the affirmation I need. Like Andy I guess it’s time to realize that I’m the only thing standing in my own way. I should just sit back and enjoy my spot on the team. Right next to my captain!