I was at a memorial service recently for my friend Chris. Chris was more of an aqcuaintance, being my friend Mac’s friend. Chris was a great guy, intelligent, soft-spoken, admittedly nerdy. Chris loved his family, especially his wife, Karen. He loved animals, music and geeky stuff. Chris didn’t want much of a formal service, so the memorial was at his friend Lori’s house. There’s a tidal river in Beverly (the city I live in) that borders the western side of the city, with the ocean bordering the south. Lori’s house is right out on a point overlooking Bass River.
The house was full of Chris’ friends and family, most of whom I didn’t know. There was also a small group of my friends from church. We used to play bar trivia with Chris at the Lucky Dog. The back side of the house has a gorgeous deck with views of the river. A swing hangs beneath the deck. The backyard slopes downhill toward a little cliff. There are steps cut in the stone that lead down to a dock. Cool place. And it was a beautiful day to be there. The sun was shining and it was unseasonably warm. The tide was out almost all the way, leaving a wide swath of mud. My buddy Jon, who grew up on a lake calls that stuff blop, because that’s the noise it makes when you throw a big rock (or roman candle) into it.
The house next door to Lori’s was teeming with kids. All the neighborhood kids were running up and down the street and tended to congregate on the porch of the house next to us. Two houses next to each other, one full of playing kids, the other full of funeral-goers. As the kids were playing, one of them lost their ball out onto the blop. It was one of those balls that they have at the grocery store in those big black wire racks that act like those self-feeding catfood bowls. You know, you pull a ball out of the hole in the very bottom and the top of it is wide open. You know what I’m talking about, right? Anyway, those balls are really light. Lighter than four-square balls. They’re about the lightest balls I can think of. Well, that ball hit the blop and started rolling. It rolled slowly and it rolled occasionally. Just a revolution or two at a time, in accordance with the wind. One of the girls started to go out to try to get it. The blop was over her feet within about ten yards. The ball was probably 35 yards out. Well, when the girl got about halfway to the ball, she started having trouble moving forward. The blop was getting deeper and deeper. We were all (at least I was) hoping one of two things would happen. Either she’d fall forward flat on her face or she’d lose a shoe. One out of two ain’t bad. She lost her shoe. But, at this point, rather than continuing out toward the ball, she retreated to the shore, leaving her sneaker in the belly of the Bass River.
It was at this point that the magical occurred. My friend Mac, in his khaki’s and oxford, stood up resolutely, looked out at that ball rolling from puddle to puddle across the blop, looked back at us and declared, “I think I’m going to go get it.” Mac proceeded to roll up his khakis, take off his shoes and socks and walk down the steps, and out to the dock. At this point, the ball was a good 50 yards out.
Mac started walking out through the mud. This drew a lot of attention. From both decks. Children and funeral goers alike watched as Mac’s odyssey through the blop began. He must’ve written off the khaki’s in the first ten yards. The yards went slowly and deliberately. By yard 30, the blop was near the top of Mac’s calves. However, the ball had blown out another ten yards or so. As Mac continued, the spectacle increased. Soon the mud was well over his knees, and everyone was out on the decks, cheering him on. As Mac went farther and farther into the mud, the wind continued to carry the ball closer and closer to the river. Just as he was about to grab it, a huge gust came and blew the ball away again, right up to the edge of the river. It was like that old Buster Keaton trick with his hat. Everytime he’d bend down to grab his hat, his toe would nudge it just out of reach. Except it was the wind playing tricks with Mac.
An exhalation of horror and fear came from both decks. The kids saw the potential of losing their ball forever down the river. We saw the potential that Mac might fail after getting himself in so deep. Doesn’t it seem sometimes like it’s easier to quit when people are watching? Sometimes we work so hard on something for so long and hard, only to see our goal about to slip through our fingers. Our ball is about to hit the water and float away. The tension of these moments is compounded if, like Mac, we have a crowd of people watching us, waiting to see what happens. I have seen people quit in situations like this several times. They figure that failing in front of the masses isn’t worth the risk of continuing on. Maybe you’ve even thought this, “If I quit, at least I’m still in control of the situation.”
On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, at a memorial service for one of his great friends, Mac, thigh deep in the Bass River blop did exactly what we should do in this type of situation. He kept on, knowing he might fail miserably in front of everyone. He made a desperate surge, speeding up so fast, I thought he was going to fall for sure. Sometimes when we take a desperate stab at something we still fail. Mac didn’t. He snatched the ball to cheers from both the funeral goers and the neighborhood kids, held it overhead and started slugging his way back to shore… a hero.
I think the kids on shore learned an important lesson watching Mac. I’m not positive what that lesson is, but I think it has something to do with dress pants. And courage.