How A Destiny Gets Hijacked
A baseball movie is not supposed to make a dude cry, but that’s exactly what Bernard Malamud’s The Natural did to me.
My ability to hold it together was undone during the story’s “all is lost” moment as Iris Gaines taught a powerful lesson of redemption not only to her estranged lover Roy Hobbs but to all of us who feel we’ve wasted some of our best years.
Earlier in the story, we see Hobbs as one of the most naturally gifted players ever to grip a baseball. He’s a can’t-miss prospect with a chance to be the GOAT (greatest-of-all-time).
Working “GOAT” into an article makes me feel hip. In addition to that, I just took my four small kids to Chick-fil-a in my joggers and Jordan’s that I got for my forty-first birthday. Midlife crisis much?
Anyway, back to the midlife crisis story that’s actually fictitious.
Unfortunately, on his way to breaking in with the Chicago Cubs as an invincible twenty-year-old, tragedy derailed Hobbs’ career before it ever got started.
On the train ride to the Windy City, the starry-eyed, young prospect fell for the wrong woman and wound up getting himself shot, of all things. He survived the shooting, but his injuries were severe enough to indefinitely postponed his baseball career.
What a blow.
Predictably, Hobbs didn’t handle his new reality well.
Adding shame and self-destructive behavior to the rotten luck of having a tryst with an armed psychopath, Hobbs parlayed an unfortunate life event into a full-blown downward spiral that delayed his major league debut by sixteen years.
That’s right, Hobbs’ best years, his youth, was tragically and senselessly laid to waste.
But that’s not the worst part of the story.
That comes after Hobbs pulls himself up by his bootstraps and give baseball one more shot. Amazingly enough, he scrapes together enough of a comeback to finally break into the major leagues with a bottom-feeder team at the ripe old age of thirty-six.
While this was hardly a promising opportunity, Hobbs’ elite talent won out.
Against all odds, Hobbs had a rookie season to end all rookie seasons.
Despite his advanced age as a player, he took the major leagues by storm. He hit home runs in bunches, led his team to the pennant, and dominated the front page of every newspaper in the country.
Roy Hobbs was a hero.
A hero to everyone but himself.
For in Hobbs’ mind, his dream year was not the redemption story everyone made it out to be. To him, it played more like a tragedy.
The way he saw it, his great season was, more than anything, hard evidence of not only how great he could have been, but also how great he would never get the chance to be.
He’d shown up late for the party. He’d squandered away his best years. Now, he was out of time.
Hobbs’ lament to Iris, the day before his final game is a dead-on example of what midlife regret sounds like.
Hobbs: I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.
Iris: And then?
Hobbs: And then? And then when I walked down the street people would’ve looked and they would’ve said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.
I Could Have Been So Much More
During this scene, I nodded to the cadence of Roy’s words because I’ve felt an awful lot like him.
As I hit rock bottom professionally, emotionally, and financially during midlife, I reflected upon what a waste my previous years had apparently been.
After acing his class, my English professor wrote on my final portfolio, “You’re going to do very well for yourself, Jathan.”
In twenty years of nonprofit leadership, people liked me and followed me and looked forward to what I might blossom into someday.
I even had glowing compliments from parishioners when I was an up-and-comer at my father’s church.
One said, “Jathan, I didn’t think you were going to make it as a preacher, but after hearing that sermon you preached Sunday, you’ve just about changed my mind.”
Another, being deeply moved by another message I delivered said with great certainty, “Jathan, you’re not going to be a peon all your life son.”
After having perhaps the worst first year in the history of the teaching profession, my principal told me after my third year, “Jathan, I’ve never had a teacher make as vast an improvement as you have.” (Was that a compliment?)
You know, as I write this, it’s all starting to all come together.
Anyway, back to the point at hand.
As a leader, I wasn’t the can’t-miss prospect that Hobbs was, but surely I had enough ability to have done better for myself.
As it stood, here I was, approaching forty more broke than I’d ever been, more emotionally bankrupt than I ever thought I could be, and completely without answers as to where I might go from here.
On more than one occasion I pondered how much further down the road I’d been had things broken my way, perhaps. A few more dollars invested in the right thing here, a key relationship established there.
Then there were my own mistakes to lament. If I’d just been more disciplined, been stronger in my faith, not been so downright bullheaded.
Finally, there was the ultimate question, “Did I completely whiff on God’s will for my life?”
This internal Guantanamo Bay routine is what happens to those who arrive at midlife with a case full of participation trophies.
Those might make an eight-year-old feel like a world champion, but they make a burned out midlifer feel like he’s been playing the wrong sport all his life.
Even if it isn’t true.
And eventually, I realized that it wasn’t.
So did Roy Hobbs although it took Iris to set him straight.
You Have Two Lives To Live
After a long pause by Roy’s hospital bed, she gives him a knowing smile and replies:
Iris: You know, I believe we have two lives.
Hobbs: How… what do you mean?
Iris: The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.
This is the part where I shed a tear. Or two. Three, maybe?
Because Iris was right on. Roy’s wasted years had not been for nothing and neither had mine.
Because of the hard road Roy had taken, he always took more time out for the young fans than the other players did. Furthermore, as he blossomed into a star, he never let his meteoric success change who he was. Finally, when he was offered a tempting pile of cash to become corrupt, he turned it down and played the game right down the middle.
In other words, what Roy’s suffering stole from him in terms of hero-worship, groupies, and multi-million dollar endorsement deals, it made up for in a deeper soul, richer character, and more benevolent heart.
When viewing my first forty years through this lens, I realized that, because of my mistakes, I too, had become a whole lot more than I had accomplished.
- Because of my dark night of the soul, I’ve learned that no one is infallible, especially me.
- Because I’ve let myself and others down, I’ve learned that forgiveness and grace are something that I should both freely receive and freely give.
- Because I’ve raised a sick child, I’ve learned the volatility and sacredness of every single breath.
- Because I’ve battled depression, I’ve learned a deeper empathy for others who are hurting.
- Because I’ve failed, I’ve learned that redemption is sometimes better than oxygen.
- Because I’ve tried my hardest and still come up short, I’ve learned that prayer should be Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.
One might argue that Roy could have easily been just as grounded had he not sabotaged himself and misspent his youth. In which case, he would have had it all — the greatest baseball player of all time and a downright nice guy to boot.
This very well may be true. Furthermore, it’s quite possible that there are those remarkable individuals who take this route all the time.
But for every person who never veers from that enviable straight line to significance, there are scores more of us who arrive at midlife’s pit stop needing all four tires changed and a complete engine replacement.
And for us, we mustn’t lament what our mistakes have cost us, but rejoice in what they’ve taught us.
Our missteps were not our epitaph; they were our schoolmaster.
And now that we learned, it’s time that we must live.
Maybe this is what apostle Paul meant when he said
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 NKJV)
Get unstuck by believing the TRUTH about yourself.