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In praise of the undazed life

A personal recollection about my Dad, marking the anniversary of his birth in 1922

by Ken Sehested

“Why stand ye gazing . . . ?" (Acts 1:11)

       My Dad wasn’t the least bit athletic; nor were others in his family. So we’re not sure where my sporting interest and coordination came from. I played every kind of ball available, whether organized or sandlot ad hoc. (And, last I heard, I still own my high school’s record in the discus throw.

       Dad found a way to stay connected with my love of sport by volunteering as an assistant coach of my Little League baseball team. It required little experience—or skill, for that matter. Only attentiveness. (There’s a lesson in there for us all.) It certainly wasn’t for the glamour.

       The demands of his job meant he arrived late to practice—straight from work in his grease-smudged overalls, having wrestled large diesel engines all day. No one noticed his attire, though, since most of us came from blue-collar homes.

       Our practice field was a baked dirt lot on the edge of a Mexican American neighborhood in our small West Texas town. It would be a few years before African Americans were integrated into our schools and cultural institutions (like Little League baseball). But Chicanos were school-and-playmates from an early age. My earliest Spanish language tutoring involved schoolyard cuss words.

Right: Walking in Dad's boots, circa 1954.

       On the field, two-handed catches were stressed. Anyone failing to do so had to run to the railroad tracks in the distance, through patches of tumbleweed and prickly pear cactus. From time to time foul balls grazed passing autos. Cracked bats were heavily taped and reused.

       Local businesses sponsored different teams in the league, providing bats and balls and game uniforms—though I don’t recall them using our jerseys to advertise. The “Mad Men” ad culture hadn’t yet infected backcountry regions like ours. Moms repaired the occasional uniform tears. Our head coach bought us hotdogs and colas after every game, win or lose.

       We were taking infield practice one afternoon when, from the corner of my eye, I was startled to see Dad sprinting toward the road paralleling our field, yelling “Hey! Hey!” The rest of us stood gazing, frozen in shock—focusing now on a young boy rumpled on the pavement, having fallen from the back of a passing pickup truck. (Pickup bed passengers were a common sight in that era.)

       Whether it was Dad’s yelling, or other pickup passengers, I don’t know; but the driver quickly screeched to a halt.

       Luckily the boy suffered no serious injury, though the pavement took a layer of skin from parts of his face, arms and hands and knees. Likely some lingering frightful memories, too. The whole affair was over as quickly as it began. And we got back to play, nursing dreams of dramatic game-ending catches and big league walk off home runs.

       Even so, to this day when the memory arises, it plays in slow motion: Dad running. Yelling. The rest of us gazing like deer in a headlight daze.

       I want to live undazed like my Dad.

       More than any other, this is the injunction under which I live, sometimes joyfully, sometimes in complaint: drawn back, through and from beatific gaze, toward Jerusalem’s deceit; back toward skinned children; back toward the site of Heaven’s assault on Earth’s duress.

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©Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org