When I was growing up Ken Griffey Jr. was as close to perfection as you could get. From the time I was about 10 years old until about half way through college no one was better. I was lucky enough to see him play in person. Not lucky enough to see him in his prime. It didn't matter. Stories of his exploits became legend. His Upper Deck rookie card was a blue chip investment, along with Bo Jackson's 1990 Score with the football pads and the Billy Ripken F-Face card.
I was never lucky enough to own Griff's rookie card when I was a kid. I bought it some years later from my friend Tyler. It felt like I was attaining a lifelong dream, albeit a small one. A few years later 'tragedy' struck. One of our many cats got in to my closet and relieved himself on part of my card collection. The Kid did not survive the attack. The cat literally shit on my dreams.
I did not discover the mess for a several weeks. I had been in Seattle for work a few days before and went to Mariner's game. As it worked out, it was one of Griffey's last. He retired shortly after I got home. With this in mind, I decided to pull out his card. At which point I discovered the atrocity. I tried to explain it to Melissa, but to no avail. To her, it was 'just a card'. She understood what it meant to me, but still, "shit happens".
When Griffey retired I read a column on ESPN by Jim Caple that opined that his retirement was a symbolic end to the childhood of anyone born between about 1977 and about 1993. I remember identifying with this at the time, but it didn't hit home until I found that damn card, now soiled. It felt like an ending of sorts.
All of this was going through my head yesterday when I went Mariners game to watch #24 be retired in Seattle. My friend Matt asked me to join him and his son for a short weekend in the northwest. The trip was my first away from home since Melissa, and while short feels momentous.
The trip up was uneventful, which is what you hope for. I did get a brief Holden Caulfield moment that made me smile. There is a scene in Catcher in the Rye where Holden is at Phoebe's school to pick her up. As he's waiting for her he notices that somebody has written "fuck you" on the wall and in several other places. He goes on to wish that he could erase the filth from the world but realizes it's futile:
"That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you are not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write "fuck you" right under your nose. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it'll say "Holden Caulfield" on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it'll say "fuck you". I'm positive, in fact."
Well, my moment came when we passed Mt. Hood. I went to grab a picture and, sure enough, there was a big sticker partly blocking the view informing me that my seat does not recline. Thank you very much. Just like a cat on a baseball card collection.
If Griffey retiring was a symbolic end to childhood, loosing my best friend is a transition on a whole other level. It is a true move into and past adulthood. On some levels it feels like I have more in common with my friend's grandparents than I do with them. Watching the ceremony last night I was struck by how much time can change perspective. Everyone has a tragedy, some are big, some are tiny, but they all mean something to someone. The adversity is what counts. It's what makes the person.
Matt's 14-year-old son made a comment on the car ride home that the most interesting adults he knows are able to maintain a sense of their 'inner child'. I, being a jerk, made a comment along the lines of "until life beats it out of you."
But his point is a valid one. Our accumulated experiences are who we are. What are we without memories, good and bad? If we can hang on to the little joys we have along the way, like the excitement of getting a Griffey card in a new pack or falling in love, then we can hang on to our core selves. By being able to see past the grief, to remember the little inside jokes and smile, we are keeping ourselves and our loved ones alive.