That mini Olympics held annually in schoolyards large and small. With blue, red, and white ribbons, laughter, crying, triumph and defeat, field day signifies the end of another school year. At my school, it was also the only day of the year when pizza was served for hot lunch. So long, Shepherd’s Pie!
As a child, I wasn’t a spectacular athlete. My skinny frame, underdeveloped musculature, and shy demeanor gave rise to a competitive package on par with a domesticated rabbit. So on field day, I heaped a mound of performance anxiety with a dash of desperate hope alongside my cherished slice of sausage pizza. Thus, field day ‘fun’ was loaded with potential for hurt and disappointment. In fact, there’s a brutal injustice documented in my personal field day annals.
My great mistreatment happened in the context of a competition that was all the rage in the 1970’s – the softball throw. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s the gist: stand on a baseball field at home plate (don’t step over the plate or you’re disqualified) and chuck a softball as far as you can. Not exactly the best measure of athletic prowess, but it fit the bill for simplicity and measurability. At least that was the theory.
The day was sunny and hot – even for early June. Summoned to my turn at tossing, I bent over to select one of the rubberized softballs. I had to fight discouragement as I struggled to wrap my hand around the ball with a grip tight enough to pick it up one-handed. My feet were enveloped with puffs of dustiness as adrenaline propelled me step-by-step toward home plate. I channeled all my nervous energy toward my shoulder while I envisioned launching that ball into low-earth orbit.
Holding my breath, I stepped back, took a baby crow-hop, and hurled that ball like a human trebuchet. Flat and true the ball flew toward second base. It soared beyond the infield and landed safely in the clover that was the outfield lawn. Clearly, a throw to be proud of. A toss that surpassed my expectations – as well as the distance thrown by several of my competitors.
As the ball meandered to a stop, I looked with anticipation at the teacher standing beside me with clipboard and whistle. I awaited his command to go stand at the spot my ball first landed, staking claim to my impressive toss. Instead, with emotionless tone he proclaimed my throw hadn’t surpassed any of the top three throws currently marked on the field. I was to sit down.
But he was wrong. My throw had eclipsed at least two of those marked on the field. I saw it. The kid standing in the field saw it (the ball went over his head for crying out loud). But this teacher, who in that moment was the steward of my field day dreams, didn’t bother to watch my display of softball throwing excellence. Perhaps he was too busy cleaning sausage pizza from his whistle.
It was a gross injustice. A scandal in the making. In perplexed silence I stood, waiting for the voice of reason to speak. But my ears only heard the distant cheers from more joyful – and fair – competitions. I looked up at the teacher, pleaded with my best non-verbal toe-headed cuteness, but received a second command to take my place with the spectators. I sloughed away, stunned. Where’s Billy Martin when you need him?
Although more than three decades ago, I find it strangely curious how often that field day memory bubbles-up. Such frequent recurrence deserves my attention. Through it, I’ve learned that I’m quite sensitive to personal injustice. These days, it’s not a mistake with how far I throw a ball that puts me in tension. The adult life offers more sophisticated ways to get slighted or misjudged or made the victim of false perception or misunderstanding.
Conversely, each day brings temptation to be the assumption maker as I collect circumstantial anecdotes and craft plausible storylines. It’s ironic that even when I don’t watch the toss of the metaphorical ball, I’m confident of it’s landing place. Really, I know where it landed. Trust me.
Am I capable of creating field day fiasco?
My misjudged throw provides ongoing help with my relationships. It broadens my perspective on how things said, not said, or implied can be twisted together into suffocating distortions. Or, when given good care and attention, all forms of expressed communication can be woven into a wonderful tapestry of warm interaction. Staying straight and clean and forthright with friendship is tough work. There’s nothing simple about working toward short accounts and fostering redemptive interactions.
I like fair treatment. Too often, I think I deserve it. My heart has an inherent wickedness, so when injustice comes, the summons to revenge is alluring. I must wrangle my desire for personal justice with gospel love.
That means I own my part. I seek and offer forgiveness. I think well of others. I give what I want to receive. Most importantly, I leave judgment to the One who sees all things with perfect clarity.
I know He saw my throw. And that’s good enough for me.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9–10, ESV)