Donald Trump, Satchel Paige, and me

For months I’ve shared with many of you a deepening grief at the storm of destruction Donald Trump and his cronies are wreaking on our nation, its ideals, and the rest of the world. Seeking some firm shelter in which to weather the storm, I remembered baseball great Satchel Paige’s post-game comment to a reporter who asked about his embarrassment at throwing a pitch into the dirt well in front of home plate. “In a billion years,” Paige said, “when the earth is a frozen snowball whirling through space, no one is going to remember that pitch.” Today, far less than a billion years later, what’s remembered is not Paige’s pitch but his comment and the healthy perspective it offered.

It occurred to me that I might find shelter and a healthier perspective in which to ride out this Trump storm if I were to give him a new name, one that contains him and his effects like Paige’s comment contained the effect of his errant pitch, and that reminds me of my own limits, giving my spirit lightness and room to breathe. So from now on I’m going to call him “Ozzie,” from Ozymandias, the “King of Kings” of Shelley’s poem, “whose frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” beckoned everyone, “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Shelley’s Ozymandias, despite the terrible power he thought he wielded in life, and did wield for a time, was to be known only from the remnants of a once-great statue that had been erected to his power and his memory and that now lay shattered in the desert, while “Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck,” Shelley wrote, “boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Our Ozzie, the one who now occupies the White House, will of course end up like Shelley’s Ozymandias. History, not his ego, will decree his place in ages to come, and you can bet it won’t be like the place he is trying to make for himself, not by a long shot. The damage Ozzie is doing is great, the pain he is inflicting is deep, and our recovery from it will undoubtedly be very long in coming. But the world has seen the rise of narcissists and tyrants and demagogues before, a fair number of them far worse than Ozzie, and it has witnessed the fall of every one of them.

It’s not that I mean to judge Ozzie as if from a position of moral superiority. I’m not morally superior. Time will render its own judgment of Ozzie soon enough and well enough without my encouragement, and he will be supplanted by a continuing series of other leaders, good or bad, great or terrible. It’s the human story. Meanwhile, life goes on (ob la di, ob la da). The sun rises and sets, seasons repeat their steady cycle, and the psalmist’s words echo still, a reminder for Ozzie and all of us: “Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone – as though we had never been here” (Psalm 103:15-16 NLT).

A generation ago, Kerry Livgren put it this way in his lyrics for “Dust in the Wind,” the Kansas song: “Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea. / All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see. / Dust in the wind, / All we are is dust in the wind.” Some find that idea depressing. I find it encouraging and sheltering. It invites me to step back from my immersion in the present moment, way back, to gain a longer perspective. There I’m no more blown around by every passing storm.

Now here’s the point that really comes home to me in this. My folly and brokenness don’t begin to approach Ozzie’s, but the mistakes I’ve made are as grievous in their own ways. The pain I’ve inflicted is just as great to those who have felt it, the disappointments as deep. The opportunities I’ve squandered, the seeds of possibility wasted – who can guess what noble beauty might have arisen from them if I had acted nobly in the moment? These regrets, too, are dust in the wind. These, too, pass away and are forgotten in eternity. Grace is like that.

It’s a seminar in letting go in which I was reluctantly enrolled when I matriculated into the university of retirement. As I learn to let go, as I empty myself of all that has gone before, as I divest myself of the burden of a lifetime of mistakes and false starts and dead ends, I’m touched by traces of a surprising lightness of spirit that I begin to sense has been there, untapped, all along. I discover that I’m Ozzie, too, in my own way. The façade I’ve spent a lifetime erecting in homage to my illusion of self will shatter and crumble. Something will be released, some wildflower that may brighten this place for only a moment before it dies and is carried away like dust in the wind. But the self that is being born – this genuine, honest-to-God, graceful eccentricity that is ripening toward fruition – will at last, if only for a moment, be true.

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