A bunch of us writers were in Florida covering spring training a few years ago. Our sports editor took us out to dinner. During the conversation, she asked if we ever found ourselves pulling for a favorite player to do well — say, in the ninth inning of a dramatic comeback.
The response was unequivocal and unanimous.
No! Never! Not in the ninth inning!
By the bottom of the ninth, the story is written. Ready to be sent out as soon as the game ends. A lot of hard work has gone into those sentences.
The home team had eight entire innings to take the lead. Sorry. They had their chances. Now they should just lose quietly.
Don’t mess up my story!
For the most part, sports writers hate dramatic comebacks. You have to hit the “delete” key on a lot of hard work. And then you frantically rewrite on deadline, which is the toughest type of writing.
Some time later, though — and this may not come until you’re driving home at 3 a.m. — you let your brain throttle back from hyper drive and say: Wow, that was pretty cool. Even though it drove my typing fingers crazy.
One of the best things about sports is that there’s always a chance for something grand at the end. Something that can take your prose away — and your breath away — in one unexpected moment.
Maybe that’s why fans — OK, and yeah, even sports writers — revel in those incredible finishes. They remind us of the sweetly unpredictable nature of our lives.
And how in each of our lives, as Anne Lamott puts it: “Grace bats last.”
It’s true. I’ve seen that ninth-inning comeback play out many times.
I’ve seen people who have done self-destructive things for years finally come to a moment of clarity and decide to take that first step in change.
I’ve seen people with cold, hard hearts suddenly soften, long after everyone thought it could ever happen. Maybe it took the appearance of a lump somewhere, but it happened.
I’ve seen people who have made many very bad choices suddenly realize they’re going in the wrong direction and take a U-turn.
I’ve seen people reconcile and forgive when it seemed like there were insurmountable barriers between them. I’ve seen joy return to lives that were gutted by despair. I’ve seen love replace hatred, and acceptance replace rejection.
Those moments remind me of the times when the self-destructive home team appears headed for another loss. The story is written and ready to be sent out. Fans are giving up and heading for the exits.
And then, the truly remarkable happens.
A strikeout-prone player draws a walk. An 0-for-4 player lines a single to center. Another hit follows. And then a home run.
And before you know it, the home team is deliriously piled up at home plate and incredulous fans are hugging each other in the aisles.
Every time we convince ourselves that the final draft of our story is written, this thing called grace comes along and forces us to do a total rewrite.
Something happens that takes our words away. And our breath away. Something we never saw coming.
That’s grace. Batting last.
It’s always a mistake to think that our writing is finished. Grace looks over our shoulder and says: Nice work, but don’t get too attached to it.
There’s going to be a different outcome. One graceful moment, one perfect swing, is going to change everything.
Not even death is a final out. It’s more like the first pitch in the next game, one that’s also played on grace‘s home field. Which means that even then — especially then — grace gets the final say.
So don’t hit the “send” button on that story just yet. Stop typing, sit back and watch something purely divine unfold.
Something that will leave a lump in your throat.