Eternity and the ultimate slam

Photo: Stephen Green.

Please indulge me as I show this video. If you’re a Washington Nationals fan, I’m sorry. Wait. No, I’m not.

Last night was every kid’s baseball fantasy: a walk-off grand slam. They call it the ultimate slam or the golden homer, and it’s only happened this way two other times in Major League history: bottom of the ninth inning, two outs, two strikes, bases loaded and your team trails by three runs.

Then: David Bote sends a ball deep into the night. Bedlam. Utter and absolute joy. Defeat seemed inevitable and then, suddenly: Cubs win!

Yes, it was just a baseball game and no, in itself it had no eternal significance. So why do I keep going back and watching that video from last night?

It was one of those glimpses. They’re different for everyone, and if you’re not a Chicago Cubs fan this all probably seems ridiculous.  But the older I get, the more I’m convinced that we’re wired for eternity. We know it when we see it, because it’s home — even in the briefest of previews. Every good story and every human passion are about something deeper than they admit. We suffer now, knowing that one day all will be made right. We wait for death to be swallowed in victory. We long to be welcomed home.

It’s why we exult when the unknown guy comes off the bench to save the day. It’s why it was weirdly wonderful that Bill Murray, the Cinderella boy himself, watched last night from the front row.

In high school basketball, I once got my own ultimate slam: a walk-off dunk. We were soundly defeating a bad team and, as a benchwarmer, I was in the game for the last several minutes. Garbage time, they call it. With five seconds left, my team held a 97-69 lead. For some reason Rick Tinsley, one of our guards, passed me the ball, and it was like the Red Sea parted. I saw a lane so clear and wide, I could have driven a tractor to the basket.

One dribble and then a two-handed dunk. I almost missed it, bumping the ball against the front of the rim before stuffing it home. Then, bedlam. The crowd went wild as the buzzer sounded. I jumped around like David Bote did last night between third base and home plate. My teammates mobbed me. Guys from the other team congratulated me. At age 17, I had reached the pinnacle of my basketball career. I’d dunked plenty of times in practice, but this would be the only time in my life I’d ever do it in a game.

It’s been almost 40 years. That moment in no way defined my life or even my high-school life. I really haven’t thought much about it … until last night. Every detail came flooding back and I realized that it, too, was a tiny glimpse of glory.

Rather than dismiss those thoughts as childish or unspiritual, I think it’s good to entertain them for a bit. To recognize the hope hiding behind them. I used to joke that one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would arrive wearing a Cubs cap. Now, every time the Cubs fly that silly “W” flag, my mind goes instead to that hope for an eternal celebration.

“May he grant your heart’s desires
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory
and raise a victory banner in the name of our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers.”
— Psalm 20:4-5

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