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Old 12-24-2008, 05:22 PM   #1
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Happy Holidays To All

It’s the time of year that I send out my annual Holiday Email highlighting some story from the past year which I think offers a good message about the often-times alarming world we live in. It's a tradition I've maintained for seven years now. Over the years, I've continued to send it via email but also via Facebook, MySpace, and other places I keep in touch with people. This year, I thought I'd share it with the community here as well. And so, without further ado, here it is.

Earlier this year, someone reacted viciously to my comment that the U.S. should accept that a military effort will not end terrorism and that we should cease the constant expenditure of money into senseless carnage in favor of addressing the root problems of the world which make terrorism appealing, if not necessary, to those struggling in the face of utter hopelessness. I suggested that the U.S. should listen to what those who dislike us are saying and to examine what we have done and to change our behavior accordingly. The person who responded to me was appalled that I wanted to “surrender and give up” instead of continuing military occupation of Iraq. They thought it was cowardly to think that America should “lose”. I offered up in return that it is cowardly to blindly refuse to acknowledge mistakes and to continue making error after error instead of doing the right thing that wasn’t done in the first place. It got me thinking though of a story I’d heard earlier in the year and how many could stand to learn from it.

On a Saturday in April, two Division II college softball teams met in the small town of Ellensburg, Washington to play just as college athletic teams did all around the nation that day. Western Oregon and Central Washington were both doing well that season and neither school had ever qualified for the NCAA playoffs, a prospect that a win would likely give. Early on, at the top of the second inning, the score was still 0-0 when two girls with completely contrasting athletic records would be on the field.

One was Mallory Holtman. Holtman was a senior from Central Washington and in most regards the best softball player in the school’s history. She had been red-shirted her freshman year and a starter for the rest of her college career. She held most of the school’s softball records, including the team’s career home run record. She had never made the playoffs though and, despite the pain she felt after every game, she had elected to hold off on knee surgery until after graduation in order to try for that playoff dream she had never fulfilled.

The other girl was Sara Tucholsky. Like Holtman, Tucholsky was a senior. However, unlike Holtman, Tucholsky was a part-time starter. Five-foot, two-inches tall, she was not the star of her team. She had a batting average of .088, a total of three hits in 34 at-bats, that year. She had never in her life hit a home run. That would change but not in any way she had ever dreamed.

Western Oregon had two runners on base when Tucholsky stepped up to the plate. No one that day likely had a clue what was about to happen next. Sara Tucholsky hit a home run, the first and only of her softball career, sending the ball clean over the center fence. Tucholsky jogged to first base as the other two runners scored making the score 2-0. Excited at having hit a home run, Tucholsky missed first base but quickly realized she hadn’t touched it as she ran by. She turned to step back to it when something happened.

Sara Tucholsky collapsed to the ground. As she had turned, she had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. In pain, she crawled back to first base and grabbed onto it, unable to move any further. The umpire and the first base coach inquired what was wrong and it was clear that Tucholsky was in pain. To add to it, the umpire ruled that if she didn’t run the bases then the home run, the only one of her career, would be ruled a two-run single. Further, the umpire ruled (erroneously as it later turned out) that since she was an active runner, no one from her team could assist her in rounding the bases. Gone not only was her season, with the playoffs potentially on the horizon, but so too was her home run. There was no way Tucholsky could stand much less complete the run around the bases. Her coach, Pam Knox, had hoped there was some way around those rules but there didn’t appear to be.

Then something happened that no one expected. Mallory Holtman, the star home-run hitter from the opposing team, stepped up and asked, “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?”

The umpire, probably every bit as surprised as Coach Knox, said there was nothing in the rules that prohibited players from the opposing team from aiding an injured player around the bases. Holtman and Liz Wallace, the Central Washington shortstop, picked up Tucholsky and slowly and carefully carried her toward second base. Holtman asked which knee was hurt and they gently lowered her enough to extend her left foot out and touch the base. Then they carried Tucholsky to third and repeated the process before finally heading to home plate to the cheers of a standing ovation from the crowd and her waiting teammates.

Sara Tucholsky had scored her first and only home run of her softball career. Central Washington scored two runs in the bottom of the second but Western Oregon scored again later to seal their victory 4-2 en route to their first trip to the NCAA playoffs. Holtman’s Central Washington did not.

Holtman said she hadn’t been thinking about the playoffs, only about how she would have appreciated help if that had been her lying in the dirt at first base. It had been Senior Day, the last home game of the season, for Central Washington and her last time playing on that field, but the spotlight at that moment rightly belonged on Tucholsky.

“She hit the ball over her fence. She’s a senior; it’s her last year,” the record-holding Holtman had said. When Tucholsky said, “Thank you very much,” Holtman responded with “You deserve it, you hit it over the fence.”

Some cynics have pointed out that even without Tucholsky’s run, Western Oregon would have won the game 3-2. Perhaps that’s true but at that time in the second inning, no one knew the outcome, only that the winner would go to the playoffs and the other would not. And to think that this selfless act was merely about the playoffs and winning is to miss the point.

It showed that winning wasn’t everything and that recognizing others and their situation and trying to do the best that we can to make honorable choices that respect and help others is the true measure of who we are. Holtman and her team did what was right because anything else would have been placing “winning” over accepting reality and helping others when their cause is just. Just as Tucholsky hit a home run and the other team stepped up to help her, we as human beings, Americans or not, should try to help others, Americans or not, without regard for what the consequences may be for ourselves. “Winning” is not important and “losing” is not dishonorable. Accepting that we are not always in the right and due “victory” and instead attempting to do what is right and help others to achieve their dreams is not “surrendering” or “losing” or “giving up”. It’s growing up and out of our own selfishness, embracing that there are others out there in the world and that they too have as equal a claim to their particular hopes and dreams even when those hopes and dreams might not match, if not contrast completely, with our own. Selflessly doing what is right rather than what is desired, is that not one of the things that defines our noblest concepts of humanity?

That’s something to consider this holiday season as we draw closer to the end of this year and the start of another. May the New Year bring a better world and may each of you do your best to make it a better world for others, regardless of your own desires. And may others strive to help you achieve your hopes and dreams just the same. Finally, may you do so in the warmth and love of family and friends and with the happiest of spirits. Happy holidays to you all.

Jason aka Falco
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