Sunday, August 29, 2010

Youth and Age and Tommy John Surgery

I guess like most baseball fans, I find this story exceptionally heartbreaking. No major league baseball player's debut in recent years was hyped more than Stephen Strasburg's; and no rookie ever lived up to his hype more convincingly than Strasburg did. Now Strasburg finds himself, at age 22, a man on whom time has already taken its toll. The ironies need no annotation.

Strasburg is handling his misfortune gracefully and with an introspective courage that is rare among people born in 1988. Rare, frankly, among people of any age who must face disappointment on the scale he is facing it. Earlier this season, he realized an ambition that must have occupied him, more or less exclusively, for at least 75 percent of his life. And now the fulfillment of that ambition is in serious jeopardy.

I can't help thinking about the experience of seeing something you've worked 15 years for suddenly taken away from you -- at least temporarily, and perhaps forever. How much harder must the experience be when those 15 years represent pretty much your whole conscious existence. For a person my age, the frustration of "long-term" dreams is something that has probably happened at least a few times in one's life. Eventually we learn that things we once thought represented our one and only chance of happiness--getting this girl or that job--usually aren't as defining a goal as we thought. When we don't get the thing we were certain we had to have, we usually find some other way of being happy and fulfilled. And even more importantly, we find that there are other ways of being happy and fulfilled, knowledge that will be a source of repeated consolation to us as the years and the disappointments roll by.

Mentally and emotionally, Stephen Strasburg seems to be fine. Every baseball lover has to hope that sometime next year he will be fine physically as well. (And, frankly, I know a few hundred thousand people in north Texas who also hope that he ends up in a Rangers uniform someday.)  But how hard a lesson it must be, at age 22, to learn that no merely human aspiration, regardless of how well supported it may be with talent and hard work and desire, can guarantee happiness. People my age often say--to the well-deserved scorn of their juniors--that youth is wasted on the young. But when I reflect back on the way in which disappointment and anxiety loomed unrealistically large for me when I was a young man--because of what I did not yet know--I sometimes think that the wisdom and perspective of age is wasted on the old.

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