My dad and I walked into Busch Stadium in St. Louis on September 4, the first time he had been in the Cardinals’ new stadium since it opened in 2006, after having talked about needing to get down there “sometime” every summer since 2007. It was about time. If my dad has one thing, it’s Cardinals baseball. He’s been a fan since the twilight of Stan Musial’s career in the early ’60s, and talks about the Gas House Gang of 1934 as if he were alive when they played, like you sometimes do when you love something enough to study its history.
Just before our tour group stepped out into the seats to walk down to the field, I asked my dad how excited he was, on a scale of 1 to 10. He said five. I said That’s not acceptable, because I’m at eight. The group moved forward and we stepped out of the tunnel, a few rows of seats from the manicured grass of the field, the groomed dirt of the warning track, opening up the view over the centerfield fence into the St. Louis skyline and the Gateway Arch.
Okay, my dad said. It’s getting a lot better now. We walked down onto the field and sat in the dugout, the same place the team sat— the team that won the World Series in 2006 and 2011, and I always remember where I was when I called my dad to talk about the game a few minutes after the final out: in 2006, outside of a noisy bar in Denver, in 2011, sleeping in my car at a pullout above an ocean cliff in Oregon. Finally, Dad, we got here.
It’s this time of year we write holiday letters, or privately take stock of what we’ve done, and we focus on tangible benchmarks: Jenny got married. Bob finished graduate school. Dan took a new job with a different company and we moved to a different city. The kids continue to be active in football and track. We took a trip to Hawaii in June. I climbed Longs Peak in September.
We remember what we did, but do we not take time to remember what it felt like? I watched a late-fall sunset in the desert, with my girlfriend/boyfriend. I saw the smile on my daughter’s face as she danced with her new husband. I had a great conversation about baseball with the owner of a pie shop, and we high-fived at the end.
Last year, my friend Sara told me she made a list of one big thing that happened each month of 2011, and October’s big thing was not an accomplishment: Ryan and I randomly ran into you on a street corner in downtown Portland when were visiting from Seattle and you were passing through on your way to northern California. Remember that?
I started to make a list of the big moments of my 2012 last week: Hugging my friend Mick’s son, Dan, at Mick’s memorial service, and choking up. Stalking the aisles of a convenience store in Vegas at 1 a.m. after a bit of an epic in Red Rocks with my friend Teresa. The few seconds I started to feel relaxed on a mountain bike for the first time, rolling down a trail at Three Sisters Park near Denver. Walking into Busch Stadium with my dad. Killing time in Lone Pine, California, with my friend Amy after we spent three nights in a tent on a charity climb of Mount Whitney. Following my friend Syd, a lifelong New Yorker, all over the city as he navigated chaotic, sweaty train changes as comfortably as a man strolling around his backyard.
People talk about living in the moment, being present. Nowadays, what we often mean is putting down our phones and concentrating on a conversation over coffee with someone. We have worked ourselves into a state of life that makes it hard to concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds. Yes, 49 percent of me wants to hear about your new job and how the whole dating thing is going, but … 51 percent of me … needs to check … Instagram … to see if I now have 17 likes instead of 16 on that last photo I put up.
As the end of the year neared, I was doing a worse and worse job. I wasn’t sitting at dinner with a good friend typing e-mails on my phone, but I was thinking about work the entire time. Scarcely ten minutes could go by without me at least thinking about “work” — a story I owed someone, an idea I hadn’t pitched yet, an e-mail I needed to return.
I was on a climb with a friend on a Sunday last September, and doing a terrible job of being there — sloppy footwork, distracted by a big story I was writing, catching up on other work, other things I had on my to-do list. I was having fun, but wasn’t focusing on the 10 pitches of bolted 5.9 climbing in one of the most amazing places I’d ever be in, when my friend Dan yelled up to remind me: “Hey, you’re climbing in the Swiss Alps!”
And I thought, Jesus, you’re right. What am I doing? Living to work, I guess. Someone slap me. I was ashamed that somebody had to remind me to be there, to pay attention, because, in the words of my wise pal Pete Kray, “You’re not gonna remember doing the work.”