Roy Exum: It’s All A Vapor

Friday, November 29, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Six months ago one of the best baseball players to ever play first base – Bill Buckner – died from dementia at age 69. He played in the major leagues for 21 years. His year-to-year performances were always impressive and, in 1980 he led the National League in batting with a .324 average for the Chicago Cubs. What’s more is that during that season he struck out only 18 times – that’s once in every 32 at-bats! He was the genuine deal, alright, yet despite a sterling career, he had to live with the famous curse of one simple error in 1986 for the rest of his life. It was tragic, and most unfair compared to any other day he wore the uniform of five different teams for over two decades.

But only by his death in May was he removed from the shadow he could never shake.

In the 1986 World Series that pitted Boston against the heavily-favored Mets, Buckner played a huge role in the way his Red Sox had won the National League pennant. He set a league record with 186 assists and that September (when the chase really matters) he hit .340 with eight home runs and 22 RBI, while missing just three games. By the Series opener he was in agony with his sore ankles but the Red Sox surged. Up three games to two, the sixth game went into the thrill of extra innings. That’s when a slow roller off the bat of Mookie Wilson slithered away from the right side of Buckner’s misplaced glove. Knowing Mookie’s speed, Buckner rushed the ball and quickly admitted he had misplayed it.  Some say it is still among the worst errors in all of baseball, resulting in the Mets winning Game Six and Seven. (How big was it? The “Buckner Ball” was sold to a collector in 2012 for $418,250.)

My fascination with Buckner came from the way he so masterfully handled his curse. He would laugh about it when inside you knew he was dying. He could have defended it, showing his career that included a .289 lifetime batting average, 2,715 hits, 174 home runs and 1,208 RBIs placed him in a most elite group. But, no, he was humble, soft-spoken ... a genuine and very real professional athlete.

Who could have ever guessed my years of intrigue would make this year’s Thanksgiving far greater than I could have ever expected? My morning readings led me to a once-in-a-lifetime type of story written by Dave Urbanski on the Blaze website. The story became the Thanksgiving Sermon for which my heart was longing. A brilliant writer and editor, Urbanski pointed out the Buckner Error is nothing but a vapor. Dave’s Thanksgiving story proved anew my lifelong belief that on my quiet Thursday, “God doesn’t always come when you call Him, but He is always right on time.”

I hope you will enjoy Dave Urbanski’s writing on as much as I do:

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[NOTE: This story appeared on the Blaze media website, on Thursday. November 28, 2019, under the headline: “ONE LAST THING -- I'm thankful for God's truth that our lives are but vapors compared to what's offered when we breathe our last.”]

By Dave Urbanski 

Let's get this out of the way: I'm not dying. (To the best of my knowledge, at least.)

But for various reasons this year I've been reminded of a powerful, reckoning-filled truth: As we trudge forward day to day, trying (or not) to maintain good attitudes, struggling to raise our families (or sweating it out as we go it alone or any place in between), finding moments of true wonder and revelation offset by moments of drudgery, exhaustion, and frustration as yet another bill arrives in the mail or yet another phone call comes from far away with less-than-favorable news ... it's all a vapor.

In quiet moments I sometimes put the microscope on my existence and ask myself how I'm doing. If I'm using God's standards as my yardstick and evaluating how much I've trusted his guidance and how consistently I've obeyed him despite what others may be saying or doing, then I'm on the right track.

But if I'm hanging out too much, let's say, on social media and getting one too many glimpses of how friends appear to be doing — i.e., how successful they've become, how big their houses are, how fabulous they look, and how much cash appears to be in their bank accounts, then I'm most definitely not headed in the right direction. Indeed, I'll never have any problem finding someone among my friends and acquaintances who's better off, further ahead, or apparently more prosperous and/or fortunate than me.

With that in mind, I also know that the more trips I take around the sun, the more carefully I take note of well-known people who've departed this life — as well as the truth that the ages at which they pass get closer and closer to mine all the time.

Take a look at the following notables who've left us just this year alone: Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, famed presidential candidate Ross Perot, quarterback legend Bart Starr, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, "Beverly Hills 90125" star Luke Perry, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, comedian Tim Conway, billionaire David Koch, Peter Tork of the Monkees, architect I.M. Pei, iconic actress Doris Day, and baseball player Bill Buckner, whose fine career was overshadowed by a ball that rolled under his glove in the World Series.

When prominent people die — whether suddenly or after long illnesses — at some point after the news hits I pause for bit and am reminded that I have a final stop on earth just like they did. We all do. And those trains keep on rolling.

A long-held response to the brevity of our time here is to "live life to the fullest." To grab that brass ring. To go for the gusto. And how is that defined, exactly? For some, admirably, it means being kind to everyone they meet. Being charitable. Giving time, love, and attention to others selflessly. To others it means having successful careers, making a ton of money — and again, admirably, perhaps giving a lot of those resources to others. Or it's the pursuit of a good time. Pleasure. Laughter. Unforgettable experiences. It also can mean for some making their mark on humanity, having an impact on a global scale.

Which brings me to Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, who certainly made an impact on all of us. Through his drive, tenacity, and obsession with being the best, he helped usher in the age of the personal computer and later put iPhones in tons of pant pockets.

When Jobs died of cancer in 2011, I read a number of tributes to him. How he changed lives — and the world — for the better. True enough.

But here are a couple of follow-up questions to ponder: Where is Steve Jobs now? And is all the wealth and fame he accumulated — and others' continued admiration of him — doing Jobs any good at this very moment?

My answer to the first question is, "I don't know." But I believe the answer to the second question is definite "no."

When death comes, we can't take our bank accounts with us. Nor can we tote all the good times we've had or the fame and acclaim we've amassed. None of our gusto grabbing in the here and now will earn us a thing in the end. Steve Jobs did a lot of great stuff when he was alive — but his ride is over. The trains also have stopped for Ross Perot, Elijah Cummings, Doris Day, David Koch, and Bill Buckner.

They all will be remembered for a longer time than most. But ultimately, so what?

By the same token, those questions also apply if your life isn't going the way you want it to. Maybe you're not as successful as you'd like to be. Maybe some bad things have happened to you — or are happening right now. If that's you, be encouraged. That's right. Be encouraged.

Because just as the earthly accomplishments of a Steve Jobs aren't currency for him in the hereafter, the trials and disappointments you're facing — even the lack of gusto despite your best efforts — won't matter when your ride is over, either. Because my train and your train and Steve Jobs' train all have endings.

The only thing that matters is where your train stops when your ride is over.

If you're a believer in Jesus Christ, when your train door opens, you leave behind your earthly existence — all your pain, all your accomplishments, all your acclaim, all your charity, all your money, all your happiness, all your sorrow — and step into an eternity with your Savior that indeed will turn your past life into vapor (if you even care to recall it during that moment).

If you're not a believer in Jesus, you can become one. Whether you're hitting the heights of success right now or deeply struggling, someday your ride will be over, too — and the question you can't avoid is, "Where do you want to be when your train door opens?" If you want Jesus standing on the platform, ask him for forgiveness and a new life with him. 

And no, it doesn't end there. If you've taken that first step, take another and chat with that Christian friend who's been bugging you about Jesus for too long. Walk into that church you've been avoiding and talk to the pastor. Dig into the pages of the Bible.

Amid all this, Christian author C.S. Lewis — an intellectual powerhouse who journeyed from atheism to belief and knew a good bit about longing, suffering, and what matters — has a few words to light our paths from his book, "The Problem of Pain":

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"The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe, or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns but will not encourage us to mistake them for home."

- - -

Earlier, I noted the passing of Bill Buckner, known the world over for his costly fielding miscue when the Boston Red Sox faced the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series. I've often wondered how he coped with such a burden, which would follow him for the rest of his life.

The answer, as it turns out, resided in Buckner's Christian faith. 

After his death in May, his family stated that he "fought with courage and grit as he did all things in life. Our hearts are broken, but we are at peace knowing he is in the arms of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

As he said a few years ago about that awful ground ball: "It's life, and everybody has to deal with something, and most of the time it's a lot more important than a baseball game. You're talking about cancers, children, and those things that are much more important than baseball. You have choices, and some people can't deal with it, and some can. Spiritually that helped me."

Think Bill is replaying Mookie Wilson's "little roller up along first" where he's residing about now? 

How could he? That grounder is just a vapor, after all.

-- Dave Urbanski,

* * * 

"Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits" (James 1:9-11).

* * *

"For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." (James 4:14).

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