All of us like to believe, and most of us do believe, that there’s a perilous drama to our lives even if we can’t begin to see it. Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer touched on the matter in a piece the Tribune carried on Rick Ankiel, whom he compared to The Natural‘s Roy Hobbs. Krauthammer wrote: “Ronald Reagan, I was once told, said he liked ‘The Natural’ except that he didn’t understand why the Dark Lady shoots Roy Hobbs. Reagan, the preternatural optimist, may have had difficulty fathoming tragedy, but no one knows why Hobbs was shot. It is fate, destiny, nemesis. Perhaps the dawning of knowledge, the coming of sin. Or more prosaically, the catastrophe that awaits everyone from a single false move, wrong turn, fatal encounter. Every life has such a moment. What distinguishes us is whether — and how — we ever come back.”
Roy Hobbs was shot. Most people live and die without being shot, or even shot at. Yes, we reply, but we might have been! If, at the fateful moment that certainly comes along at least once in a lifetime we make the wrong turn instead of the right one, take this street instead of that, show up at the wrong place at the wrong time instead of when it doesn’t matter — why, we’ll meet a horrific fate! And isn’t it fun to think so!
The problem is that if doom were as binary as we like to think it is, half of us would take the wrong turn instead of the right one and die in some ghastly fashion. We don’t. The overwhelming majority die in bed. This strongly suggests that not only do we lead uneventful lives but the parallel lives we as easily could have led would probably have been pretty uneventful too. Sorry!
Ankiel was a rookie pitching phenom who lost his control in the 2000 major league playoffs, staggered around in the minors for years, and finally returned to the Saint Louis Cardinals a couple weeks ago as an outfielder, promptly hitting a home run and going on to star at the plate and in the field. Hobbs was a pitching phenom until the Dark Lady shot him, but he eventually returned to baseball as a thunderous hitter who hits a home run that literally makes the stadium lights explode. Krauthammer calls the story of Hobbs a “fable.” He mentions in passing, so quickly you’ll probably miss it, that the “fable” he’s talking about is actually a movie, The Natural (1984), starring Robert Redford. He doesn’t mention at all that movie was inspired by Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel, though at the end of the novel Roy Hobbs strikes out.
Here’s a fable for you. You die in bed, and before you die you strike out. And if in your life you did something pretty special, the general view is it’s not worth mentioning.