As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
It was a beautiful June day. Brilliant sunshine made ball caps a practical necessity, not just a fashionable accessory. The blessings of low humidity spared all the clamminess typical of mid-Atlantic summers. Best yet, the day in question, a Wednesday, would be filled with recreation and lack even a trace of what dominates most mid-weeks – work.
Three friends met locally for a short trip north. Two others huddled for a jaunt south. The quintet met in the middle – Washington D.C., generally, Nationals Park, specifically. Each one a busy dad, they had started an annual tradition of catching a ball game together a decade ago. They never missed a year through 2019. Then COVID foiled their plans the next two seasons. This being the reboot, it carried increased spirit and an upspoken feeling of gratitude. After a quick greeting inside the park, beers were in hand, playful ribbing ensued and belly laughs echoed from their seats. Three years apart evaporated in minutes; COVID proved no match for strong friendships.
I first heard Jimmy Buffett’s “A Pirate Looks At Forty” when that milestone was decades off my bow. Now it’s trailing nine years off my stern and this “pirate” is staring at 50. Make sense of that - even in a pair of blown out flip flops while wastin’ away in Margaritaville - I cannot. Suddenly the Talking Heads lyric “And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’” makes perfect sense.
True to that confession of confusion, “The Mindful Midlife Crisis” podcast often has my ear. Michelle Pan stopped in for a recent episode to discuss her COVID pregnancy and six months as a first-time mom. The content was largely expected – the shock, the grind, the lack of sleep and the unexplainable joy. Then Pan got to the good stuff. She described part of her post-partum depression as an identity crisis. After totally committing to her daughter’s care, she began to wonder who she was other than a mother. Pan – a trainer, yoga instructor and all-around wellness practitioner - had had an enriching career, but struggled with “mom-guilt” as she sought a new personal and professional balance.
On that delightful June afternoon at Nationals Park, I stared at a team of mostly strangers and pondered how much had changed since our last trip here in 2019. Juan Soto was still in right field, though, and despite the rumors about his Washington future, his age (23), remaining team control (2.5 seasons) and generational talent made his departure seem farfetched. I would have bet an expensive round of stadium pints that day on Soto being a National deep into his 30s. Six weeks later, Soto was in fact the key to the franchise’s future, but it was via a historic trade to the Padres for a handful of prospects, not a record-setting contract extension.
As one of my pals in our Nats group likes to say, “There’s just a lot going on.” He often uses the quip to add a hint of shameless martyrdom to a mundane plight – working a little overtime, in-laws coming to town or the Steelers losing a couple games. But there is truth in his nonsense. The world is stranger now. The Nats are unrecognizable. D.C.’s football team has a new name, logo and fight song. The Orioles are…pretty good! Similar to Pan’s struggles adapting to motherhood, I am, like many parents my age, struggling to adapt to a quasi-adult child heading off to college. Parenthood is an ever-evolving gift. Macro-level, America has arrived at another inflection point in its history, as it is apt to do. Something was triggered in 2016 and amplified by the pandemic; it continues to threaten our commitment to our national concept, to democracy, to truth, and to ourselves.
Identity crises are indeed everywhere. But I’ll figure mine out. You’ll figure yours out. The Nats roster will become more familiar and “Commanders” will feel less awkward. And if history is any guide, America will find its footing too. As for the how, Pan made a suggestion by quoting one of her tattoos: “The only way out is through.”