There is usually a bit of timeless wisdom that inspires these columns of mine. I will admit that the quotation that provoked this column — “Is this heaven?” — makes no sense out of context.
Here is a link to a video of a little more than seven minutes that includes those words. For those who watch to the end, I would put money on it that you will be crying.
Actor Kevin Costner introduced a Major League Baseball game with these words: “Thirty years ago … on the other side of that corn we filmed a movie that stood the test of time.”
The movie in question, “Field of Dreams,” is a work of fiction. It imagines a down-on-his-luck farmer, played by Costner, who converts a section of his cornfield in Iowa to a baseball field after hearing a voice tell him, “If you build it, he will come.”
If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil the plot. If you have seen the movie, you know the rest.
More than once, from among the cornstalks growing high beyond the outfield, a team of ghost ballplayers emerges to return to a game they were forced to leave behind. The first time it happens, like so many others in the film, is as moving as it is incredible.
Baseball fan or not, the subtexts of the story about the enduring power of love, faith, history and (most important) redemption create impressions on the heart that, even 30 years later, can be summoned with a phrase, an image or a summer day.
Every spring, just as the baseball season starts up again, Jews gather around a table to retell a story of love, faith, history and (most important) redemption.
From out of the imagined world of darkness and death, the ghosts of our enslaved ancestors emerge liberated into a wilderness without a horizon.
Sitting in our comfort, recounting stories we mostly know by heart and elaborating in ways we hope are brand-new, we seem to be responding to the disembodied voice saying, “If you tell it, they will come.”
And not just Jews. Every time communion is served, if you take it, he will come. Every hajj that is undertaken, if you complete it, he will come. Every rocket’s red glare we launch on the Fourth of July, every turkey we carve in November, every vote we cast.
Each one resonates with the power of love, faith, history and (most important) redemption. You can fill in the blank as to who “he” or “she” is.
Thirty years is not really the test of time, at least not the way 250 or 2,000 or 3,000 years is.
Yet, the phenomenon that W.P. Kinsella, who wrote the book on which the movie is based, and John Lindley, the cinematographer who created the image of the ballplayers among the corn, illustrated that it does not need to be old to stand the test of time.
We all need it. We all need to feel that connection to a time in the past when everything seemed possible, especially if, in our immediate situation, the most important things seem unlikely.
I am a Chicago Cubs fan and a partisan of the National League, so you might think that a ballgame between the White Sox (my brother’s team) and the Yankees (no comment) would hold no interest for me.
But on a clear summer afternoon, in a ballfield on the other side of the corn from where the movie was filmed, Costner walked across a pristine outfield to a microphone just beyond the pitcher’s mound and, flanked by the current iteration of those two teams, began with the words that inspired this column.
I wouldn’t call him a spokesperson for love, faith, history or redemption, and I am guessing he was not responsible for writing all his words.
Even so, I will admit to sobbing in recognition, regardless of the uniforms being worn by a decidedly diverse group of players so different from the original teams they represented.
Do I know why I was crying?
An old friend of mine once told me that people only cry out of a sense of loss, and maybe that’s true. But I was gobsmacked by a sense of discovery, or maybe re-discovery of something I refuse to lose.
Whether it is religious ritual, civic observance or even baseball, I need to be reminded every now and then that the dreams of the past find expression in the fields of our hearts and lead us to love, faith, history and (most important) redemption.
Which leaves only one question, “Is this heaven?” But, as you know, a whole lot of right answers. And one response. Yes, it is.
President of Interfaith Alliance and a Conservative rabbi. He is currently serving on Good Faith Media’s strategic advisory board.