A pitcher, an umpire, and a lesson in grace

A Christian Science perspective.

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Lately, around our family dinner table in a suburb of Detroit, there have been a lot of opportunities for what parents call “teachable moments.” From the many home foreclosures to lies by local politicians to text-message scandals, parents seek to glean from these trials valuable lessons on how not to behave. But in an unlikely venue, we witnessed what seems to be a rare moment of grace and a good lesson for the children in Detroit and beyond.

In Comerica Park last Wednesday, Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game, but for one bad call by first-base umpire Jim Joyce. Perfect games, which consist of no hits, walks, or errors, are incredibly rare. In fact, there have only been 20 in the past 150 years. But perhaps rarer was the near-perfect behavior of Galarraga, Joyce, and even the Tiger fans, following the very disappointing call that was later to be proved incorrect.

Instead of reacting with indignation, Galarraga’s response to Joyce’s declaration of “safe” at first base was... a smile. Following this was the equally impressive reaction, or lack of reaction, from Joyce. Instead of righteously defending his call, at the first occasion to review the play, he noted the error and quickly offered a full and sincere apology to Galarraga and Tiger coach Jim Leyland. So gracious was his apology that even the passion of Detroit fans, who were initially outraged, quickly dissipated. It was like a lovely domino effect, with each expression of grace creating more goodwill and resulting in what was, if not a perfect game, certainly a perfect teachable moment.

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One obvious lesson is good sportsmanship, which too often is lacking in professional sports today. And the power of this right behavior to transform and dissolve anger and indignation is the most valuable lesson of all. In so many conflicts around the world today, pride and self-righteousness keep participants from admitting a mistake, which can escalate passions and aggravate already tense situations. One can find many examples around the globe, from the Korean Peninsula to the Middle East, from Wall Street to the Gulf of Mexico, where ready apologies and graciousness could result in similar blessings of goodwill.

Around our dinner table we work valiantly to impress upon our preteens that a good deed, compassion, and turning the other cheek are not only right but also will boomerang and bless them and others in countless ways. The timeless golden rule, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31), given to humanity by Christ Jesus, has been a standard of behavior for 2,000 years.

For me, the grace and dignity that Galarraga showed right from the start set the tone for everything that followed, a perfect execution of the golden rule. His sincere graciousness defused pride, stilled anger, and ultimately led us to marvel at the beauty of this moment rather than scream at its injustice.

No matter what side of the game one lines up on, it’s helpful to remember that we all are created to express the qualities of love, compassion, reason, and understanding that make us completely prepared for the perfect response to every situation. And in that original perfect response, a peaceful outcome can be the expected result.

The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, was convinced of the power of goodness to heal and bless our lives. “Goodness never fails to receive its reward, for goodness makes life a blessing.... He who is afraid of being too generous has lost the power of being magnanimous” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 165).

When put to the test, this rule of living holds true time and time again. Yet so often it’s easy to fall short in putting it into practice. Then, from a ballpark on an ordinary Wednesday night, comes an inspiring example of how effective this rule and its execution can be.

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