Metamorphosis on the second floor

Thursday, June 30, 2005

June 30, 2005

Dear Leslie,

The first stage of our home makeover was accomplished while we were away for a weekend. It sounded like a crazy idea, but our talented friends Gail and Charlie transformed our first floor into rooms both DC and I love to inhabit.

The metamorphosis on the second floor has been much more difficult for everyone, especially DC. We've had no weekends away, so upheaval has been all around us. Two rooms that were nearly unpassable because of the clutter have been cleared out and repainted, the clutter boxed and labeled.

This took doing. For weeks, clothes and toys and books were piled in the upstairs hall. DC eyed the labeled boxes skeptically. Opening one marked "children's toys" she found some of her most powerful fireworks. This to DC was proof that we should forget about the whole project.

Every morning she awakened me with a new fear about the siege occurring on the second floor. "I feel like I'm under attack," she said.

I thought I understood. But one day, walking through the mountainous stacks in our hallway, I rediscovered a beloved book missing many years. "Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball" is one of the most inspiring books I know of. It shows the power of hard work, courage and a pure heart.

Oh was a Japanese baseball player who stood on one leg like a flamingo as the pitcher wound up, then strode forward as the pitcher threw. Oh hit at the ball fiercely, as if swinging a sword.

He developed this swing after disappointing everyone, including himself, in his first three years in professional baseball. He spent too much time soothing his battered pride in Ginza, the Tokyo pleasure district, and not enough understanding how to hit a baseball.

Then along came a new batting coach who made a dramatic suggestion: That Oh switch to standing in the batter's box on one leg.

The adjustment was made to correct a flaw, a hitch in Oh's swing. Standing on one leg kept Oh from hitching because otherwise he toppled over. But developing the strength and balance necessary to bat that way required years of disciplined practice. Oh had to learn how to be patient.

The coach did much more than change Oh's stance. He introduced him first to the martial art of aikido, and later on brought Oh to a famous swordsman who taught him the way of the samurai. Aikido and samurai training for a baseball player? Sounds crazy. About as crazy as 868 home runs.

That's how many Oh eventually hit, making him the greatest slugger in the history of baseball. Hank Aaron only hit 755, Ruth 714.

Through aikido Oh learned to anticipate the pitcher's thinking and incorporate his strength into his own. And thousands and thousands of repetitions finally taught Oh to swing a sword with the effortless intensity of a master, an ability he transferred to a baseball bat.

Most of all, he learned that what you're looking for will arrive if you learn how to wait, that hard work and courage do pay off, that the heart's desire will prevail.

Thanks to our trust -- albeit beleaguered -- in a crazy idea we now have a guest bedroom and a study on the second floor where chaos existed before. We are far from samurai. More like flamingoes.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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