Death is scheduled Oct. 6, but already I'm grieving

Stephen Vicchio

April 10, 1991|By Stephen Vicchio

THIS WEEK I begin a process of anticipatory grief. The actual death will come later in the year, Oct. 6, to be exact. On that Sunday, if all goes well, the Baltimore Orioles will retire the Detroit Tigers in the top of the ninth, and Memorial Stadium will have hosted its last Orioles game.

For a while longer, the infield grass will continue to grow, like the fingernails and hair of the dead, but then the building will change ontologically: A wrecking ball will magically relegate concrete and steel to the province of memory, the only paradise from which we are never fully evicted.

I know that on Oct. 6 the last out will remind me of the disconnecting of a respirator. But debate will continue long afterward about whether the patient on 33rd Street should have been declared terminally ill.

For me, the arguments for and against the new stadium, in the face of the destruction of the old one, are almost irrelevant. The discussion reminds me of the last part of the Book of Job.

In the very end of the biblical book, Job is given by God a new set of 10 children to replace those who were taken from him in the beginning of the tale. These new children clearly are better than the former collection -- the girls have wonderful names and seem brighter and more attractive than their earlier siblings.

But the Job story ends too soon. The authors tell us nothing of Job's yearning for the dead children, despite the beauty and intelligence of the new kids. The biblical writers divulge nothing of Job's memories of the earlier children, and of how some memories are so important that they are better than anything that could ever happen again.

The biblical writers do not tell us if the ghosts of Job's dead children continued to haunt him. Vladimir Nabakov suggests that the more one loves a memory, the stronger and stranger it becomes.

Memorial Stadium is a building that houses phantoms. I go there a few dozen times a summer to watch baseball games, but while there, I also commune with those apparitions.

My father took me to see Willy Miranda go deep in the hole to get Mickey Mantle by half a step. That memory still swirls around in the building. I see it whenever I go there. I also see Brooks Robinson and Mike Devereaux hitting the foul pole to win in the bottom of the ninth. When I sit at the closed end, I see Jimmy Orr, stretched out like Nureyev or a flying Wallenda brother without a net, catching a go-ahead touchdown. On chilly Thursday mornings in November, I see a 16-year-old kid from Calvert Hall kicking a 42-yard field goal to beat Loyola. By now, that boy must be a 40-year-old man. As Proust reminds us, "Time surely changes people, but it does not alter the image we retain of them."

It matters little that the new stadium will be a better one. One ought not to boast about his second wife when the first has met with an untimely death.

We might readily admit that Memorial Stadium could have been the object of a remark made by an American tourist examining the Albert Memorial in London: "It has all the earmarks of an eyesore." But buildings surely express the needs and character of their age.

The 1950s were a simpler time, a time of unadorned concrete and steel, a time without sky boxes. Perhaps the old stadium is too simple a building to embody our contemporary emotions and passions. But what are we to do with the evicted ghosts?

Someone once observed that "Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely on the soul." That's correct. It's particularly correct when a building that houses 40 years of phantoms becomes a ghost itself.

Stephen Vicchio teaches philosophy at the College of Notre Dame. His most recent collection of essays, "Ordinary Mysteries," will be published by Momentum books later this month.

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