We needed to keep track of the Reds game to know when the Friday Night Fireworks would begin, and there’s no cable or MLB Live in this apartment. So I handed my twelve-year-old nephew the transistor radio I keep under the sink for emergencies and fireworks alerts, and busied myself with the dinner dishes.
He turned it over in his hands. He’d shown his uncle how to find a certain X-Box setting at the age of five and has been taking math classes at the high school level for the past four years. “What’s this stick thing?” he asked, pointing to the antenna. “And where’s– how do you turn it on and off?”
This wasn’t so much a lesson in how old I am as how easy it is to make assumptions about the experiences and knowledge of others. The child had heard 700 WLW before, but on a digital car radio; he’d operated wireless devices, but ones from another century. I could have taken an hour to explain how radio waves work, but it was easier to say, “This is how the radio picks up the broadcast, and you use this little wheel to turn it on and adjust the volume.”
He would readily understand the science of it, but, having never pointed “the stick thing” towards the nearest window and passed many, many minutes of his life trying to find the perfect balance of tuning and position, he lived far from the experience of how it actually harnesses sound. I would have reacted exactly the same way if someone plopped my grandparents’ crystal radio set in front of me.
He is far more accustomed to a lithium life and devices that only rarely require actual human interaction off-screen. He did not know how to operate a simple transistor radio because he’d never so much as seen one before, whereas I have always innately understood what a wheel on the side of an electronic device means– something, conversely, no one had to explain to me.
But none of this occurred to me at all when I handed him the transistor. I was operating on tribal knowledge, but on a generational level. I was simply thinking: “Reds game. Hear on radio. Nephew hold.” It hadn’t at all occurred to me that he had never encountered such hardware. Some actions are simply so ingrained in our past or everyday life that it’s difficult to remember that others haven’t had the same experience.
The same thing struck me when I listened to a recording of a priest delivering an early class to a group of adults seeking to become Catholic. “When we enter a church,” he said, “we dip our fingers in holy water, and we cross ourselves like this: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That is called the Sign of the Cross. And we do that because…”
It brought me up short; of course that’s what happens when you walk in for Mass; I had been witnessing such a thing since I was about a week old. No one taught me how to do it, or explained why it happens. No wonder 90% of cradle Catholics in my generation fell away from the Church when they became of college age; the Boomer generation simply assumed our knowledge of what was important and why, so culturally inculcated is the American Catholic experience, particularly in Cincinnati.
There is a reason why the Church’s foremost American lay theologian, Scott Hahn, is a former Protestant minister. He came in the side door. Someone taught him how to make the Sign of the Cross; what it was, why, and how. And hie still marvels over it.
I wonder what it’s like to come into baseball like this. Those of you who played it might have received specific instruction on when to swing and how to best hold the glove when fielding grounders, but did anyone have to tell you that a home run is very very good (or very very bad)? Did you need to learn which way to face in the batter’s box? Nope. You knew. It was in you at a cellular level. So it is in this space; I assumed you knew what a grounder was, a term I cannot remember learning. It’s just always been there, like the river and the trees.
That’s why it’s difficult to pull through times such as these as a baseball fan. We are accustomed to pushing for a pennant rather than raising our eyebrows that the home team has risen all the way to third place. Coming to terms with the basics of losing isn’t fun, but it’s mindset we have slowly learned over the past three decades. For kids my nephew’s age, it’s just always been there, like the river and the trees.
May we marvel over coming in through the side door of a competitive team soon.