When I first started working part time at the Baltimore News American, I got a ride home one evening from a summer intern whose car was about as old as I was, 18. The brakes might have been just as old.
As we crested the Jones Falls Expressway from downtown, traffic was stopped and brake lights glowed in all three lanes. My friend Jeff hit his brakes, but the car kept moving. It was clear we were headed for a collision, so I tried to brace myself.
I hit the glove compartment and dashboard with a force I wasn’t expecting.
Thursday reminded me of that experience.
For those of us who love sports, the first realization that we’re in uncharted territory came Wednesday night when the NBA suspended its season. Other sports followed its lead on Thursday, including Major League Baseball, which is delaying the start of its season by at least two weeks after shutting down spring training.
On a personal note, I had been training for the Salisbury Marathon on April 4th. I received an email Thursday night that it had been canceled, too, like so many other things that bring together large groups as we try to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.
The suspensions and cancellations, however, seem insignificant when weighed against a global health crisis that is altering our lives each day.
And then came another blow we had seen coming but weren’t sufficiently braced for — Orioles star Trey Mancini had a malignant tumor removed from his colon. He’s 27, a picture of health and strength, and yet he knew something was wrong with his finely tuned body.
Cancer is a word that scares us, as much as we know about it. Coronavirus is another word that scares us because of how little we know about it. Fear of the known, and fear of the unknown.
There’s another C word, control, that we delude ourselves into thinking we have. This week has shown us again how far it is out of our reach.
“I wouldn’t have wished this on myself, but now that it’s here, I’ll just have to deal with it. I don’t want to leave my loving family. It’s worth fighting for.”
Those words weren’t spoken by Mancini or those who have tested positive but my mom when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Like Mancini, she knew something was wrong when she developed swelling in her left arm. It took a while to figure out a tumor was blocking fluid, a tumor that couldn’t be removed completely because it had wrapped itself around muscle and nerves.
She was more brave than the rest of us, maintaining a joy and a hope that lifted those around her. She used those to fight her fear.
She recognized, though, that she wasn’t in control. She had faith, a belief in her doctors and a love for her family.
It was evident in a note she wrote to her granddaughter Kristin, who was struggling with an illness: “When you first got sick, I wanted to run out and buy you cards and flowers, but my legs don’t run, just my thoughts, and my love.”
This is what Mancini shared on Thursday: “The outpouring of love and support I have received has made an extremely tough week so much better.”
There seems to be something to that — love and support — when we are trying to brace for the worst. We don’t have it in our own strength to fight off things that are out of control, even though sometimes we see them coming. We need each other for that kind of strength.
Thursday reminded me that we need each other, even if we’re being asked to have a little more physical separation. The group for which I run, Athletes Serving Athletes, says, Together We Finish. Together we will make it to the finish line, no matter the obstacle we’re facing.
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.