January 17, 2014
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, surrounded by a flood of fluorescent lights and endless concrete, we stepped to the side and leaned against a dull grey rail. In front, a bright red digital sign indicated our subway train was 8 minutes away. As other early-arrivers entered the waiting area my dad patted his shirt pocket and, forgetting he told me previously, said, “Hey, I forgot my reading glasses.”
“It’s okay” I said. “I called the hotel and they have them at the front desk. We can pick them up this evening.”
As the platform continued to fill with people I could tell my almost eighty year old father was still worried about his glasses. He had yet to relax, yet to anticipate the baseball game we were on our way to watch. It was also his first trip on a subway and when he wasn’t thinking about his glasses he was immersed in the whole concept of underground trains.
I smiled and said “I’m sure you’ll be fine without your glasses. You won’t need to read at the game”.
Beneath his favorite red cap he raised his eyebrows slightly and gave me a slight shrug of his shoulders. It was his way of letting me know he wasn’t completely convinced.
Soon the train could be heard in the distance and Dad peered back down the tunnel. The sound of the squeaking brakes brought the train to a halt, followed by a whoosh as the doors slid open. We made our way to seats near a window while people continued to flood in behind us.
As the train moved down the track I watched my dad as he took in the crowd, all baseball fans, all wearing red. The tunnel walls just outside our window flashed by quickly. We were now moving at full speed. When we came our first stop Dad looked at me and asked “Here?”
“Nope, not yet, two more stops.”
Several minutes later we pulled up to another platform. It looked just like the others, but this time, as the doors opened I nodded at Dad. He took my cue and with the rest of the crowd we exited the train. In front of us, a packed escalator moved the steady stream of people wearing St Louis Cardinal shirts and jerseys. They continued to move up and away until they seemed to shrink in size, eventually disappearing from sight.
Looking to verify our next destination, Dad caught my eye and motioned towards the escalator. I nodded and a small grin appeared. His concerns about his reading glasses were now long forgotten.
As we rode the escalator ever upward it became obvious just how far underground we had been. The sounds of the crowd and the endless chatter echoed loudly off the walls until eventually a large clear dome appeared. The noise, like the stagnant subway smells, soon escaped and faded into the fresh air.
Like water running from a garden hose on a driveway, fans left the escalator and quickly fanned out across the sidewalks.
Everyone except my Dad.
As we stepped off he looked to his right and there it was, directly across the street, Busch Stadium; home of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
Bishop Richard Stika, at a memorial service for Cardinal great Stan Musial said, “Many believe St. Louis is a special place for baseball. Some even call it baseball heaven.”
That was exactly the concept expressed on on my dad’s face. From the concrete prison of the subway tunnels below he now stood on the threshold of baseball heaven. As the crowd pushed from behind I gently helped him move to the side, fearful we might otherwise be stampeded by the fans emerging from below.
I felt joy as I watched my Dad. Although a life-long Cardinal’s fan, he had never experienced an opportunity to watch them in person.
After a few more seconds he glanced back towards the escalator and then turned to look at me as a huge grin formed across his face. “Now that’s the way to go to a ball game!” he said.
I laughed, “Sure is!”
We took in the view a little longer and then joined the procession heading towards the gates to baseball heaven.
“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine…
…I can only imagine”
Today would have been my father’s 86th birthday and it’s hard for me to believe he has been gone for a month now. Shortly after his passing I found myself wondering what it must have been like for him as he reached the gates of heaven.
Of course, like the song writer, I can only imagine. But in my mind I find myself going back to that moment in St Louis; I see my dad crossing heaven’s threshold and standing in awe. The awe replaced by the grin, and the grin replaced by joy.
Home at last.