Critical events, risk, and the Chicago White Sox

Critical events are happenings that instantaneously wrest our psychological development from the doldrums, jolt us into growth and differentiation, or potentially retard it, slow us down.

When critical things happen we know we have to talk to someone, a mental health professional, or that eventually we’ll have to work it out. Like we flunk out of school. Or we hear someone has died. The sheer jolt is confusing and the brain just can't do it alone. A critical event can be traumatic, the stuff of posttraumatic stress, recurring memories, intrusive thoughts, and nightmares.

But it doesn’t have to be. A critical event can be benign, too.

You might remember the letter that says you got into college, or the one with your ACT or SAT scores, having a baby, getting your first raise. The jolt applies to finding a new best friend, running the 50 yard dash in under 6 seconds, smoking your first joint, drinking your first drink (alcoholics can tell you the date, time and place), getting your first pet.

All the firsts. . .

First funeral, first car wreck, first prom, first day in prison, first apartment, first day away from home, first bunk at summer camp, first boyfriend, girlfriend, first time having sex, first marriage, first guitar, first time on Letterman.

Psychologists call them snapshot memories. I think of an enormous pop of the light bulb those professionals photographers used before digital became so powerful.

Maybe not all firsts are critical events, and certainly most people don't go to therapy for firsts. They do shape us, however, and serve to divide up our memories, block out the timelines of our lives.

I think of my mother blocking out a sweater, deliberately shaping the heavy wool. Not everyone takes things to the dry cleaners. Some people use Woolight and coax a heavy sweater into shape on a thick towel so that the shoulders don't look funny like they would on a hangar. No, there's no real connection, sorry.

So firsts are good, and they're part of the reason therapy docs are always encouraging us to take small risks, to live a little, push ourselves to do things that are probably good for us, even though we’re scared out of our trees.

New experience is expansive. Action builds self and confidence.


I personally can't stand crowds. The thought of going to Comisky Field, (it's hard to remember that now it's U.S. Cellular ) to see the Chicago White Sox terrifies me. And it's easy to avoid. You just don’t go, save a lot of money.

Last summer FD asked me to please come with him to a Sox game. I hadn't been to one in about fifteen years, had a bad experience that time.

But he begged. Please, honey. I have great tickets. It's our anniversary. Barry and Alex are going (his brother and our nephew, St. Louisans, Cardinals fans). When do you even get to see them? What're you going to do, stay home and watch TV? (Well, yeah).

So I caved.

We approached U. S. Cellular and the traffic got congested. We weren't exactly sure where to get off the expressway . Being late, being lost, this particular anxiety doesn't really throw me, I like exploring. Of course the parking lot was full and the officious-looking traffic people pointed us to a line of cars that edged forward six inches every half hour, going nowhere.

FD somehow made the perfect right hand turn to get us back to State Street where there was parking at the Illinois Institute for Technology. I love architecture so I this was a good thing for me, getting a bird's eye view of a new neighborhood, a new college campus. All my life I assiduously avoided the South Side, being a Cubs fan, and all. The Chicago Cubs are a North Side ball club.

Boy, there were a lot of smiley people going to the Sox game, mostly young, confident people familiar with this world. Or so it seemed to me. Only I was out of my element. But okay, I was cool.

We got inside Cellular and because we had these great seats (thanks to a friend with season tickets-- thanks Stewie) we didn't have to push our way through any crowds. Barry and Alex were already there and my son, I was told, had already stopped by. He vends.

This is the real reason I went to the game, is the truth. I wanted to see him in action before he left home for the year in September. Lemon freeze. Get your lemon freeze.
I took a picture of him and put it up in our front hallway. He’s in his vending jersey. It was a real snapshot memory, with a real snapshot.

Being at the game was unbelievable. They pumped me full of beer (one beer is full of beer, okay, it was 16 ounces). The Sox must have scored 14 runs, and each time, a dream come true for a child at heart, they do fireworks at Cellular!

And the visuals! They have these enormous television monitors broadcasting the game, and moving electronic banners that light up the lower and upper decks. The crowd is insane, their exhilaration palpable. Who doesn't love exhilaration?

And the Sox beat the Cardinals! The Cards are mortal enemies of the North Siders, arch enemies. They always cream our Cubs. But FD and Barry, and Alex, all from St. Louis, are routing for the Cards, and although I don’t like the White Sox, particularly, although hold nothing against them, they beat the Cardinals and that’s good enough for me.

I didn't even have to stay for nine innings because my guys couldn't stand watching their team get whooped. They had had quite enough by the 8th inning. Oh, and yes, I was ready to get out of there by then. Quite enough exhilaration for one night.

The next day I could tell everyone who would appreciate it that I'd been to a Sox game! Those who got it nodded appreciatively.

Honestly don't think I'll ever forget it and am a much bigger person now. I have more to talk about, can join into a conversation about baseball, and I can almost relate to the sport enthusiast thing. Well, not really, but almost


Anonymous said…
It's great to hear a therapist taking a little bit of her own advice. Good for you for going to that game!

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