Sometimes, in our collective efforts to expose all that is wrong with the world, our country, and our government in particular, we lose sight of all that is right. This past weekend, I was reminded in many subtle and some not so subtle ways that despite the problems facing us globally, beyond the morass of political corruption and corporate malfeasance, and outside of the partisanship that politics injects into our lives, America is a damn good place to live. But it’s not the bureaucrats or politicians or industry leaders or religious figureheads who make this a great country. Simply put, it is us- you and me and the millions of other people walking the streets every day who make our country great. It is the commitment to a shared sense of liberty and freedom and joie de vivre in spite of all the madness around us that makes America a beacon of hope for millions who seek to come here, and a reflection of success for those of us lucky enough to have been born here.

What is it that reminded me of that which I instinctually knew all along? Believe it or not, it was baseball. I’m not what you could call a sports fan. Although I’ve always enjoyed participating in various sports related activities, I’ve never been one to follow the fortunes or failures of any particular team or sport. So it is a rare occasion for me to actually go to see a professional sporting event in person. But as the father of a seven year old who is becoming interested in the game of baseball, when I was offered free tickets to see our home town team in action, I knew this would be a fun way to spend some time together. It turns out that I got more than I bargained for, because along with the fabulous day with my daughter, I was reminded that life is more than just political wrangling, bill paying, and nine-to-five toil. Life, like a baseball game, is an ongoing series of events. Some of those events work in your favor, some of them don’t.

Strike One: I decided to make the day more of an adventure by taking the train into town instead of driving to the stadium. Several factors contributed to this decision- the fact that I make that hour-long drive twice daily, the price of gas and parking, and the numerous times we’d talked of taking the train “one of these days” all played into it. But mostly it was because I wanted to do something different. And my daughter was clearly excited by this choice of transportation. We’d never taken the train before though, and upon arrival at the depot, found that purchasing our tickets was not a simple matter. In this age of automation, Amtrak has installed ‘self-service’ ticket machines, but as with many things supposed to make life simpler, the ticket machines were so complex as to require transit employees to actually complete your transactions for you. The result is a longer line than necessary, breeding frustration among would-be patrons. In fact, the ineptitude of this system resulted in nearly 40 people still waiting to purchase their tickets when the train arrived. Scrambling to get people through the line as fast as possible wasn’t working and it seemed that most of us would not make the train. As this train was a special added on the weekend specifically for people going to the baseball game, missing the train would also mean missing a big chunk of the game. But then a ray of hope- the transit employee/proxy ticket agent turned to everyone still in line and told us to get on the train and pay on the other end. It seemed that the human spirit trumped corporate inefficiency once again. Base hit, next batter.

Strike Two: Upon arrival at the train depot downtown, the plan was to hit the trolley for the rest of the trip to the stadium. We now had about 10 minutes until the beginning of the game, plenty of time it would seem, since the trolley ride would take but a few minutes. But surprise of surprises, the trolley ticket system was similar to that of the train, only more confusing because of the more numerous routes it took. Frustrated, I told my daughter we would just walk over from the train station and maybe miss the first few minutes of the game. To her, this was just another part of the adventure, making our way through downtown on foot, on the way to the big game. And though I knew the general location of the stadium, I didn’t realize we were at least 12 blocks away, as the crow flies that is. Finally, after navigating several busy streets we hopped into a bicycle cab for the rest of the trip. Our driver was a charming young man, recently immigrated from Bulgaria. As we rode the remaining 6 blocks to the stadium, I couldn’t help but be cheered up by his infectious smile and upbeat attitude as he told of how much he loved living here. Pop-fly double, next batter up.

The new stadium in town is big, and it was my first time there. Our tickets put us in the upper most level of the ballpark, and it was quite a hike to get there. As we made our way through, I was twice asked by stadium employees if I needed help finding the seats, and their directions always came with a smile. It took us about five minutes to get to our section, which turned out to be directly behind home plate, albeit up a few hundred feet. But we could see all the action clearly, and the fans around us ran the gamut of the American melting pot, from fathers and sons to groups of teenage girls to elderly couples. All colors, shapes, and sizes. All gathered together to enjoy America’s pastime. We watched as the teams battled it out on the field, and paid the high costs of ballpark hotdogs and French fries. The game was fun, but the crowd was better. As I sat there with my daughter, I watched the joy in her eyes, saw the smile on her face as the antics of the fans played out around us. She was having a great time, and as a consequence, so was I. The game ended with our team losing by one run, but clearly I’d hit a home run with my kid.

Strike Three: The trip back home was nearly identical to the one earlier that day. I paid another bicycle cab to get us back to the train depot, because the trolley situation was even more crowded and confused than before. Our driver this time was a Rastafarian looking musician (who played soul music with his band) who had nothing but a smile and laughter as we discussed music back to the train station. I tipped him half the fare price because he’d gotten us back just in time to make the train, which was getting ready to leave as we got there. Sadly, this time, the ticket attendant (the person, not the machine) couldn’t get people moving through quickly enough, and the train pulled out just as we began to get our tickets. The next train wouldn’t arrive for two hours, and though frustrated, we sat down to wait. And as we waited, we met and conversed with several people. A father and his two young sons, coming back from the ballgame. A single mother with her daughter and infant son coming home from a day at the zoo. A zoo employee heading home. An elderly couple going who knows where. All of us waiting for the train to return. All of us just happy to be.

We ended the day with a quick fast food dinner (it was after 8pm when we got home), and a goodnight hug. It was, all in all, a great day and one that I hope my daughter will remember for some time. For her, it was an adventure with dad, a train ride and a ball game. For me, it was a reminder that it is people who make life worth living.

Transferred into political terms, what I learned, or rather, what I was reminded of by this adventure with my daughter, is that for most people, politics are not the means to happiness. For most people, politics are so far removed from their daily lives as to be little more than a distraction at the water cooler. Most people don’t extrapolate the effects of political decisions to their daily lives. They just go on living as best they can. And in this country, despite all the corruption and waste and fraud and downright abuse of the law perpetrated by corporations and politicians and disingenuous figureheads, we’ve got it better than so many others in the world.

Those of us who dive head first into the political realm, whether through active participation or on-line punditry, must recognize this simple truth: politics is only one path to change. Connecting with people…enjoying time together…these are the things that make life worth living. And by connecting with each other, we often realize that we all seek the same things- a little security, a lot of freedom, and the chance to take our kids to a ballgame now and then.

In securing these things for ourselves and for each other, we make our world a better place. When we seek to share these ideals with others, we seek to make the world a little better too. And while eventually it is politics that make the conditions for happiness possible, it is up to each of us to make our little piece of the world a happy, hopeful, helpful place, not by finding things that divide us, but by enjoying the things that connect us.

So while I’ll continue to hammer away at the injustices of the world and the corruption in the halls of power, I’ll always try to remember the lessons I learned from a simple trip to a baseball game. It isn’t just politics that make the world go around.

(cross posted on Bring It On!)