Saturday, August 22, 2009
Author Article: Safe at Home By Leslie Gilbert-Lurie
Safe at Home
By Leslie Gilbert-Lurie
Author of Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir
"Do you have older brothers?" I have been asked this question on a regular basis since I was a young girl.
"No," I routinely answer, in quiet defiance. I know why they are asking, but they always feel compelled to clarify. "Then where'd you learn to throw a ball?"
To me, throwing a baseball never seemed to be so remarkable. It had been harder to learn how to ride a bike or dive into a pool, but no one ever asked if I had an older brother when I performed those feats. My interest in baseball, on the other hand, often caught people by surprise.
I loved playing baseball. At the local park, high school, college, law school, and throughout my career, I always found a softball team that would have me. But I also coached youth baseball, for well over a decade. I would sneak out of college classes or network meetings, whatever was required, to get to a practice or game on time. Being out on the diamond was the highlight of my day.
Baseball's comforts enveloped me at home, as well. As a child, I loved working on my baseball card collection. I fondly recall weekends of my youth spent seated on the carpet of my safe, cozy bedroom, memorizing each player's team and position, bringing order to the piles of cards around me.
What was the attraction of baseball for a girl like me, with no older brother, growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960s? In the past, I dismissed this question, and simply bristled at the presumption that my interest or ability must have been influenced by a boy. Recently, however, approaching the publication of my mother-daughter memoir, Bending Toward the Sun, the question took on an added dimension. I began to recognize a connection between being the daughter of an immigrant, a Holocaust survivor who spent two years of her childhood hidden in an attic in Poland with fourteen family members, and my love of baseball.
From the beginning, our national pastime has attracted immigrants. In its infancy, 30 percent of the major league baseball players were Irish. Today, nearly a quarter of them are from Latin America, Canada, or Asia. Baseball has also played a role in the assimilation of fans to the United States. In the early part of the 20th century, these immigrants were primarily Italian, Jewish, Irish, and Polish. Today, they are largely Asian and Latin American.
Many immigrants, including my mother, came to America to escape war, danger, or lack of opportunity in their native countries. They arrived in search of a safe haven to call home. Baseball provided the respite. It is a peaceful, orderly sport. Anyone who doesn't play by the rules is ejected from the game, if not the profession. Moreover, baseball, like the American dream itself, represents infinite possibility. Until the final at bat, a team has the chance to come from behind and win. In this sport, the team is greater than the individual players. There is safety in being a part of something greater than ourselves. For many immigrants, baseball has provided a physical and emotional link to becoming American -- to health, freedom, opportunity and joy. Perhaps most importantly, baseball is a game. The enemies are not real, and afterward, players can face their opponents, instead of needing to flee.
I am not an immigrant. From day one, I have been the beneficiary of America's opportunities and protections. Perhaps I would have loved baseball, regardless of my origins. After all, I love many sports, and baseball in particular appeals to me on many levels. Played without clocks in bucolic parks around the country, and steeped in tradition, who could resist the allure of this beautiful game? Yet much of who I am has been shaped by my mother's past, and her experiences heightened my appreciation of the game. I believe it is not coincidental that I was so attracted to a sport that has a record of embracing immigrants -- a sport that would have treated my mother as a part of the team. As smart and beautiful as my mother is, I often perceived her as struggling to fully fit in. Baseball was always a means for me to momentarily distance myself from my own sadness about my mother's past. Out on the field I was euphoric, running freely around the bases; just the opposite of my mother's childhood experience, when, trapped in an attic, she was unable to speak or move about.
On September 1, Bending Toward the Sun will be released. Of all the planned celebratory and promotional events, I am most excited about getting to throw out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium on September 6. Perhaps someone in the stands will see me and wonder, "Where'd she learn to throw a ball?" I'll never know exactly. I was influenced by every coach, teammate, and childhood neighbor with whom I've played. Mostly, however, I was inspired by one woman who has barely played the sport at all. I'll be throwing out the ball for my mother, for her relatives in the attic, and for all the immigrants who today call America home.
©2009 Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, author of Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir
Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, author of Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir, is a writer, lawyer, teacher, child advocate, and a member and past President of the Los Angeles County Board of Education.
Gilbert-Lurie also is a founding board member and immediate past President of the Alliance for Children's Rights, a non-profit legal rights organization for indigent children, chair of the education committee for the Los Angeles Music Center, and a board member of several schools including Sierra Canyon and New Visions Foundation. Finally, she has just completed serving as a member of the mayor's task force charged with developing a new cultural plan for the City of Los Angeles.
Previously, Leslie spent close to a decade as an executive at NBC, where, at various times, she oversaw NBC Productions, Comedy, wrote television episodes, and co-founded a new NBC in-house production company, Lurie-Horwits productions. As a lawyer, Leslie worked briefly at the law firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg and Tunney and served as a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Law Clerk. She is a graduate of UCLA and UCLA School of Law.
Leslie lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, daughter and step-son.
For more information please visit http://www.bendingtowardthesun.com/