Time for life to renew, time for a new year to begin

Renewal means second (or third or fourth) chances ….

One of the oldest stories about this in Western literature is the story of Sir Percival.  Percival was raised in the woods (despite a noble birth), until one day in his teenage years he saw some of Arthur’s knight decked out in all their glory and wanted to be all that.  He proved himself worthy, and was given a seat at the Round Table.

Percival’s one main adventure is tied to the lore of the Holy Grail.  In the earliest stories of Arthur and the Grail, it is Percival who finds the Fisher King and the Grail at his castle, because only he among the many great knight was virtuous enough.  The Fisher King, the keeper of the Grail, is a crippled man, and can only be restored to health help if a most virtuous visitor asks a particular series of questions about the Grail.  Percival leaves without doing this, only to discover later that he could have helped the generous king.  He then spends time trying to find his way back to the castle and fulfilling his duty the second time.

Interestingly, as time went on, Percival got knocked down the list of important knights by authors writing the legends of Arthur and Camelot.  Instead, Galahad got promoted to the role of “grail Knight”, and Percival was some lowly assistant.  However, the idea of “Second chances” is a powerful story … and Percival continues to inspire with his story.  Richard Wagner wrote the opera Parsifal based on Percival’s story.  The 1991 film The Fisher King puts Robin Williams in the role of Percival set in modern day America.

But when it comes to really tying the story of Percival to the idea of renewal, Bernard Malamud did it the best.

In Malamud’s novel, Percival is a young boy named Roy Hobbes who is a gifted athlete, but gives in to temptation, and is seriously wounded, and is unable to finish his mission to become a professional athlete.

16 years later, a team called the Knights is being run by a coach named Pops Fisher … a man who has never won a championship (his wound), and his team is mired in last place.  Roy is signed as a 30 something rookie (his second chance), and goes about trying to win games, which he does with prodigious, near miraculous hitting and a little magic.  The rest o the novel is mired in scandals and getting Hobbes to throw games … in fact, the novel ends with him failing to get the game winning hit, and Pop’s dreams fading away.

That book was The Natural … and when Robert Redford came along to film it, they changed the ending.  In the finale, Percival does lose his magic bat, but then realizes that his true power is his virtue … his inner strength …  It is one of the most beautifully choreographed endings in film history.

Today is Opening Day, and while the prospects for the coming year aren’t very good, Opening Day is a day of perpetual hope!*  I mean, the last time the White Sox hired a manager who was a former player who played the left side of the infield, we were convinced nothing good would come of it.  We were so, so wrong.  It is a day of renewal and celebration of something that is a thread woven through the fabric of a collective history.  It reminds us that no matter the ugliness of the  world, there is something elegant and beautiful that goes away in the increasing darkness and cold of autumn … but that one day in Spring as warmth and the light return … it is back.  Even if I don’t get to see a game, I know it is there, and that is comforting.

Last year, I approached Opening Day as I contemplated turning 40.  I can say it turned out to be one of my better birthdays, but in last year’s post, I quoted from A. Bart Giamatti’s beautiful essay on baseball, and I feel compelled to leave a link here so you can go back and read it …

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* Promise of perpetual hope not valid for fans of the Chicago Cubs.  Number 104 is coming this year.  The only constant in the universe is change, but some things in the universe change very, very slowly.  Live with it!

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