The Plaster Student Union Bear greeted me with open arms as I walked briskly toward the student union. On this rather chilly morning, my vest was insufficient; I should have worn my Royals hoodie. I checked the time on my flip phone and, afraid I would be late, did not stay to talk to the bear but merely tipped my hat and quickened my pace.
I had volunteered to help at Missouri State University’s 38th Annual Children’s Literature Festival. More than 1,700 students from 24 schools across southwest Missouri gathered to be inspired and educated about the wonderful ways words were crafted into books. I was asked to welcome students and help an author find their way on campus. Thankfully, Shannon was also assigned to the same author, making it easy to locate the reserved space in the bottom of Hill Hall.
Shannon is a junior from St. Louis who chose to stay in town over fall break. She wore a St. Louis Cardinals hoodie, so I briefly commented on it then asked about her studies.
“I’m studying to be a Special Education teacher focusing on applied behavior analysis. My younger brother has high-functioning autism. He’s in college, too.”
Beautiful encounters like this have happened time and time again throughout this catch-playing year. Each time they happen, I am reminded of the question in the movie Signs, “Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”
I shared a little about my wife’s work with students with multiple disabilities and encouraged Shannon in her quest to be a superhero.
At the end of the morning’s autograph session, Shannon and I met our author, Antony John, which makes us sound somewhat like characters and that’s kinda cool. Antony grew up in England and moved to the US in 1996 to study at Duke University where he earned his Ph.D. in Music Composition. He has two children and two dogs and likes Thai Chicken pizza and the movie Vertigo and his latest novel is a story of baseball in St. Louis — Mascot.
Quite the serendipitous pairing.
There were technical difficulties connecting to the projector in the lecture hall, but Antony brought along his own projector and was able to troubleshoot without missing a beat. I listened to his same presentation three times and now know that wiener dogs are better known as sausage dogs, that Matt Carpenter was drafted 399th, and that his writing process spells “BROW” — Brainstorm, Research, Outline, Write.
“Books are all about a journey, about a character who starts in one place and is transformed along the way to another place,” Antony said.
Each time he spoke about journey, I couldn’t help but think of the quixotic quest of Catch 365 and wonder if I’ve been transformed in any way, shape, or form.
Josh (Days #16 and #88) surprised me when he walked into the room for the second session, but none of his students remembered the Opening Day game of catch. That was last school year and a different group of students.
With a thirty minute break scheduled after the second session, Shannon and Antony and I walked to the quad for a game of catch.
“I’ve never worn a glove before,” Antony said who quickly grew comfortable with the glove and took steps backward, increasing our throwing distance every couple tosses. I had only packed two gloves, though, not knowing I’d be paired with another volunteer. Antony handed his glove to Shannon who didn’t miss a beat.
“I played softball in 4th grade,” she said.
We couldn’t really dally or linger or just enjoy the sunshine and cool breeze, students were already heading to the rooms for the third session.
In stories, characters are transformed as they press on toward their goal through obstacles, trials, and challenges. They often require help from friends and strangers along the way who lighten the load and offer their own insights and encouragement.
I am certain there are still plenty of challenges remaining before this year is finished – weather, sore muscles, and tomorrow’s catch partner just to name a few. But my transformation into a catch playing ambassador of hope and joy is now 284 days complete.