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40 in 40: Dear Ty Adcock, I’m sorry

Trying to find the why in the suffering

Seattle Mariners v San Francisco Giants Photo by Kavin Mistry/Getty Images

Dear Ty Adcock,

We don’t usually address the 40 in 40s to the actual subject, but I hope you’ll forgive me, even though it’s your first inclusion in the 40 in 40 series. I hope you’ll forgive me not because your 40 in 40 was maybe one of the less compelling ones on the surface, footballed around and landing on one of the un-desired Saturday spots. I hope you’ll forgive a lot of things, honestly, not least of them the winnowing time between the writing of this vs. its deadline and the endless grammar mistakes I can already predict will clog up that quickly shrinking space. But I hope you’ll forgive this all, really because sometimes that’s all you can do: say a true and meaningful sorry, and hope for forgiveness.

I’m sorry you got stuck with me writing your 40 in 40, and I’m sorry it’s on the night after taking my dad to the ER for the second time in as many months. I’m sorry my mind is full of the whir of machines and the sour antiseptic smell of hospital hallways and beeping, always beeping. And I’m really sorry, sorrier than you know, about how easily this story maps on to your own: the 1,178 days it was between competitive pitches you threw, the UCL tear and Tommy John surgery, the time you spent in hard plastic chairs and cheerless rooms and thin, scratchy hospital linens. The return to the injured list to close out the season. The cloud. The fear. The worry. The gap between the spirit and the flesh.

What I admire about you is your tireless work to bridge those two. Where the body faltered, you spent time training the muscle available to you: your mind. It’s a running joke in the Mariners clubhouse about the dust that collects on the shelf of not-required-reading, but with days filled with empty hallways instead of mounds and machines, you sought to strengthen what you could, sending your mind to fight the battles your body could not.

“I love to suffer, as long as I’m chasing my goal” you told a group of reporters after you made your triumphant big-league debut. And I wrote it down in my little notebook and worked it into the kicker of my article about your MLB debut because it’s a great quote for a great story. (A moment of silent appreciation for the baseball players who give Great Quote, you are the real heroes.)

But I don’t think until now I’ve really thought about what that means, to love suffering. Like you, I have read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, although I read it way back in high school, and at the behest of an English teacher rather than a professional representing a multi-billion dollar organization (I probably read it much more lazily than you, if we’re being honest; in the battle of underlines and highlighted text, 17-year-old Kate would definitely lose). But at 17 I didn’t know enough about real suffering to know how to find the love in it; everything that hurt was a beeping machine, easier to turn off than confront.

Which is what you have to do, of course, if you want to find the love in suffering: you have to not only stare suffering straight in the face, you have to make it part of you, so you can start to direct it the way you want it to go. You can’t fear or flinch away from the shadow. I wonder, do you have days where you’re scared the body will not comply—that the repaired tendons will strain, that the pain will come back? I think you must. Once the body shows itself vulnerable, you can’t ever have the same relationship with it. Something has fundamentally changed.

But I wonder if that change can’t be like kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending with gold. The cracks are there, but they are beautiful—a reminder that that’s how the light gets in, thanks Leonard Cohen. You have your own kintsugi, a tattoo the runs across the repaired arm reminding you “know your why.” That why exists outside of joy, outside of suffering. It cannot be taken away by anyone or anything. It’s the why that lets you throw the next pitch, and the next; the why that lets you take the next step, and the next, down hallways you can’t see the end of, but you know you’ll eventually get there.