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侘寂 - The 2013 Phillies and the Aesthetics of Imperfection

Flawed as a raku tea set, the 2013 Phillies provide beauty and contemplative value if you only you can stop being a dukkha sucka. Your attachment causes suffering, not the mediocre 2013 Phillies. Enjoy the wonders that are right in front of you.

Laughing Buddha laughs.
Laughing Buddha laughs.
Hunter Martin

This weekend, I did two things. I was in the woods, playing, and I went to see the Phillies on Sunday.

In the woods, I was with my kids building a wood-fired raku pottery kiln from plans I found on the internet using a pile of old bricks and some mortar. We fired a couple of small pots as "proofs of concept." The kiln could use some modifications, and the pots, made as they were by hands all aged less than 12, were likewise imperfect, though the finish from the wood ashes and the shavings was interesting. Importantly, nothing exploded, either, which is not an inconsequential risk when taking a glowing clay pot out of an oven and dumping it into a metal bucket full of wood shavings from the lathe.

Raku pottery comes from a Japanese Buddhist aesthetic in which imperfection is considered to be desirable. It supposedly provides more fertile ground for contemplative meditation. Become an expert in wabi sabi in mere minutes by reading this, as I did. To be fair, though, my family's unofficial motto for decades has been, "Fuck it, it's good enough." Distilled to its essence, wabi sabi can be said to occupy some of the same territory, but for far different reasons. It got there with a map, whereas my folks just kind of...ended up there.

A great example of wabi sabi comes from the story of a young monk who was assigned the duty of cleaning the garden at the temple. He cleans and cleans, picking up sticks and leaves and raking the gravel until, exhausted, he reports to his superior. "The garden is cleaned." The elder monk regards the garden and says, "It is good, but it is not perfect." The young monk returns to cleaning, sifting the gravel, picking bits of debris out of the sand, and painstakingly tending to every detail. He returns to his superior and says, "I am done cleaning the garden. It is ready for inspection." The elder monk again regards the garden and says, "It is good, but it is not perfect." He then goes over to a tree, shakes a branch until several leaves fall onto the freshly-raked gravel. "Now it is perfect."

By that standard, the Phillies are just oozing perfection, folks. It is a different kind of perfection, though, and it requires something of a different world view. Coming from a Phan who lived through Randy Ready and Dickie Thon, a little perspective can help. This is not a team that is Mets-bad or Marlins-bad. It's just not good, is all. It is not one that should have us tearing our collective eyes out.

The second half of my weekend was spent with my older kid, going to see the Phillies on Sunday. He wanted the Cliff Lee shirt. I did not want to see John Lannan, nor did I want to leave the woods, because burning shit is really, really fun. Still, I acquiesced. Besides, my lungs hurt a little. I think I turned some sand into glass and got a little too close to the fumes. So down the Turnpike we rolled to the Big City.

We got to the game early. We walked around the exhibits at Ashburn Alley. Though I have dozens, I posed him for more pictures with statutes of CBP since the kid keeps growing. (Please, God, never let there be a Chris Wheeler statue.) We made stupid jokes. In "Marie Antoinette signing the guillotine" fashion, my kiddo had Greg Luzinski sign his baseball glove. I had a sandwich.

Then the ballgame started. Matt Harvey, who topped out on the stadium gun at 100 mph, murdered the Phillies with his arm and bat. John Lannan tried valiantly for a few innings, but was limited by virtue of the fact that he is John Lannan. Ben Revere narrowly missed balls, and had the epic DERP catch/non-catch. The relievers sucked. It was awfulness incarnate. And we paid money for the experience. I mean, really...

We were alternately baked in the sun, then rained upon. During the rain delay, we packed ourselves in the concourse like sardines, and my son's sensory issues went nuclear as we were rubbed up against by what seemed like half of the sweaty, hairy, and morbidly obese denizens of the Delaware Valley. Or at least Chris Wheeler look-a-likes. And the Phillies sucked. Hard.

About the eighth inning, he was seated, bucket hat pulled down over his eyes, cherry italian ice having stained his new Cliff Lee Shirt, and he started to lose it. "Dad, I wanna go home. This sucks. The Phillies suck. Everybody sucks except Cliff Lee, and he's not pitching."

I looked out at the field from my seat in the 200 level, and I breathed. I couldn't argue, really. Nor would offering counterpoint help. Telling him that I WARNED HIM ABOUT JOHN LANNAN wasn't going to help, either. It was the kid version of "the Nail" where reason no longer applies. We were both surely in hell. To make matters worse, at this very moment, I reached for a foul ball and fell over the railing. For real.

Delmon Young circled below, ready to attack me for all the mean things I have written about him. I clung to the railing for dear life with both hands, and looked up for help. All I saw were obnoxious Mets fans wearing Matt Harvey shirseys over their corpulent guts. They were waiting to pound me if I climbed back up, since I spilled their beers reaching for the foul ball. As I held on, white and black pigeons were pecking at my fingers. I knew my grip would fail, and I would fall to my death, likely to be eaten by Delmon Young.

At that moment, I saw JC Ramirez enter the game. It was his first appearance in the majors. He was realizing his life's dream during one of the shittiest Phillies games I have ever seen. I watched him strike out the side with mid-nineties heat that moved. It was the most beautifully pitched inning I ever saw. He walked off the field, looked up at the sky, and gave his creator a fist-bump. It was pure joy. And my kiddo came out of his funk. We cheered until the bitter end, but it wasn't that bitter. It was wonderful.

All things, good and bad, are transient. If we fail to accept that with equanimity, we will suffer. Attachment is the root of our suffering, including attachment to good things and bad things. If I were heavy-handed, I would tell you that you your attachment would cause you to become a cyborg, that you will cut your son's arm off with a light saber as he screams "Nooooooooooooo!!!!" and that you could only redeem yourself by tossing a force lightning wielding dude in a dress down a shaft on an exploding planet-sized battle station after your son awakens your compassion and love. But what I lack in merchandising skills, I make up in subtlety, right?

So as you watch the Phillies this year, with the Matt Harveys of the National League dealing death by Force Lightning, look for the strawberries that are JC Ramirez as Delmon Young hungers below. Accept this imperfection, and remember wabi sabi: the more imperfect something is, the more contemplative value it has. And the second lesson is that there is beauty to be enjoyed in the moment if we are mindful and if we can forget our attachment to, you know, winning and stuff.

It is easy to be a fan when your team wins 102 games, but we can learn a lot more when they don't. Life is full of nearly infinite disappointments, and dwelling on them, fearing them, or hating them will not fix them, and it will make your life miserable.

Next week's lesson: Achieving enlightenment by defeating Ruben A-Mara.