Pacing Hour

by Patrick Dubuque

In the months after my daughter was born, I spent a significant portion of my time in the little library at the end of my house, in the dark. That was what I called the Pacing Hour – although in fact the durations were often far greater, or the sense of time far more meaningless – as I cradled a tiny being disappointed with life, and circled the small room, an electric fireplace the only source of light.

Pacing Hour was difficult for me. I was tired, of course, though I am always tired. But the baby required a specific kind of non-attention, just enough to prevent me from being asleep on my feet or awake. She had to be held at a specific angle, head on shoulder, weight distributed just so, or she would cry. Switching arms, switching positions to relieve a sore arm: these were impossible. The pace was also specific and mandatory, and became a waltz to an unheard rhythm, a specific number of steps at a specific gait, a turn on the ball of the feet.

I struggle, always, when I cannot think. I think all the time – in traffic, in bed, in the middle of a set of instructions from my wife – and even a moment of boredom, of motionlessness, chafes at me. I tried to listen to an audiobook at first, David Copperfield, but the intermittent cries made plot impossible. I gave up and sank into a state of numbness, a temporary death, feeling nothing beyond her sluggishly breathing into my neck.

April baseball is, in its own dumb way, a baby. Babies are formless: they have the potential to be anything, and thus are nothing. You can look at them and imagine their futures, project out their faces and their personalities. But they don’t have personalities yet: it’s adversity that shapes us, the way we respond to the silly unfairness of existence that forges our identities and makes us who we are. There hasn’t been time to know anything.

We try anyway. No parent or fan can resist. The blown save of the second week is the bump on the head, the struggling hitter the runny nose. It’s impossible not to panic about these things, because occasionally they do portend something real. More often, they don’t. There is so much worry, so much unnecessary and natural fear.

The numbness (or, if you’re more generous, calmness) is the goal. Because Pacing Hour quietly, eventually disappears; the good and the bad things stop feeling so senseless and arbitrary. The darkness ends and everything becomes meaningful and bright, purposeful. Eventually, you realize that as much as it hurt at the time, you kind of miss that wordless, hostage-like state: a moment in the past when children and baseball don’t have to become anything, and can’t. They just are.