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Collapse was critical in the crossing of the soul's dark night. Without it, R.A. came to realize, surrender couldn't occur. Without it, the shrine of self couldn't be dismantled and the river of grace could never flow.
But wasn't it enough, all the surrendering he was doing on the couch of his therapist and of his empty house? No. He was a male, a male athlete, and so his surrender had to occur in the physical realm as well: He had needed the Missouri River.
The pitcher who entered that river was 3--4 and had just been demoted to the bullpen. The pitcher who exited it reclaimed his starting job, went 10--2 and won the Pacific Coast League's Pitcher of the Year award. The pitcher who exited was one who threw his knuckleball 80% to 85% of the time instead of 60%, even if it was hit 445 feet, who trusted it, who could finally feel the skin of his right thumb on the leather of one side of the ball and the inner part of his ring finger on its other side, could finally feel the correct pressure of his finger pads and the seam grazing his thumb as the knuckleball left his hand ... could finally feel it and repeat it, because he was finally there, all there, not swimming in his thoughts. Could finally submit to baseball's ultimate act of surrender, the release of a pitch at jayvee velocity with no rotation or will imposed upon it, a pitch that might suddenly move in any direction because it moves on the impulse of air movement, on the universe's whim.
Once he surrendered fully, once he told Stephen the harder story of the second rape and found himself crying harder and longer than he had in his life, once he sweated and heart-pounded and choked and told Anne, once he trusted God enough to vent all his rage at Him without doubling over with guilt ... one more heartbreaking task remained. He had to go back, Stephen said, and retrieve what he'd disowned in himself, what he'd left behind.
He tried to do it by visiting his mother, with whom he'd grown close after her recovery from alcoholism, and staring at photos of himself as a child in her scrapbook. Then he tried to make that connection by writing. But he couldn't penetrate the wall of that summer of 1983, and so one morning in the autumn of 2008 he entered the Abbey of Gethsemani—the Trappist monastery in New Haven, Ky., where the renowned author and monk Thomas Merton once lived—for what once, before R.A. had learned to shift his attention to his breath and disbelieve his thoughts, would have been murderous: three days of silence.
He spent hours in his small, bare cinder-block room and amid the shadows in the old stone church, praying, waiting. He sat at his desk with pen in hand—still nothing came. Finally he took a long walk across the hills, listened to his feet crumble the dying leaves ... and found him, sitting on the ground, his shoulders slumped, facing the other way: the lost boy. The innocent child. The victim.
R.A. sat next to him and wept. "Don't worry," he finally told the boy. "It's going to be all right."
The boy would have none of it. "How do you know?" he demanded.
He didn't want to be fixed, R.A. realized. He just wanted an arm around him. For the next day and a half, they walked together. Sometimes the man would say, "I'm so sorry I wasn't there to protect you."
"It's O.K.," the child replied. "I forgive you."