June 14, 2024 Paige Nolan

“I Was There!”

On Friday, September 23rd around 8:30 PM (pacific standard time), St. Louis Cardinal icon, Albert Pujols, hit the 700th home run of his career, becoming just the 4th player in baseball history to reach 700.

Boyd was there.

I’ve known my husband, Boyd, for 28 years now. Every single one of those years, he’s been a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Boyd was born and raised in St. Louis. He grew up watching Cardinals games on TV with his father and two younger brothers. He remembers falling asleep in the summertime, windows open, to the sound of Jack Buck on the radio. When Boyd and I got married and moved in together, 25 year old Albert Pujols was starting his illustrious career, along with young stars like Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. These guys became the all-stars in our home and legends in St. Louis. We entered the years of some exciting, World Series winning Cardinals baseball.
I’ve never been able to sit through an entire baseball game but I have felt my way through many – because Boyd’s feelings fill up the whole house. I can tell when the Cards are up and I can certainly tell when they’re faltering, without even a glance at the scoreboard. I can tell when there’s a chance that they can turn it around for a win – and I can tell when it’s a long shot, all from the way Boyd is positioned on the coach, or standing with is hands on top of his head, fingers laced.

I can tell when Pujols is up to bat.

Before he yells through the house, “Paige! Paige, you gotta see this…” I know that he’s going to yell through the house that I gotta see this. The play will be made by some up and coming player who is not familiar to me or it’s going to be Wainwright delivering a curveball or Molina with an impossible throw to nail a would-be base stealer or you know, Albert, with that super smooth effortless swing where he bombs another one into the ether.

When Pujols announced he would be returning to the Cardinals for one last season, before retiring, there was no way Boyd would miss the chance to see him play again on his final lap.

Boyd bought tickets for this particular Cardinals game back in early August. He knew that he would be seeing Albert Pujols play one of his last games – he didn’t know that he would be seeing Albert hit his 699th and 700th home runs in the same game. Boyd also didn’t expect to be getting texts during the game from friends and family who could see him on TV when Albert made history.

So many things we don’t know about any one event in one’s life – experiences don’t happen in fixed points, they unfold. And you never know when you’re going to get an I Was There Moment.

A lot of people I know have had I Was There Moments as it relates to historical events, like Boyd’s moment at that Cardinals game. Some of these moments are more joyous than others. I was in New York City with many beloved friends on September 11, 2001. My sister was graduating from University of Southern California amidst the Los Angeles riots of 1992. My dad, a long time New Orleans Saints fan, attended the only Super Bowl the Saints have played to date – and they won, in 2010. My aunt got to see The Beatles play their one and only live concert in New Orleans in 1964. In fact, she got to see so many of the greatest bands perform live in her lifetime, her ticket stub collection is one long running list of I Was There Moments in music. It’s a powerful feeling to live through a historical moment. Even when it’s terrifying or traumatizing, there’s a meaning to it after the fact, that you were a part of something so monumental.

It’s also quite a triumph to live through our own personal histories.

Why should we reserve the thrill of feeling a part of something remarkable – history-in-the-making – when we are each making our history, and thus shaping our future, daily?

What would it feel like to go to bed each night feeling so a part of your life, feeling so connected to the fact that your life matters and impacts so many other people’s lives, that you say: I Was There  – and that feels significant to you?

When Boyd got home from the game, we talked about his joy. He described the details of the night: the way the Dodger fans went crazy for Pujols, the mutual elation between the spectators in his section, how much he (and all of baseball) admires Albert as a man, his boundless gratitude to be in Dodger Stadium for such an epic moment, how he misses his late dad who had also been a Cardinals fan from boyhood, and how he can feel the passage of time – the years since those summer nights falling asleep to Jack Buck on the radio.

I listened. I could relate to all of it.  “You were there,” I said. “You were really there.”

“I was there,” Boyd answered and we both had tears in our eyes.

There is a weight of importance to the present moment when it is a shared moment that changes the future. There is a reverence for being there, inside an experience, when you know that event will echo through our collective history and thus send a different sound into what is to come. We can sense we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, and so we engage our senses. We pay attention. Mostly, it is because we must – and if we don’t have to for our survival, we are compelled to because it seems important.

And there’s something else about these I Was There Moments – they don’t happen often. They are rare. They are unique. They have impact and they won’t happen again.

Guess what else fits that description? Any given Tuesday of your life, any given Wednesday, any given Sunday.

I woke up this morning really early and watched the sun rise. I wrote three words in my journal to start the day: I am here. And then I thought of Marguerite. Sometimes, when I am up in the first of daylight, I think about my sister’s friend Marguerite. I didn’t know her well but I met her enough times to know she was very kind and very gentle and she knew how to live to be here, until the very end. She died in her early 40’s. And in the months leading up to her death, she got up every morning to watch the sun rise. I’ve wondered if her presence to this Earth, her presence to the time she had left here, brought her peace to let go – I’ve wondered if at the very, very end of her life she had that thought: I was there. I hope she did.

I hope I do.

It’s special to be alive in the mundane moments. It’s important in the same way those bigger, historical moments carry weight. We forget how valuable it is to pay attention, to feel like we are a part of something bigger, to believe our lives have meaning and impact for the future. To remember we make history when we decide to make the moment matter.

Most of us won’t break records or be inducted into Halls of Fame, most of us will never run the bases or play music to a stadium full of people on their feet cheering, most of us won’t be named in history books or be the subject of an academy-award-winning biopic – (some of you may 🙂 – but most of us won’t) – however, all of us are living I Was There Moments each and every day of our lives. We have to choose to be inspired by them.

Today, my dog, Riggs, chased a low flying crow in the field, full speed – as if he had any chance at all. I was there. I overheard my daughter, Ryan, singing an Adele song in the shower. She was on key. She’s always on key. I was there. Boyd and I went to the grocery store together for the first time in ten years – it really wasn’t that fun to do that together – but it was funny. And I was there. Myles said I love you three times last night from the time I stopped rubbing his back until I left his bedroom. I was there. Mimi walked around the house wearing noise-canceling headphones this evening, grunting and moaning that she doesn’t know what to eat for dinner. (I never know what to feed her because I’m a terrible cook + she’s a foodie). I was there. My dog, Lou, is curled up like a pinto bean on top of my foot right now and the sight of her, the little tiny bit of her soft fur that touches my ankle is a living, breathing weighted moment in time that won’t happen again: I AM HERE.

There are no sirens, there are no screams – no one is running – no one is cheering – no press conference will be held about this day…but I just decided: it is one for the books. A history of my own making, a presence of my own mind, a fullness in my open heart, and a conviction that where I am is worth a boundless gratitude that can only be described in three words: I Was There.