Old Scrap Iron
By Diane Cole
Condensed from Psychology Today
as printed in Readers Digest August 1990
Long ago, when I went to sleep each night, I would carefully wrap myself in sheet, blankets and comforter, and snuggle mummy-like within my sanctuary. My brothers laughed at me, but I had my reasons: if I exposed a single inch, I thought, a witch would tickle my toes. But if I protected myself, nothing could harm me.
Childhood habits haunt us as adults. Each night I still barricade myself, though I know that whether I protect myself or not, nightmares and night horrors will set upon me when they will.
Real terrors have attacked me mostly in my waking hours. One morning many years ago, I was taken hostage by an armed band of Hanafi Moslems when they seized the headquarters of B'nai B'rith in Washington D.C. Somehow it seemed a fitting end to a two-year stretch marked by my husband's bout with cancer, then my mother's illness and death.
Sometime later, Peter and I celebrated his first decade free of cancer. We also celebrated a new life - I was pregnant. Soon after, at 4 1/2 months, I miscarried. It was our second lost child.
No magic, no ritual, could have prevented any of this. The world, I know, bears me no grudge; it is the nature of life to leave us vulnerable. Perhaps that is why I cherish the nickname my husband gave me: Old Scrap Iron.
Old Scrap Iron! Some women may find the nickname unromantic, but I answer to it proudly. Scrap Iron was the moniker of Clint Courtney, a journeyman American League catcher of the 1950's.
Clint Courtney did not set any baseball records. His achievements live only in the fond memories of a few die-hard fans, like my husband. Who cares that Courtney possessed no power, no speed and little grace? Armed with his catchers mitt and face mask, he feared no one, never gave up.
If a batter's errant swing caught him, a foul tip nipped his elbow, or a runner bowled him over and spiked him at the plate, Scrap Iron would slowly rise, shake off the dust, punch his catcher's mitt and nod to the pitcher to throw again. The game would go on, and Courtney with it - bruised, clutching his arm in pain, yet determined to continue. Some people would call him foolhardy. This fan would call him realistic: life, I have found, demands such qualities in abundance.
During the 39 hours that I was a hostage, I prepared, myself for an ending all of us must face. On the concrete floor of the building where I and more than 100 others were held hostage, I lay dreaming of my mother. I heard her call me, and first I was comforted by the thought of her embrace.
And then I resisted. Something pulled me back to this life. Huddled beneath a raincoat for warmth, I remembered Peter. To let go of life would be to let him down. As a captive I had little choice in the matter. My improvised cover had failed to protect me. But I wanted to live - for Peter's sake, for my own sake. At that moment, my spirit refused to give in.
Since that time, whenever life has yielded another terrible surprise, and fear, anger and despair have threatened, I've remembered that moment. I remind myself also of a Jewish blessing thanking God for having allowed us to reach this season, whatever the season may be.
And I picture Clint Courtney, rising after each fall, wincing with each injury, and scrapping on and on, season to season. We must all take our chances each day, with no assurance of refuge - with no magic from bedcovers, with not even a catcher's mask to shield us from life's foul tips.