In June 1992, a traveling summer camp took rest at the new Comiskey Park following an active day at the Museum of Science and Industry. I was sporting my Bulls cap amid the initial three-peat and looked forward to seeing the up-and-coming Sox in person. Future SouthSider Jim Abbott took the bump for the California Angels vs. former Angels hurler Kirk McCaskill. A pitcher’s duel ensued for the next couple hours; somewhere in the middle, I decided to roam the concourse for some merch.
I chose an engineer-striped cap with the classic Sox logo and returned to my seat, presumably held by the older hat. First glance set me on course for a conniption, as Old Faithful was nowhere to be seen. Midway through the first sentence of my rant, a girl in the seat below me emerged with the cap on her head, warmly suggesting that I let it remain with her since I had another.
Like an adorable stray cat maneuvers its way into permanent fixture, the girl wielded an unexplainable force to convince me of my error. She adorned my hat the next three days.
More importantly, something deeper ignited within my heart, setting off a desperate pursuit to attain the unattainable. I wanted her to like me. I wanted all the girls to like me.
I returned home as the United States were holding the olympic trials on TV. Front and center was the woman’s gymnastics favorite: Karolyi appointed, blonde-haired world champion Kim Zmeskal. Since the USSR had dominated the sport for the better part of the cold war, the American women had never won a medal during a non-boycotted olympics. With Zmeskal in tow, this was supposed to be the year.
Not unlike three days prior, the unexpected happened. Showing brief glimpses of fallibility, Zmeskal finished 2nd that day, defeated by a quiet and unassuming Shannon Miller, one of the only top gymnasts not to train at the legendary Karolyi ranch. I was enchanted by her coolness: Miller went about her business like a machine, demonstrating little of the emotion off the mat that seemed to overcome the other competitors. A week before, I barely noticed girls — now I was celebrity crushing on this elvish-looking teen with hideous poofed-up bangs like I knew her personally.
So I tried to know her as best as one could in the pre-internet age. I ripped out articles from magazines and pocketed the Olympic feature from the TV guide. I had a vivid dream in which Miller blew off practice to meet me at the Bremen movie theatre sporting her Team USA windbreaker, stating that she’d rather be with me. I defended my puppy love and her superior athletic prowess to all the pro-Zmeskal friends holding their own imaginary torch. I mean, these girls were like our age… totally attainable, right?
Olympic fans know what happened: the Americans were happy to finish with a team medal, Miller went on to win four more, while Zmeskal was shut out entirely thereafter. The only thing that prevented Miller from winning gold was some old school Soviet-level tampering, placing their own underperforming leader into the finals because her less talented teammate came down with a “sudden injury.” I felt proud, justified, and unexplainably attracted.
The fixation with Shannon Miller dwindled quickly as my attention diverted to real-life concerns. Returning to school, my initial camp crush held me faithful for a hot minute, but the next few years led to a dilemma. If my primary goal is to be liked and accepted by all of these girls, what would happen if I entered a relationship? What need am I trying to meet?
Nearly thirty years later and five years into marriage, this question has gone mostly unanswered. I love my wife, and I’m thankful that I have matured to the point that spending my life with a steadfast friend is of greater value than the pursuit of whatever-that-is. If there’s a midlife crisis in this, it’s the resignation that I still desire the acceptance of beautiful women to feel valued as a person. For all the years I spent ministering to children, denying my flesh to experience the uncomfortable, casting aside pursuits of wealth or power… all for the betterment of my heart, how do I offer such weight to what I do not need?
Last night in my dreams, I reverted to that state of being. As I woke, I felt a guilty sense of grief that this part of me had died, one that had been so passionately romantic towards the object of his affection: regrettably, an Anthony that my wife has never met. I wrestled through my 20s to sift the corruption of my desires from those that were godly, and I’ve had a difficult time puzzling the pieces together. Whatever good could be found in my passion, zeal, romance, or charm cannot be reconstructed without questioning my spiritual motivation. If it can, I’m not the one to figure it out.
But we understand how a beautiful creation can immediately be subject to the enemy’s corruption. An important piece from later that summer has been omitted: that August, some older neighborhood guys introduced me to pornography. Granted, it would be years before this root reared its head in shameful ways, but I can’t help but wonder if this is the source of my grief. For two months, the idea of falling in love and sharing my affections seemed pure and unadulterated. Whether real or imaginary, neither encounter was sexualized or pined for out of lust. I cannot proclaim the same innocence with future encounters. Like Adam and Eve, even if I maintain a life of purity, remain faithful to my wife, and place myself above reproach in my other relationships, I can’t place the lid back on jar. I can’t know less again.
Which leads me to 2021, as a 42-year-old man continuing to explore what it means to be myself. If holiness is the act of leaving common things behind to pursue that which is eternal, what use do my adolescent charms have for the world today? Am I better off remaining a shell, neither committing misdeed nor deliberately advancing His Kingdom? Is that not like the man who received one talent and buried it in the ground? Nah… I know that I’m supposed to do something with what He’s given me. But I don’t trust it. At the very least, I don’t trust me.
Perhaps this is an opportunity to begin trusting in Him.