In the 50 years since I left Christ the King grammar school in Yonkers, N.Y., I have learned through painful experience that most of what the nuns told us back then was true. The only exception being when they told me that potential employers would call the school years later to review my permanent record. They did not.
Perhaps they should have.
One of the things the sisters routinely reminded all of us was to “avoid the near occasion of sin.” By this they meant that we should stay away from people, places or things that could lure us into sin.
Specifically, that meant we were to stay away from the book rack in the back of the candy store and to walk quickly by the entrances to the neighborhood taverns.
We argued that one with her. Like good lawyers, we would make the case that sin could only result from the act itself, not being in its neighborhood.
Sister responded that to put oneself into the position of temptation with the self-assurance that sin could be avoided was hubris. And that hubris goeth before the fall.
She was right and we knew it. We didn’t hang around the book rack at the candy store hoping to sneak a peek at a few pages of “War and Peace.”
I was thinking of all this as I sat in my chair watching the Pittsburgh Pirates play the New York Mets. And clutched my sin. Let me explain.
The Mets played their first game when I was 12, a National League sideshow to the colossus called the Yankees. The city had lost the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants to California. Being of a home and family that could never root for the Yankees, I became an instant Mets fan.
I was there when they began in the Polo Grounds in 1962. Though they were awful in truly record fashion those first years, I would cheer for Choo-Choo Coleman and Charlie Neal, parse Casey Stengel, and weep for all that could have been with Marvelous Marv Throneberry.
Eventually I was rewarded. I ran on the Shea Stadium field when the Mets clinched the pennant in 1969, and ran to the dorm from a no-cut class when the roar went up all over campus as they won the World Series. I didn’t run anywhere, but I cheered out loud in my Indiana basement at their next — and so far last — World Series win in 1986.
Since then, I have maintained the course through near-misses and a recent return to awful by the Mets. Because that’s what you do when you are a fan. It’s the right thing to do.
After I moved to Pittsburgh, I started watching the Pirates. It was the same phenomenon that slows traffic when an accident has been pulled off to the side. The Pirates were in the midst of creating what they have sustained until this year — a losing streak record of 20 seasons in a row. Only an early Mets fan could appreciate the sheer beauty of such consistent rottenness.
But this year, all signs point to success. A very good Pirates team is bordering on becoming a great Pirates team. They are not only looking like a better than .500 team, but there are whispers of a playoff appearance. And maybe a World Series to follow.
So there I sat watching the Mets play the Pirates just before the All-Star break. The Mets are going nowhere in a hapless season. The Pirates are on the cusp. And I realized that in my heart of hearts I was pulling for the Pirates to win.
I never should have watched them. I never should have allowed myself to go to the ballpark. I never should have hung around with their woebegone fans. But I did.
I placed myself in the near occasion of sin. And I fell.
Another failing grade on my permanent record.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.