I’ve got to catch up all you civilized easterners on some big news out here in the wild west: P-61 died trying to cross the freeway. You see, we’ve got mountain lions in our foothill areas, and ever since 2002, scientists have been collaring and monitoring the behavior of as many as possible. P-61 has been tracked since he was a cub, and a few weeks back he made news by successfully crossing the 405 Freeway, apparently to find a new territory for hunting (coyotes, racoons, deer). Unfortunately, on September 7 he was killed by a car when he was trying to re-cross the 405 back to his home territory. What made the local news was that researchers were able to put together middle-of-the-night videos showing that he made this dangerous journey to escape an older male, who was pursuing him with the goal of killing this younger rival who had invaded his territory. The thought of a lion, usually the hunter, himself being hunted seemed to fascinate area residents — especially since some of them watched videos being taken in their own backyards while they were asleep. You can watch the composite video here.

P-61’s dilemma made me think of a famous quote by Satchell Paige:

Satchell Paige (1906-1992) spent most of his baseball pitching career (24 years) in the Negro Leagues, both minor and major. He was born in Mobile, AL and was raised during a time of extreme racial prejudice. He spent his teen years in a reform school, where he had been sent for throwing stones at a gang of white boys who were harassing him. His principal taught him to throw a baseball rather than a stone, and when he graduated at 18, he knew pitching would be his life.

The Big Leagues were closed to him, until Jackie Robinson was able to break the color barrier in 1947. A year later, Satchell Paige, already 42 years old and a proven star pitcher, was brought into the Big leagues by the Cleveland Indians. In 1951, he was signed by the St. Louis Browns, where he spent the rest of his career. He was on the American League All-Star team in 1952 and 1953. He appeared to end his Big League career with the 1953 season, at 47 years old. But in 1965, he signed a short-term contract with the Kansas City Athletics and pitched three scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox — at 59, he was the oldest man to pitch in the Big Leagues.

I was an impressionable 14-year old when Satchell Paige came to New York to play the hated Yankees. During those years the St. Louis Browns were one of the sorriest teams in baseball, and the Yankees, with Joe DiMaggio, Mickie Mantle, Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra, ate them alive. But I remember watching a game on TV and seeing this tall, gangly old black guy coming out of the bullpen to face them.* He pitched three innings and only gave up one hit. That began my love affair with him. I read about his backstory and found out how hard his journey had been. For me Satchell Paige — even more than Jackie Robinson — marks the beginning of my awakening as a privileged young, white teenager. His journey to get to where he was, pitching against the Yankees, had been harder than anything I would ever experience. That’s the memory I have when I hear his quote, “Don’t look back…something might be gaining on you.” 

Whether you’re a young mountain lion on the way up, or a major league pitcher on the way down, or somewhere in between, you may have the eerie feeling that “something might be gaining on you.” In Psalm 91, the author writes about how we often “fear the terror of the night, . . that stalks in darkness” (verses 5-6). You don’t know what you’re scared of, but you’re afraid to look over your shoulder. The darkness accentuates all the unknown enemies that seem to be catching up to you. A quaint Scottish nighttime prayer expresses the feeling this way:

From goulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties
and things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!

The above Satchell Paige quote is one of his “six maxims” for making it through life.** Another maxim in his list will introduce you to the antidote for the irrational — but real — fears that seem to be stalking you:

“If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.”

Here are some “cool thoughts” from the same psalm to calm your disputatious stomach:

  • You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
  • For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
  • You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
  • He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
  • Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
  • With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.
  • (Psalm 91:1-6, 10-12, 14-16)

— Pastor George Van Alstine

* I looked this up and found the game was on September 11, 1951.

** His other maxims are:

“Avoid fried meals, which angry up the blood.” “Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.”

“Avoid running at all times.”

“Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.”