During the first ten years of my life the New York Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers four times in the World Series. Almost as bad, the Dodgers didn’t make it into the Series in 1951 because Bobby Thompson hit a home run off Ralph Branca, winning the game and the National League pennant for our other nemesis the New York Giants. I grew up reciting the Dodgers’ mantra: Wait till next year! I was reminded of this by the news that Ralph Branca had died at age 90 just before Thanksgiving.
When Branca met up with his fiancee after the game, he asked her cousin, a Jesuit priest, “Why me?” The priest said, “Ralph, God chose you because he knew you’d be strong enough to bear this cross.” Branca never liked that the first thing mentioned whenever his own name came up was Thompson’s home run. Yet he didn’t let the event define him. “If you play sports, you expect to lose some.” In later years Branca even went on to make charity appearances together with Thompson. Might as well get something useful out of others’ fixation on a momentary event.
Because of an accident that hurt his back, Branca did not do so well in his baseball career. He still would not blame the “Shot Heard Round the World” for what happened later.
In this, Branca was like the Brooklyn Dodgers. They did not let last year’s defeat determine how they would play this year, much less today. “Wait till next year” did not mean just passively waiting around. It meant you’ll see how we’ll work hard and play better.
Some people, even some Buddhists, take the doctrine of kamma* to mean that we should just passively accept what’s happening to us in this life because it’s all been dictated by our past deeds, i.e., kamma. The teaching about kamma may be that our acts have consequences but what we do with those consequences is still open and up to us. As the Buddha said in the Bhaddekaratta Sutta:
You shouldn’t chase after the past
or place expectations on the future.
What is past
is left behind.
is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present
you clearly see right there,
Not taken in,
that’s how you develop the heart.
what should be done today,*
“Wait till next year” is not about next year. It’s about today.
*Previously mentioned and translated in Time is a Crook.
*I use the the Pali word instead of the more commonly used, and widely misused Sanskrit word karma, to avoid association with its New Age fuzziness.