ST. LOUIS---Monday evening Susan and I met some terrific WORLD readers in the new Busch ballpark, which has a great view past center field of downtown buildings and the Gateway Arch. Among those who sat with us were Steve and Anessa Odum, parents of four children. The game wasn't tense---the Cardinals drowned the visiting Seattle Mariners, 9-3---so the chatting was easy.
Steve has been in the Air Force for 17 years and has flown 200 combat missions over Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans---although he modestly doesn't like to call them "combat" because he was flying transport and cargo planes (still seems extraordinary to me). He's currently in a non-flying job and plans in two months to return to flying as an instructor at a pilot training base in Mississippi.
I asked him whether he felt "called" to this activity, and he responded, "In our culture 'calling' has such a ring of finality. . . . Until God tells me otherwise, I believe this is where he wants me right now, and thus it is my calling."
Men at Work, George Will's book about baseball, points out, "In most games victory is within reach of each team in the middle innings. Most games are won by small things executed in a professional manner. . . . For the men who work there, ballparks are for hard, sometimes dangerous, invariably exacting business."
Steve noted that people in the military also learn the importance of not blowing off small things: "We use checklists heavily [because] failing to have attention to detail can be so costly. A few years ago, an F-15 crashed on takeoff because a mechanic crossed a couple of wires in the flight controls."
I quoted to him the comment by John Updike about those who play on losing teams before small crowds toward the end of the season "when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill."
Steve replied, "We call it 'attention to detail' and it's tied in to concepts of professionalism, responsibility, and even integrity. It means caring for every small detail of a task while not losing the big picture; doing a job right and making such a habit of it that you do it that way every time even when no one else is watching and there is no chance of being found out."
Major leaguers play with thousands and sometimes millions of eyes upon them. Even so, small details underappreciated by most spectators---for example, a batter advancing a runner on second by hitting a ground ball to the right side of the infield---make a big difference.
Steve noted, "In the Air Force the best pilots I know do nothing brilliantly, but they do everything right. We have a saying, 'Superior pilots use their superior judgment to stay out of situations requiring them to demonstrate their superior skill.' Top Gun is a movie about Navy pilots, but it provides a great case study. I'd take the steady Ice Man over the mercurial Maverick character any day."
And what about those who serve at home? Hear Anessa Odum: "As for my calling . . . that would be raising and educating our four kiddos. The things that make the difference are the responses I make to the day-to-day happenings in our household: Do I lose my temper when I step on another misplaced Lego block, or when I find my 3-year-old dipping toilet paper into the toilet for fun? Do I despair when I open the oven door and smoke rolls out because I started the oven without cleaning out the spill from the night before? All examples from today, by the way."
Quality time in raising children is overrated; quantity time is underrated. Here's George Will again about the importance of the mundane: "In baseball, everyone cheers the batter who knocks in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. But just as important to the win was the player who laid down a perfect bunt to move the man to scoring position, or even the guy who dutifully backed up a throw and prevented the other team from scoring an extra run earlier in the game."
Anessa reported that moment-by-moment responses make or break a home: "Do I fail? Often! And because of this I am glad that I am not the only contributor in the success of my family. My husband is there to support me. My children have wills of their own, which I pray God will bend to His will. And they are most times very gracious to their imperfect mama. And God is in control of all. My faith and hope are in Him and His perfect will for those who seek Him."