From the Archive:
October 10, 2004:
[The following was written as an apology for watching Game 3 of the ALDS (Sox win series 3-0) instead of attending my friend Ian's birthday party.]
Firstly, I thought I had explained that I wouldn't be joining the birthday party until the game was over. If this was unclear, then I certainly apologize. If the very fact that I’d make such a decision is the issue, then let me elaborate.
Looking at such an issue 'objectively', one sees clearly a different sort of obligation (not in the 'dammit I have something to do' sense, but more in the category of 'moral duty', the morality of which makes the performance of the act both good and, for lack of a better word, enjoyable) between the acts of being a spectator and honoring a friend.
The main two differences, as I see it on the 'cost/benefit analysis', pertain to consequences of failing to live up to the obligation. With the former, no party is injured by the failure to be a spectator- the red sox will do fine without me- and secondly, that no possible punitive measures could be taken for failing to live up to the obligation- I won't get fired or in trouble for not watching the game. Whereas for the latter, the friend, clearly there may be an insulted party. And one is certainly inclined to think that the feelings of a real person would take precedence over the symbolic icons I have an allegiance to on TV.
I think the only way I can explain this to someone who does not have the feelings of allegiance and passion for a sports team is by relating it to religion. If you were having a party that I should be at, but it happens on, say, Yom kippor, and I can't leave my home until sundown, when Yom kippor is over, and I say I can't go, it would be very easy for the atheist (you) to say 'god will get on fine without you- you don't need to be there to honor him,' and second, 'since there is no god, there is no punitive action foreseeable against you for failing to honor this obligation.' this is contrasted with the hurt feelings of the person who's party isn't being attended. To the atheist, the obstinate insistence on remaining at home might seem both insulting and irrational. And I am inclined to agree. All I can say in this regard is that I simply have to honor my religious commitment.
To make this analogy stick, certainly I must cite precedent, if not already known, of my skipping everything else in order to watch important sox games. Just this week I skipped my Tuesday afternoon class, as the game was on. This, of course, is to the potential detriment of my grade. On Wednesday night, the game didn't end until after 2 am, and I had to teach class at 8am. So I taught on less than two hours sleep, to the immediate detriment of the students, who had an unintelligible professor that day, and to myself, who was too tired to do any serious work for the rest of the day.
Just thinking about this further, one must confront the idea of more drastic conflicts- would I skip somebody's wedding to watch a red sox game in April? Of course not. I skipped many of the games this year for various reasons (although I never like doing it). Sometimes you just have to drive on Saturday. But not on Yom kippor. The red sox in the playoffs is my high holidays, an event far more rare than annual, and one to me that is always fragile and in doubt and bound to end in horrific tragedy at any moment, and moreover, the end goal of which is something that generations of people have died having been denied the allegedly sublime satisfaction of experiencing.
Where I grew up half the kids couldn't show up for soccer practice on Saturdays. Some teams didn't even have games on Saturdays because of Shabbat. Logistically, one has to take such obligations into account. A further difficulty of yesterday was that the game went especially long, and then into extra innings- it’s as if sunset suddenly came over an hour late, thereby further interfering.
So basically, my obligation to the red sox in this regard is basically religious in nature, and the resultant obligations are upheld to the exclusion of all else. I have demonstratively risked both health and general welfare time and time again, particularly in New York, for my beliefs. I would hope, in general, that this is understood about me, such that people are not offended by my actions, just as I hope you would not be offended if someone couldn't go to dinner because it was Yom kippor. As you know, I went to Brooklyn to watch the game just so that I could be a part of your birthday dinner- otherwise I would have stayed uptown.
… I want to make sure that you hold no grudge against me vis a vis my actions towards you, but rather simply judge me to be an insane person with totally misplaced values. I can live with that.