Jake and the Curious Case of the Magic Tennis Ball

Jake and the mysterious ballThere is no easy way to say this. Not for me, at least. If I were insane it might be easy. Or maybe harder. I can’t tell. And although that could make me sound insane, I think it more likely proves I’m not. Besides, I have no empirical evidence that I’m insane, and our legal system says I am innocent until proven guilty. But we know the state of that. No matter — it’s up to both of us to judge.

Now, I’m pretty aware of my surroundings and I’m not clumsy. Nor am I prone to hallucination. I am also very skeptical. So maybe I shouldn’t believe my senses. Is that insanity? But skepticism of my senses, I can cope with.

Something inexplicable happened today. Those of you prone to hard-core reason will probably dismiss this. Rightly so. I pretty much dismiss it myself, but I can’t, at the same time. Because I was very much aware and in control at the time of the occurrence. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the occurrence was impossible.

I play fetch with Jake, a dog, every day. He likes playing with two balls at once. These are tennis balls. They are thrown from a contoured, solid plastic extension that grips the ball, resulting in longer throws with less effort. The balls are gripped tightly.

I throw the balls hard and fast, with accuracy. This takes a keen awareness of the ball within the grip — both the ball’s weight and the angle at which the grip is held and moved. It is part of the throw — an extension of my awareness. I do not drink, take drugs, nor any medications. I was not tired. There seems to me a very low probability that my senses were playing tricks on me.

I picked up a ball from the ground. Jake always sniffs it. It was firmly seated in the grip. As I raised the thrower up in the air, I was aware of the ball’s weight, while Jake took off running, anticipating my throw. He stopped, and turned around, staring at me. I held the thrower and the ball in the air, as we watched each other, him crouching and hopping slightly from side to side, tail wagging, preparing for the catch. This throw would hit the ground with a thwack about four feet in front of him and to the right, bouncing once in an arc that would land it in the bushes, which he would leap and pounce upon to retrieve it.

Here is the impossible bit. I know! As I started to throw the ball, everything was nominal. Then suddenly, there was no weight in the thrower. This was not an unusually hard throw. The thrower whizzed in the air with my throwing motion, but it was shockingly light — there was no ball. The ball had vanished.

I know! I must be mistaken. But I firmly seated the ball in the grip. Jake sniffed it before running. This is all very routine. I heard no ball drop, which I would do, had it. Startled, I searched all around upon the ground for it, in a large radius, methodically. It was nowhere to be found. Jake always sees where the ball goes. This time, he was just standing out there dumbfounded, then started running around sniffing, looking for it, too.

Nobody has to tell me that it’s far more likely I only imagined putting a ball in the thrower, or that somehow I wasn’t aware of it leaving the thrower at some point before or along the toss. I know that it’s far more likely I made a mistake, than for a ball to just vanish without a trace. But, at the same time, I know that it did. The ball simply vanished. And, for the rest of the time, we had only one ball to play with.

And Coleena, down there in Belize, I know what you’re thinking. It’s just like Ted the poltergeist who used to hide things. I was reminded of him, too. After today, I feel like I should be the one living in a land where lizards run around on their hind legs.

I suppose this is a deserved irony after harping on scientists to follow their own precepts within science. I’m also reminded of making my mom cry, when the newspaper accidentally printed the date one day into the future, and I backed up their mistake, making her think she had lost a day somehow. I suppose I’m thankful that I almost never know what day it is. And, that a ball impossibly vanishing only sparks a deep curiosity, rather than some flavor of panic.

Actually, I’m a little pleased that it happened. Is it because I am reminded that life is, blah blah blah? No. Because it gives me something to write about? Not at all — in fact, I’d rather not write about it. But I feel obligated. You see, something impossible happened today, that only me and the dog know about. It was a small, silly thing.

It’s just that there is something about the inexplicable that ought to be shared. Particularly when you might be thought insane. Perhaps it is a test of character, or a confession of fallability. Or being honest, despite inviting ridicule. Maybe hearing about it could help someone else to feel less isolated within their own experience of some apparent impossibility. I have no idea. And that, is a little bit fun. Except for the price tag, at least.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to repeat it.