No matter how many years have passed I often view life through the eyes of my former 11-year-old chubby self. For as much as I loved chocolate cake, I dreaded 7th grade gym class at West Frederick Middle School even more. My fastest recorded forty-yard dash was the evening they placed a fresh pepperoni pizza on the buffet line at the Golden Corral. Sweat beads graced my dome only on the mornings when I attempted to cram my jellyrolls into the Husky sized Levi jeans my mom bought on sale at JcPenny’s. Let’s just say athletic ability was not necessarily something I possessed, unless you count my wicked jump shot on the Jordan vs. Bird video game as a skill.
When you’re a fat kid with thick glasses and braces, gym period can feel like the shortest and longest 45 minutes of the day all at the same time. On one hand, not much action is going on when you’re positioned in deep right field so you have ample opportunity to reflect on one of life’s important debates: Big Mac or Whopper with cheese. Time seems to fly by as pictures of burgers dance in your head. Yet, if another kid has a mean streak and decides to actually hit the baseball in your direction, life takes place at slow motion speed. While watching the ball soar in the sky, your entire life flashes before your eyes including all of the embarrassing scenarios that will take place once (not if) your butterfingers cause you to drop the ball.
Shame stings even more harshly when you are forced to wear tight yellow Champion shorts that ride up your butt crack. This doesn’t even touch upon the torment that is the middle school gym class group shower. I’ll spare you all the shrinking details. However, for us portly fellows no horror compares to that of Dodgeball. There is little concern where the fat kid is on the soccer field or basketball court. This changes when the sole object of the game you are playing is to nail people in the gut, head or junk with big rubber balls.
All of a sudden you become the most popular kid in class. Everyone is now wondering where that bright yellow sun of a rump is located. If you wanted to find me, your best bet was to look for the huge mass quivering in the corner. While the athletic kids would go towards harms way by running up to the front lines, my tactic was to retreat towards the back wall. Let those proactive fools take their chances while I play it safe. But, my actions did noting to stop those big balls from whizzing by my head any less. One by one my teammates would get picked off until I stood all alone with my back against the wall. There was a group of blood hungry pre-teens on one side and I was the hunted. Game over.
For far too long, I’ve accepted the lie that life is set and you can’t do much about it. So, you might as well flee to the back wall because at least when you get hit in the gut with one of life’s curveballs the impact will hurt less. Once you become a target you’re not surprised to get hit upside your head on a consistent basis. You grow accustom to watching from the sidelines as life happens. It is easier to blame the man you have become on the circumstances or conditions you face. During my 30-day journey to becoming a man, I’ve noticed how this mindset has crept into the words I speak.
“That’s just how I am wired.” (My behavior is predetermined. There is nothing I can do to change it)
“I couldn’t help blowing up. The kids are driving me insane!” (Something outside of my control drives my emotions)
“If she would notice my effort more, then I would….” (My actions are dependent on how others respond)
“There is no way I can do that.” (Why even try if I already know the outcome)
There are three major problems that are created when I use this type of language: (1) I no longer become responsible for my actions (2) By feeling out of control, my words become a self-fulfilling prophecy (3) Until I am able to admit my mistakes, there is no chance to grow from them. I am setting myself up for failure over and over and over again. Part of the disconnect is my failure to realize that even though you sometimes have no control over the events that unfold in your life, you do have power over one thing: your response to those circumstances.
Life is similar to those continuous dodgeball games where when you get hit you aren’t out you just switch sides. Up to this point, when I’ve been blindsided by life I’ve wanted to stay on the floor and just play dead. I’m slowly learning that a man’s character is formed and developed during those times when they are knocked out cold. How will he respond – wave the white flag or jump back to his feet and continue to play?