I had grown up playing football. I was good at it. I had been taught discipline by my Marine Corps Drill Sergeant father. I was constantly lifting weights, running sprints, and doing football drills. I would take forty-five pound weights and bang my stomach with them to toughen my core. I was solid, quick, and if necessary mean. I had been the only freshman to start at my high school. I was an up and coming star. But my father got a job in a new town so we were moving. I would have to establish myself at a new school. I was heartbroken. When we visited the coach in the new city we passed some of the players. They were all big. It would be hard to break into this team, I thought.
The first day of practice I took on the legendary Wayne Dorritt. Not by choice of course. I was smarter than that. He was all redneck and scared everyone because he was crazy. He loved to be hit. He liked the pain. This was the thing that scared people; you could hurt him but instead of backing off he became more engaged. There was no beating him. He also loved to hit. He packed quite the wallop. The coaches wanted to test the new kid’s mettle. So they placed me opposite him. They made sure he was good and ready for me by saying I wanted his position on the team. I literally saw the blood rise to his eyeballs.
The first play he gave me an uppercut to the chin. It nearly rendered me unconscious. I looked at the coach who was watching us to reprimand him for this illegal action. They only said I needed to hit him harder. I returned to the huddle; they told me my chin strap was full of blood. Later, it would take four stitches to close the cut. I was not in Kansas anymore. Play after play I went after him. He gave me a shot to the groin. I crawled back to the huddle. The coaches continued to fuss at my poor blocking skills. I thought: he is just inflicting pain on me, he is not making a play. I grew angry and now we were going at it long after the whistle was blown. He was having fun. I was in a self-defense mode. My chin strap was red and blood was oozing out of it. Finally, the coaches told me to hit the locker room and see to my chin. It required a trip to the ER. I had established myself.
I had been taught the mantra, since I was old enough to walk, that I was a Freeman and we are blessed and therefore we gave back. I thought my best way to give back as I entered college was to become an FBI agent. I would get my degree in law and apply to the FBI. So I was determined to change the world.
In my first semester I watched the old FBI agent now professor tell his stories day after day in my 101 Law Enforcement class. He was always deliberating how he could do this and how rugged he was. He told stories to shock and give us nightmares. I was not really impressed. It was a humble brag. Look how tough I was. He showed us pictures of Bloody Sunday. Close-ups of the carnage of the men who had been massacred. Describing graphically the blood and holes in their body. He was often over my incredulous meter. One day he told us all he could disarm any of us without ever being shot. I looked at him. An overweight middle age man who showed no ability to move fast. He was living his glory days. It was then I suddenly realized I did not want those kind of glory days: days of machismo and shocking stories. I wanted days of helping others.
I had been promised a football scholarship if I came out and made the team. This would be easy I thought. I was good. I had made a few friends on the team already and was told by the coaches the scholarship was mine. They handed the ball to one of my new friends. I zoned in on him. I was oblivious to everything but stopping the man with the ball. I hit his knee hard; it crumpled under my shoulder. I heard the cracking of his kneecap. It was the sound I would never forget. I stood up over him slowly coming out of my concentration. Looking down at his wailing body and listening to him screaming in pain while not trying to seem too much in pain. I came back to hear the coaches patting me on the back enthusiastically saying, ‘Now that is the way we want you to hit. You will make first team if you keep that up.’ The words were a shock to my system. One of my few new friends was being carried off on a stretcher and they were congratulating me. The thought came across my mind: the object of this game is to hurt one another. I finished the practice but I knew I would never be back.
The overdose of machismo I had been raised with was slowly being drained out of me. I no longer cared to be the toughest, meanest, strongest, quickest man in the room. I wanted to grow old and have stories without bloodshed to tell. I wanted stories of how I changed the world and lives. I no longer wanted to play games where one of the objectives was to maim the opponent. I realized I was being conditioned to be cannon fodder. I wanted to be the one who could avoid bloody conflict, who did not play games of violence, but offered a new and different way.
It was a total shock to my system. I lost thirty pounds on a body that did not have any fat. I crushed my ego with nights of tears and prayer. I was nothing. I broke myself. It was in the breaking that I was remade. It was as though I was remolding myself but also there at the time appeared to be an outside hand molding me to think differently, to be different. I studied an old scripture. Once where it had been full of stories of personal bravery and greatness; now when I read, it was full of commands to help the poor and the least of these. It was not about exerting power to rule or win the contest; it was exerting power to bring down the abuses of power. All things were different. I needed to be reborn.
It was a call from deep in my soul to think, to pray, to live humbly, to fight for the poor and outcast, without violence. To lay my life down every day for others. It was a new path. These many years later I have succeeded and I have failed this new way. But it is always the voice I hear when I stop and think and pray. I am still fixing the broken young man.
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