“I can beat you up.” “No you can’t.” You wanna bet?” “Prove it.” “Ok, meet me at the flagpole after school.” “I’ll be there!” There was a way of settling things back when I was in fifth grade at Clarence Center Elementary School. Not much discussion was required. Slug it out, man to man and there won’t be any confusion about who is tougher and stronger.
One particular day at school, I was challenged by my classmate, I’ll call him Steve. He often found himself in the middle of controversy. I wondered what his home life was like. We had no particular riff to settle, just a simple disagreement about who was stronger and tougher. I didn’t remember being angry or wanting to hurt him at all. Settling this disagreement with a man to man fight seemed like the logical next step. He agreed to meet me at the flagpole near the playground in the front of the school. Our duel was set.
It was a cold, dry, fall afternoon. I ran home from school to change my clothes. I told my mother I was going to the schoolyard to meet some friends. Pick-up tackle football games after school were a regular occurrence for my friends and me. “Make sure you’re home for dinner.” I hopped on my bike and pedaled for the flagpole, ready for battle.
When I arrived, there was no sign of my opponent. I was disappointed. He was a no-show. A group of older kids were playing street hockey in the parking lot of the school. I asked them if they had seen my opponent and explained my situation. They hadn’t, but their interest was piqued. “Do you know here he lives?’ I did and told them. They told me to wait where I was. More than a dozen of them walked to my challenger’s house, rang the doorbell and pulled him out of his house. I saw the mob approaching from a distance. They looked like a group of angry townspeople dragging a guilty man to the village square to hang him. I felt bad for the kid as they lugged him to the base of the flagpole. I had to remind myself that it was he who challenged me to a fight.
The older kids formed a waste level fight circle with their hockey sticks in hand. The match had begun. Each time one of the fighters got close to the edge of the ring, they would be forcefully thrust back into the middle of the ring with the shaft of a stick. I bolted towards my challenger with a barrage of upper cuts to his midsection. He grimaced and moaned with pain. He fell backwards toward the rings perimeter. The stick of one of the older spectators held him up as he fell backward. A cross check to the middle of his back sent him stumbling back toward the middle of the ring. His retaliation was anemic. He mustered up a few verbal insults. It was time to end this once and for all. I landed another flurry of punches, picked him up and slammed him into a hedgerow of pine bushes. He laid there in pain, defeated. The mob jeered at him to get up and fight. He slowly rolled to his feet and hobbled towards his house. The mob lifted my right hand as the victor and offered their congratulations. It was my first one on one fight. Aside from pity, I didn’t feel anything.
In 1776, Thomas Paine said:
“..the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
There was no glory in my victory. Never was my back against the wall, I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t challenged and courage wasn’t required for my victory. As I look back at my life, I can’t think of any situation where I obtained something or experienced something with ease and found great value or triumph in it. I’ve learned that difficulty and challenge are not to be avoided. In fact, those pursuits that require courage and great effort should be pursued boldly. Welcome them with open arms. Most people would say that they desire a rich and meaningful life, yet on a daily basis, they choose comfort and safety over pursuing their dreams. People often find themselves confused. They wonder why their lives feel, well, lifeless. They have worked hard; they have done everything that the world has told them to do, but for some reason, something feels wrong. I’ve learned that fear, challenges and obstacles; are invitations to live a greater story in life. The difficulties in life should cause you to crack a smile, knowing deep inside, this is another opportunity to live a great story.