Itsy Bitsy Spider

In the past, our children's stories were preparation for life.  If you go back and read some of these - or recite them from memory - you may be surprised. 

Nearly all of our stories of inspiration and encouragement can be summed up by “Itsy Bitsy Spider”.

However, some of the expectations for children and parents in today’s world are to skip life’s “down came the rain” parts and allow only “out comes the sun” parts.

The concern we have for our kids is not that they won’t know enough math or understand literary elements or remember the periodic table or fail to tackle correctly.  The concern we have is whether they will have the courage to live with a conscience and answer a call that is greater than their own self-interest. 

If they ever expect to be at peace with their own ability and proud of their own effort, the spout-climbing must never cease.

Jefferson Street Boxing Club will be having an informational meeting on May 19th at the Kaufman County Public Library across the street from the junior high.  We will also be answering any questions about programs and allowing people to sign up.  We also welcome anyone that wants to ask about volunteering in the future to help with boxing, tutoring, and spiritual guidance - hope to see you there!

J. M.

Pretty Paper, Pretty Ribbons of Blue

“Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue
Wrap your presents to your darling from you
Pretty pencils to write "I love you"
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue
 
Crowded street, busy feet hustle by him
Downtown shoppers, Christmas is nigh
There he sits all alone on the sidewalk
Hoping that you won't pass him by
 
Should you stop? Better not, much too busy
You're in a hurry, my how time does fly
In the distance the ringing of laughter
And in the midst of the laughter he cries
 
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue
Wrap your presents to your darling from you
Pretty pencils to write "I love you"
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue”
 
                                                - Willie Nelson
 

Willie Nelson has always been able to say quite a bit with a few words.  Ultimately, it’s a song about what Christmas is rather than what it should be.

We all spend a good deal of time on the wrapping:  Our houses, our cars, our clothes.

So much time on the wrapping actually, that what’s inside isn’t even mentioned. 

The wrapping is the whole thing.  The wrapping makes us a winner or a loser.

A couple of weeks ago, Drew Peterson and I went to New York City to see what we could learn for Jefferson Street.  I learned some things I intended to learn, but like usual, I discovered some deeper things that weren’t on the To-Do list.

The streets of Brooklyn aren’t that different than the streets of Kaufman or the dirt roads that run outside of our little town.  Each one leads to the other eventually. 

The common threads in Gleason’s and what we are trying to build here are the same: a willingness to look life in the eye, not turning your back to the danger in front of you, diminishing yourself to raise up another, and becoming the person that “fights the bull”. 

The people at Gleason’s will tell you not to ask for a treadmill – you go run the Brooklyn Bridge – and it doesn’t matter if it is 20 degrees.  The essence of it all is that boxing training is reality training, and a treadmill is only reality if you want to end up right where you started.  It is a hard place, but it is a crucible, and when you see the final product of these people – you know why it has to be that way.

There is poetry in the honesty of the language – even in the cursing.  Taking offense was not optional.  We can all learn from that in the current climate of constant outrage. 

Culturally, the lack of personal space defines the “rudeness” that we often experience as Texans.  We have much more personal and contemplative space, so we have the ability to share and to be welcoming.  In New York City, space (personal and contemplative) is at a premium and the personal allotment is tiny.  That lack of space also makes the boxing ring a more comfortable metaphor because human collision is inevitable. 

Gleason’s is the most democratic place imaginable.  Rich people hit the same bags, run the same bridge, and wear the same gloves as the poor people.  Lawyers come in to learn how to box from guys that never went to high school.

Money notwithstanding, these people do share a common bond: this is how they medicate their fear and anxiety.  No one here talks about Xanax or Clonazepam or the drugs we get fed when we say we are anxious or afraid.

Our mission statement speaks about the modern plagues of society.  They are in our town just as much as they are in New York City. 

We overmedicate our fear – we are trying to redefine freedom as freedom from conflict, freedom from caring for others, freedom from rules of morality, freedom from spiritual responsibility. 

We never get there, so we keep medicating the fear with alcohol and Xanax and smart phones and prescription drugs capable of destroying the bones of a generation:  anything to escape from ourselves and to turn away from facing the bull.

Please don’t hear me say that medication is unnecessary or not needed for many people to live a full life – I’m a firm believer that it is.  I also believe that many of our modern plagues call for something greater than chemical solutions.

At times, we are medicating spiritual problems – and spiritual problems require spiritual solutions, a squaring up to yourself rather than a turning away, a search for something deeper than comfort.

You cannot embrace life by running from the noise or turning from struggle.  You can free yourself from conflict with enough medication and enough money, but that is far, far away from the gospel of fight.

If you have children then you know that loving them and making them feel good are not the same thing.  Sometimes love is telling them that their little hearts will break someday.  Sometimes it’s telling them that we, too, are all battling secret demons, and that we don’t win everyday, and that maybe the goal at the final bell is to still be standing.

Mike Tyson said, “I don’t know why we have to fight, but we do.” 

Tyson has always been contemplative, brooding even, but he always talked about the inevitability of defeat.  What is amazing is that it was always in his mind, bearing down and stalking him.

It was always just around the corner.

But he still fought.

Mike saw the poetry in defeat.  It’s the poetry that belongs to everyone in the earthly realm, the shared experience that binds us together.  

But we all still have to fight.

The wrapping is not the real you.  The wrapping goes in the trash.

The fight is all we have.

 

J.M.

 

(Jefferson Street Boxing Club will be holding an informational meeting for sign-ups and program details in a few weeks along with dates for Vacation Boxing School, stay tuned.)

 

Fences and Gates

"It's easier to build a fence than a gate...."

The first time I heard this, I don't think it was meant to be particularly profound but more of a statement about "the bottom line".  

You simply need more materials, more patience, more care and money, more math, more time, and an agreement that the gate opens and closes on both sides.

We are in the middle of writing programs for days and times for the boxing club.  There will be something for everyone.  

There will also be needs to fill, that I hope many of you will feel called to fill.  We will need mentors: spiritual, academic and athletic.  We will need people willing to build relationships with people that they may not normally see in their daily life.  

There are very few prerequisites to being a person of importance to the club:

Love for God and neighbor characterized by justice, mercy and humility.  

Yes, It is easier to build a fence than a gate.

Let's build a gate.

J. M.

My Mother's Teacher

 

The wave in a pond

does not recall the pebble

but still carries on.

- Japanese Haiku

 

This is not a story with a happy ending.

Phyllis Worsham was my mother's favorite teacher. She was young and pretty and married a football coach in town who had recently lost his wife.

She became a mother to his children and, on certain days, would play the piano in her classroom for her students.

My mother can recall nearly everything about her - down to her perfume. During the school year, Mrs. Worsham tried to drive a truck, with her stepchildren, through high flood water. The water was higher than she thought. It swept them out of the truck, and they all drowned.

The first time I heard this story was only a few months ago, but it devastated me. My mother cried recounting it.

I'm not trying to be depressing, but that story has been on my mind. It makes me think about the decisions I make every day.

Phyllis Worsham was a pebble. My mother was one of her waves. The things that go on in the most regular hours of our day, the conversations we have with our kids, the work we do - it goes past us....long past us.

I think it tends to be very small decisions that life hinges on. The time you left the house a little later than usual, what someone told you the day you were ready to give up, telling a kid they matter, and them hearing it becoming a revelation to them - though you may never know.

Jefferson Street Boxing Club will be a “pebbles in the pond” type of place.

God and grades will come before gloves, but the gloves will matter.

Above every other sport, boxing is the life metaphor, and as Ian Humphrey would say, “It’s not about the knockdown – it’s about the Get-up”.

If you watch the end of the Tyson-Douglas fight, when Tyson goes down, he looks completely lost...fumbling for his mouthpiece.  He had no idea how to get up.

That fight was just supposed to be a warm-up for Holyfield, and even though they wouldn't meet for 6 more years, Holyfield said, "I don't believe there is a man in this world that can't be beaten." Of course, Holyfield is right. And, though he is the only 5 time HW Champion in history, he lost 10 fights.

Holyfield knows about losing. Most of the big-hearted, iron-chinned people do.

Our current culture teaches all of us that safety is the most important thing and that we are always in danger.  Consequently, we raise people who, once knocked down, aren’t quite sure how to get up or wonder if they should even bother.  Nowadays, the knockdowns are unexpected as we foolishly try to create a world where they never happen.

I wonder sometimes how much of our world ends up being our choice and how much is chance, and I wonder how much say we have over the knockdowns.  We spend so much time trying to avoid our own knockdowns (and those of our children) that we miss the opportunity they present.

Without the knockdown, we can never learn how to get up.

One of the purposes of our boxing club will be embracing life the way it is.  And, while mostly, this will be a place where energy is expended on bags, we will be talking a great deal about knockdowns: physical, emotional, and spiritual ones.  In order to live life, we all have to learn how to break just a little.

Jefferson Street Boxing Club is about loving our kids “in the future”. 

My mother would have been 9 when Mrs. Worsham died.  I can imagine my mother being an upset child and maybe telling no one what had just floored her.  I can imagine a 9 year old waiting until it’s time to sleep to cry and pray for answers. 

If I could go back in time and comfort my mother, I would.  I would tell her that we are ignorant of the grand design, but that I have deep faith there is one.  I would tell her that maybe Mrs. Worsham's story isn't over and that maybe half a century later, the wave she made for my mother would carry her onward.

I would tell her that Mrs. Worsham was a pebble.  I would tell her that we are all pebbles.

J. M.

 

 

Cassius Clay's Bicycle

“Medals lay upon my chest,

But that is not what says it best.

A man emerged from just a tike,

Honor appeared in the form of a bike.”

-       Brent Melton

 

In 1955, in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Clay’s bike was stolen.  Furious, he swore he would “whup” whoever was responsible.  Louisville policeman Joe Martin told him, “Well you better learn how to fight first.”  A few weeks later, at a mere 89 pounds, Cassius Clay won his first fight.  Less than 10 years later he was the Heavyweight Champion of the world.

It’s nearly inconceivable that any one of these events would happen today.  We seldom see kids riding bikes around town anymore, and kids are rarely encouraged to stand up for anything at all, lest they get in trouble.  Instead, they go home to their parents, and tell them what happened.  They either get a new bike, or their parents seek out the thief for them and press charges.  At the heart of it, we are good people who want to shield our children from harm.  Unfortunately, in doing so, we also rob them of the life lessons they learn from experiencing consequences.

Denying them an intimate relationship with consequence instills fear in our children– fear that impels them to seek a sense of safety above everything else.   The inherent problem with this mindset is that the human brain is not wired to seek out safety at all costs; the human brain needs to experience danger in order to understand the limits of human experience.  Caught between these opposing desires, our kids lock their doors, put on headphones, and seek the danger their brains crave through video games.  They construct a false sense of security while reinforcing these mythical walls of protection in order to avoid danger.  Ironically, this practice puts them at a distinct disadvantage when danger presents itself.

This fear mentality encourages kids to believe that laws and policies have more power than the motives and drives intrinsic to the human spirit.  Thus, afraid to look life in the eye, our kids increasingly rely on others to save and protect them.  Rather than raising heroes, we raise victims looking for saviors in their media, their lawyers and their lawmakers. 

Shielding our children from difficulty and pain ill equips them to take on the world they will inherit, a world that ultimately recognizes each of us as either a boot or a bug.  The fear they finally feel, when confronted with difficulty, sends them scurrying to find safety.  They search out others to shield them.  Historically, the boots have not been able to discriminate for very long between which bugs to protect and which ones to stomp, so a sad reality arrives.

We build for them an “Ain’t Skeered” type of culture and perpetuate a myth that fear is bad.  Our children think that being afraid means something is wrong with them.  We don’t teach them that fear, like failure, is a friend.  We don’t tell them that we are often afraid, or that courage is only possible when fear is present.  Life isn’t about avoiding fear, but putting your chin down and walking forward when fear is bearing down on you.

This is not nostalgia for a vanished golden age.  Much of the world has gotten better since 1955.  But while the freedoms and material advantages for our children have increased astronomically, the expectation of responsibility has decreased dramatically.  Without opportunities to take on responsibility for themselves and to learn how to face fear and adversity, our children may never know what greatness lies within them.  After all, they have the same blood pumping through their veins that settled the West and stormed the beaches at Normandy.  If we provide opportunities for our children to realize their power, we teach them resilience.

Every hero we have, mythical or otherwise, has endured great trials and tests of their courage.  Each of them embarked on their own hero’s journey.  At times, every hero stands alone.  They all feel fear.  They act, despite fear. 

This boxing club is not about “fighting.”  It is about encouraging people to honor and celebrate the fighting spirit they were born with.  Building a place where we can express our fighting spirit deters us from expressing it in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. 

Knuckles break, noses bleed, and eyes blacken, but the spirit is eternal; we get to choose whether to protect the body or the spirit.  By placing ourselves in a position to feel fear and to face adversity, we become the boots.  Our children don’t deserve to become bugs; they deserve to inherit an unbreakable spirit, to be empowered to face adversity.

Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  At some point we have to choose to get back on the bike, even if it means trusting a world that will steal it.  This boxing club is about helping us find our bike and reclaim our legacy. 

J. M.