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.




(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.)