AND IN THIS CORNER…

“When life gets tough put on your boxing gloves.”

Anonymous

On a recent trip to the library, I checked out a book on the history of boxing. Loaded with pictures and stories about all the champions and top contenders since the sport began, I only found one flaw with it. For some unexplained reason, they left out the highlights of my short and painful career in the ring.

Summer, 1968

In a program called “Box-O-Rama” kids living in Central Ohio were invited to train several days a week all summer long in preparation for the first Ohio State Fair Boxing Tournament. Hoping to move up a rung on the ladder to manhood, I signed up.  In my dreams, I was already hearing serious boxing fans compare me with Ali, Louis, Dempsey, and Marciano.

That summer I learned how to skip rope. Using a jab, right cross, and left hook I beat up a punching bag. When I shadow boxed, the shadow lost every time. I was having fun until the coach decided I should fight a real person. The kid I was supposed to fight must have had a genetic disorder that made him grow faster than usual. He got bigger every time I looked at him. And in case you’re not good with basic math, let me help you. The first time in a boxing ring, three minutes is equal to eternity. He hit me hard. He hit me often. He hit me everywhere but the bottom of my feet. I hit him too. Just not as hard.

Just not as often.

When it was over I was seeing stars. In fact, I was seeing planets, space ships, and a cow jumping over the moon. The only thing keeping my head from crumbling into a million pieces was the headgear I had on. I was afraid to unbuckle it and wondered if anyone would notice it if I wore it home. I’m not sure what my face looked like. I only hoped my mother would recognize me.  In addition to my lumps and bumps something else was swelling, my pride.

I stayed with the program the rest of the summer and won my first fight in the tournament. My part in the competition ended when I lost the second fight by split decision.

*          *          *

Next Stop, Philadelphia.

Like most people I know, play the tune, Gonna Fly Now, from the movie “Rocky” and I’m ready to run a little faster and jump a little higher. People from all over the world make their way up the 72 steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art just like Rocky, the determined boxer, did in the movie.

When they get to the top, they raise their arms in triumph.

“I believe there’s an inner power that makes winners or losers.

And the winners are the ones who really listen to the truth of their hearts.”

Rocky Balboa

Are you listening?

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MOVIE STAR TALKING BRASS

“Smile, it gives your face something to do between catastrophes.”

Kermit the Frog

Summer, 1970

San Diego, California

I’m about to star in my first movie. The other stars are Darren McGavin, Earl Holliman, and Jan – Michael Vincent. The movie is called TRIBES and you can watch it on YouTube. It’s about a hippie who gets drafted into the Marines during the Vietnam War.

When you sit down to watch the film, look closely at the Marines marching in the background, running the obstacle course, and practicing hand to hand combat. That’s me, part of Platoon 1079. And we are being led by a grizzly bear?

The grizzly bear’s name was Gunnery Sergeant Newman.

He was in charge of my training at The Marine Corps Recruit Depot. That’s where I met him two weeks after I graduated from high school.  He had some other bears working with him, Sergeant Trala and Sergeant Richards. I was terrified of these people. They have hair trigger tempers. They enjoy creating hell on earth for new recruits.

The good news is the movie was a hit and I survived boot camp –  one of those, “I’m glad I went but I wouldn’t want to do it again experiences.”

Among the skills Sergeant Newman shared that summer was a concept called BRASS.

Breathe

Relax

Aim

Slack

Squeeze

Newman was talking about shooting a rifle. I’m talking about using BRASS when life takes a shot at  you. Suppose a problem, setback, or tragedy just scored a bull’s eye on the seat of your pants. Now what?

BREATHE

A friend told me new medication and anxiety had created chest pains and difficulty in breathing.

While lying on the floor, her cat climbed on her chest. Soon my friend’s breathing was in sync with the calm steady rhythm of the cat’s. Panic disappeared. Composure returned.

RELAX

Take a mini vacation in your imagination. Think about a good time you had a while back. Think about a day on a tropical beach. Think about someone special. Sit down. Lie down. Take a nap.

AIM

If you aim for nothing, you’re sure to get nothing. Trouble never leaves you where it finds you. Time for an attitude check. Where do you want to go from here? As a wise man said, “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.

SLACK

With a rifle, slack is the little bit of play you feel as you begin to squeeze the trigger. In life, slack is the little gap between what you are doing and what is still to be tried. Do what you can, now.

SQUEEZE

You are not supposed to pull the trigger. You are supposed to squeeze the trigger. Easy does it. Do your best and leave the rest to God. Squeeze out a smile. Move on.

Breathe

Relax

Aim

Slack

Squeeze

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

Matthew 6:27

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HOPE ON THE LINE

“Did you ever get the feeling the whole world is a tuxedo and you’re a pair of brown shoes.” George Gobel, comedian

“Hardships often prepare people for an extraordinary destiny.” C. S. Lewis, author

Alexander the Great, Mozart, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill are members of an association I belong to. If you wish, you can join too. The only requirement is to be depressed. I’m not talking about, “The toast got burned and the ball game was rained out.” I’m talking about an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and sometimes suicidal tendencies.

“How do you feel?” the doctor asked.

I feel like a “Hollow Rabbit” was my response.

At Easter, along with jelly beans, marshmallow chickens and candy eggs, you can buy a mix of chocolate molded into the likeness of a rabbit. Bite into one of these bunnies and you’re likely to discover it’s hollow. That was me. I was empty. Why? I couldn’t tell you. I had a truckload of things to be thankful for. With food, clothes, shelter, living in the USA with a job, friends and opportunity, I was still unable to shake off the feeling of doom.

Rambling down the highway one night, the radio scanner in my truck landed on a talk radio call in how. I heard the host of the program announce that it was time to take some more calls from listeners.

“Let’s go to line one,” he said, “and talk to Hope.”

“Hello, Hope.”

“Are you there, Hope.”

You could hear him punching away at the controls, trying to find the caller named Hope.

“Where are you, Hope?”

Now you could hear the frustration in his voice.

“I need help finding hope,” he said to what I guess was a technician in the studio.

There were a few more clicks, a soft crackle, then the weary radio host announced, ‘Finally, we have Hope on the line.”

The first time I hit rock bottom with depression was 1986. Like that man on the radio, I needed help finding hope. The search took almost a year. With counseling, exercise, medication, and prayer I recovered. Hope for me, was on the line.

I would enjoy telling you that was my only battle with this malady. If I did tell you that, I would be lying. Depression has sunk its ugly fangs into my butt several more times. These bouts, thankfully were not as severe and did not last as long.

Take a look at the word “Depression” The late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale suggested knocking off the letters “D, E, and I” What remains are the words “Press On.” From my experience, let me tell you how to knock those letters out of the picture.

D – see a DOCTOR. You may need medication.

E – get some EXERCISE. You need to shake up the body’s natural antidepressants, endorphins.

I – Get some INSIGHT. See a counselor. Seek peace through prayer.

“By his light I walked through darkness.”

Job 29:33

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BE KIND

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

C.S. Lewis, author

I like to eat.

Some times I like to eat a lot.

That’s why I look forward to grocery shopping.

And it was while waiting in the checkout line with my food in the basket that I met a man who would change my life.

He was a well dressed elderly gentleman, clean, and well-groomed. But his attitude was in need of an adjustment.

“I hate coming to the grocery store,” he told the cashier.

He was loud enough to get the attention of the other customers and staff several isles in each direction.

“I hate coming to the grocery store,” he repeated even louder.

The cashier stopped working for a moment to make eye contact with the man. Then, choosing not to respond, began ringing up his groceries.

The old man continued, “I go to the bank once a week and the grocery once a week and I hate it.”

I hoped his attitude wasn’t contagious because I certainly didn’t want to catch whatever disease he had. He paid for his groceries, shoving money at the cashier, then he took off with his basket like a bull charging the matador, leaving the rest of us shaking our heads in disbelief.

I was already in the habit of being nice to people, especially the folks working in checkout lines. But this guy made me want to try a little harder. At the end of the work day, I want the cashier at the store and the teller at the bank to be glad they waited on me.

True, I don’t know anything about that old man in the checkout line except the way I saw him act.

But as a wise man pointed out, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Maybe the rest of his life was a mess but there are counselors and ministers standing by to help him sort out his issues. Cashiers are there to take your money, not your bad karma.

So the old man got me thinking. I had to set some new goals. Not far from the grocery store, people were lining up at a food pantry. They didn’t have the privilege of cruising up and down the isles, choosing what would be for breakfast and dinner.

GOAL NUMBER ONE: Already in the habit of counting my blessings, I would count them more often and with greater enthusiasm.

GOAL NUMBER TWO: I like it when people are kind to me. So I’m going to double my efforts to be kind, even to that old man in the checkout line.

“If you go to work on your goals, your goals will go to work on you.

If you go to work on your plan, your plan will go to work on you.

Whatever good things we build end up building us.”

Jim Rohn, author

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