Lessons From Youth Wrestling

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A couple of days a week I coach some 5th and 6th graders here in Los Angeles, teaching them how to wrestle.  It’s only for an hour, and it’s only on the side, but I have learned so much from the experiences I’ve had in that makeshift wrestling room.  I want to share some of these experiences with you and tell you what I draw from them.  Here is the first thing I’ve learned:

Some people never grow up, they just get better at pretending that they have.

 

It is an absolute joy to be able to bond with these kids, to teach them a new skill, and to watch them grow and learn.  That said, there are definitely some challenges.  Kids are, by definition, immature, and I often have to correct them.  No surprises there.  Yet it still sticks with me when problems arise.

I sat all of the kids down recently and told them about “removing the log from their own eye.”  It had been a big problem of late that whenever I call out a kid for messing off or for disobeying, most of them immediately point a finger at someone next to them.  When I try to talk to them as a group about specific problems, most of them will look indignant, complain about how “everybody” does such and such, and generally, they feel very vindicated.  Every one of them.  Each of the twenty-odd kids thinks that they are the exception to poor behavior.  Really, it’s only two or three of them, and those ones don’t look vindicated or complain when I talk about problems to the group.  I try to tell them to stop worrying about what other people are doing wrong and focus on correcting their own behavior.  We would have smoother practices if everyone did this.

That got me thinking: this is a problem that doesn’t magically end when you can grow some hair on your face.  Even as I write this, I’m extraordinarily tempted to write “I know a lot of people who…”  But then, am I making the same mistake?  In all likelihood, yes, yes I am.  And it takes me having to be the adult to a bunch of kids to realize it.  That said, in that group of rambunctious kids, it’s most everybody, and I think I can say with confidence that some people mature better than others.  Yet for a large part of our population, the exact same problem remains.

“My life isn’t good because of this guy who’s stopping me.”

Are you handcuffed to a desk?  Because if not, get out and change your attitude, then your situation.  Most likely, no one is single-handedly destroying your plans.  Maybe the problem is your strategy.

“__________ is so wealthy.  He must be greedy.  How dare he?”

Forget about him; are you generous with what you have?  Because if you can’t be generous when you only have three dollars to your name, you certainly won’t be generous when you have more.  Also, when did we start associating wealth with wrongdoing? Remove the log from your own eye before you try and remove the speck from your friend’s.

It’s so easy to excuse ourselves and indict others, but that’s not what maturity does.  Maturity first wonders how it can be doing better.

 

Second thing:

It’s really easy to stuff our feelings and act out instead of addressing the real problem.

 

I don’t know that I even have to elaborate on this one.  Children sometimes get angry about something, but they don’t fix the problem.  They just turn into an angry, vindictive, passive-aggressive version of themselves.  Does this happen to us “adults” sometimes?  Yes.  A lot.  Some people (There I go again…) go through their whole lives in this mode, I dare say.  Change is hard, but when an injustice or disappointment happens, maturity says to deal with the root issue and make it right.  And if it can’t be made right, then at least it doesn’t turn into bitterness, causing us to become caustic or guarded.

 

And finally:

The poor decisions of one person affect many.

 

It’s easy to think that when we’re doing something wrong it’s not so bad because we’re only involving ourselves.  Yet this isn’t how it plays out in the wrestling room.  When one kid cheats on a drill, or ignores instruction to mess off, or leaves the mat for whatever reason, this changes the atmosphere of the room and it convinces others that it’s okay for them to cut corners too.  It’s often said that fear is contagious, and then the optimists among us will pipe in and say that courage is also contagious.  I agree with both groups of people, and I add this as a unifying statement:  Attitude, as expressed in behavior, countenance, and intent, is extremely contagious.

What we do very rarely, if ever, affects only ourselves.  I see it every time the kids practice.  They are doing well, then one kid starts messing off and I have to call them back from chaos all of the sudden.  Or the kids are downcast and struggling, but one or two of them get a determined look on their faces and decide to work hard and pay attention- then others join in.

Regardless of your position, you are probably much more influential than you think.

These are my thoughts for the week.  Comment below, and thanks for reading.

Ancient Souls

“It’s cold out here,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around herself.  She was wearing her night clothes and nothing else as she joined her new husband on the balcony.  The wind blew gently compared to most nights.  This high in the air it was normally very fierce, making her wonder why they even bothered putting balconies in at all.

“It’s not cold, Miranda,” her husband replied gently.  “You just aren’t dressed for it.”  He leaned against the twisting, wrought iron railing that overlooked the bustling city below, full of lights and sounds and sirens that never slept.  The insulated glass kept all of the noise out when they were inside.

A coy smile appeared on Miranda’s full lips as she slid a hand around her husband’s back.

“You could keep me warm.”

Some of the distance in her husband’s eyes disappeared as he looked at her with a grin, taking her in his arms and stroking her skin for warmth.  His gaze, however, was courted by the metropolis below him, and he became pensive once more.  The wind stirred the bundled lovers.

Miranda playfully rolled her eyes, then she nuzzled her head into the nook in her husband’s side.

“This isn’t exactly what I had in mind,” she commented, “but it is nice.”  She sighed and her husband kissed her forehead, continuing to look down on the busy streets below.  The sound of car horns reached them from far away, echoing into the artificial business of night.

“Jack,” she said softly, putting her hand on her husband’s chest.  “What’s on your mind?  It’s nice and quiet and warm inside the apartment.”

“I know,” Jack replied.  “I just sort of want to be out here for a little while.  Stay with me?” he asked, raising his eyebrows and unknowingly showing his wife the expression that made her love him.  One of them, at least.

Miranda nodded her head and shivered against the wind.  It was October, after all.

“I was struck by an odd thought,” Jack began, deeply.  “Or maybe it was more of a feeling.  I had to come out and look at it all.”

“The city?” Miranda asked, tilting her soft, enrapturing eyes up at her husband.

“Not exactly,” he said, then he cocked his head to the side, considering.  “Well, sort of.  All of this.  This place, these people, this time… I needed to see it.”

“Mm,” Miranda assented.  She found her husband fascinating, but she was also very tired.  It was late.

“Do you remember the ruins we saw in Greece?” Jack asked suddenly, piquing his wife’s interest.

“I’ll never forget them,” she said, smiling as she closed her eyes.  “It was only a few days ago.  And a bride never forgets her honeymoon.”  She eyed him in her special way, but Jack was starring off into the bright, flashing advertisements and the hundreds of buildings that surrounded them.  He didn’t notice.

“They were magnificent.  Mysterious, beautiful… so far removed from us.  But I started thinking- they weren’t always ruins.  Once, people lived there- maybe a husband and a wife, a young merchant, maybe a politician, in what they must have thought was the greatest civilization that man has ever built.  And now they’re dust.  Irrelevant except for the quaint value that they give to foreign tourists on a holiday.  And that has me thinking: why are we any different?  Why would we be?”

Jack sighed, and some of the distance in his eyes had spread to Miranda, who was listening carefully now.  She stroked him softly.

“I guess what I’m thinking about is that as I lay in bed, next to you, my beautiful wife, in our high-rise apartment building, I was hit by a sense of history, but out of order somehow.”  He turned away from the lights and the cars and the sirens and looked at Miranda with pleading, poetic eyes.  “We are the ancient souls that lived in this art-deco high-rise in the 21st century.  We are the shadows and the ghosts of the past.”

A shiver ran over Miranda’s skin, but she continued to listen faithfully to her husband until he was finished.  She looked concerned, just as he did, and as he stared at her in uncertainty, she took his face in her hands and kissed him.  She had to stand up on her toes to do so.

“You’re just upset,” she said, stroking his hair.  “Come back to bed and hold me close.  It will be better in the morning.”

With a furrowed brow, Jack nodded slowly, and then his expression broke and he grinned at his faithful wife.  His ideas still troubled him, but he pushed them to the back of his mind and let Miranda lead him by the hand back into the warmth of their apartment.  The insulated sliding glass door shut behind them.

~°~

The wars came, as they always do.  Men and women forgot what they once held as sacred and they served the cravings of their own bellies.  Pulling further and further from sound footings of reason and faith, they shut their eyes and imagined their own way that the world was, instead of acknowledging reality.  Debt supported excess and excess supported labor, until the labor ceased, the excess turned to lack, and the debt was exposed for the vapor that it was.  Professing to be wise, they became fools; calling themselves rich, they wallowed in squalor, and at the end of it all, the only thing that had changed when justice was finally sought, was that the weapons of war had improved, and men were vastly better at killing one another.  Smoke rose from the earth in consequence.

On the heels of this destruction, and with the passing of many years in which man’s plight revealed to them their inherent poverty, peace came, and true wisdom was sought once again.  There was building and stability once more, for a time, and in the midst of this peace, a thousand years past, a wiry-haired researcher gingerly chiseled at a wall of rock.  A soft clank let him know that he had struck metal, and his hopes and his hypotheses were confirmed.

Excitedly, the wiry-haired researcher and his team set to work with their delicate tools, testing the integrity of the inner structure and analyzing even further than they already had, for weeks.  Finally, standing on a scaffold, the researcher and his team exposed a worn and rusted, wrought iron railing that protruded from the dusty rock which had once encased it.  Taking a breath and a step backwards, the researcher and his team marveled.

“This must be it,” he stuttered.  “My research is correct, and the scans confirm it, and now this…”  He put his arms around the bright, young assistants at his sides.  “We’ve found the lost city.”

Grins were held on every face present, and the wiry-haired researcher turned around and shouted across the void to his support team.

“We’ve found it!”

There were shouts and applause, and someone passed around plastic cups filled with champagne.  Then, after the acclamation had died down some, a woman called out from the support vehicle.

“What is it?” she shouted.

The researcher beamed as all quieted to listen.  Most knew the answer already, but he had a flair for the dramatic, and they liked to listen.

“It is a dwelling place,” he projected to everyone present, as the wind whistled through the dig.  “And dating will confirm that it belonged to a city that was once called ‘New York.’”  The researcher got a whimsical look in his eye and he grasped the scaffolding, leaning forward and speaking earnestly, poetically.  “This piece of metal we’ve found, this iron- it might have belonged to a home where a young married couple once lived.  They would return here after a long journey, they would wake here every morning, and they would lean against this iron rail and look down upon their streets and roads as they bustled with traffic.  And they would be in love, holding each other as they stared off into the wind, slowly erased from our memory by the sands of time.

Nada Más

Ojalá que pudiera cantar a ti

Cantaría de los tiempos de angustía y

Tristeza, pero la canta allá no termina

Siempre viene luz, bendiciones, alegría

_

Dicen que la noche es más oscuro antes la madrugada

Es verdad.  Pero no sientes asi cuando dolor te ha encontrada

Además, esperanza cura muchas heridas

Amor, verdadero amor, muchas heridas más

_

Yo quiero nada más que tomar tu pena

Lo pondría sobre mis hombros, y llevarla

Pero no puedo, y tus oídos estan cerrados

Al sonido de mis canciónes rotas

_

Sigo cantar mis canciónes rotas

_

Offreo a ti mis brazos abiertos e extendidos

Nunca tenemos nada más

_

_

Unfinished Songs

 _

I wish that I could sing to you

I would sing of the bitter times

And tragedy, but I wouldn’t stop there.

Light always comes, and blessings, and happiness.

_

They say that the night is darkest before dawn

It’s true.  But you don’t feel that way when you’re in pain.

Yet hope cures many wounds

Love, true love, cures many more

_

I want nothing more than to take your pain

I would put it on my shoulders and carry it

But I can’t.  And your ears are shut

To the sound of my broken songs

_

But I’m still singing them.

_

I give you my open and extended arms.

We never have anything else.

Inflection

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In mathematics, there is a concept referred to as inflection.  We’re most accustomed to hearing this word refer to speech, in which it deals with the rising and falling of our voice.  Its application in math is similar- it is the process of changing direction.  Whenever graphical analysis is done in numerous fields, one of the first things searched for is an inflection point, or points.  This is exact moment when direction changes.  If you toss a penny upwards, the split second where it is floating seamlessly in the air, just before it begins to fall, is its inflection point.  We see them all of the time, but we don’t always notice them.  Indeed, just like marketers studying purchasing habits or biologists studying bacterial data, inflection points must be searched out.  They aren’t always immediately obvious.

Life is full of inflection points, but they are often difficult to see.  This is because inflection is a process, leading up to a point.  A graph is still heading in the same direction before it hits its point of change, but it is accelerating in a negative direction.  In layman’s terms, we might say that it is slowing down, but this isn’t entirely correct.  Those familiar with physics understand the subtleties of vectors being used to describe inflection instead of simply “slowing down” or “speeding up.”  This is because there is a competing force pushing in another direction; process isn’t just slowing down, something is pushing it another way.  Then, all of the sudden, its direction is the opposite of what it once was.  A trend reverses, a course diverts, and a person is unrecognizable.  You’ve likely seen it in yourself, and you’ve certainly seen it in others.

I don’t know all of the inflection points in my life.  I know a few of them.  I know who I once was, several turns ago, and I know somewhat who I am now.  I don’t know where the next change will occur.  I know that choosing to wrestle in high school changed the direction of my life.  I know that choosing to follow Christ in my life has certainly changed my direction.  Choosing to become a writer instead of using my business degree in a more traditional fashion qualifies as well. I could list obvious life events such as choosing to attend the University of Southern California or staying in Los Angeles after graduation, but I think that these events, just like many of the obvious times we would point to in a search for defining moments- were actually just extensions of the path I was already on.  True moments of change are often less visible, I think.  A small choice in a situation where no one is watching, embracing a thought or a way of thinking when problems arise, making oneself comfortable -or uncomfortable- I think these are more often where competing forces begin to change our direction in life.

It’s often said that people don’t change.  I would ask the person who claims this if they’ve ever met another person.  People often don’t change in the ways we want, but they certainly change, for better or for worse.

I don’t know exactly where I’m headed.  I have a few ideas, but I’m no fortune teller.  But what I do know is what kind of man I want to be, and I think that whenever that was determined was itself a point of change.  I’m mostly speculating, but I would guess that for the person who decides where he wants to go beforehand, his inflection points are on purpose.  And though we always choose for ourselves how to respond to a situation, I think this makes all of the difference.  For those who have no accepted purpose, I think that their moments of true change are less deliberate and more subject to the blowing of the wind.

But if others are subject to the blowing of the wind, I know that either I am also, or I have the potential to become subject to it.  So I cling to my purpose.

What’s yours?