Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Fight

I felt my ribs collapse inward before they sprung back out to their proper placement. My mind raced, considering two very different questions: Have I ever felt like this before? Yes. Perhaps once or twice. The feeling was not enjoyable then, but I got through it. Is everything okay? This was more of a physical systems check: Are ribs meant to bend this way? Am I still in one piece? I felt sore, but everything seemed alright. No real damage done.

I barely had time to find the answers to these questions before he was bearing down on me again. You would never guess the damage Ed can do by looking at him. He walks a little pigeon-toed and has the look of an athlete, but one whose prime as has passed. He's gregarious and always greets his friends and trainees with a smile. He has an inherent sensitivity to him, which made the damage he was doing all the more disconcerting. In truth, this kind, gentle man is a former heavyweight boxing champ. Now, his 5'10", 230 pound frame was coming for me, his eyes weighing my movements, strangely detached from the pain I was feeling.

Please stop hitting me.

It was all I could think to say. Admittedly, Ed hadn't hit me that hard, that many times. However, it had been a long time since I was struck in any way. The feeling was shocking and uncomfortable. I was also aware there were a couple spots, my right ribs specifically, that could become more serious issues, were they to continue receiving targeted blows. I bit my lower lip. A man doesn't step into a ring willingly with another man and then beg to stop being pummeled a minute in.

I did the next best thing after begging for him to stop. I ran. While Ed is bigger and stronger than me and has quicker hands, I am taller, faster and can cover more ground. I made the space in the ring my friend. I must have been hilarious to watch. A lanky kid gets struck by a former professional boxer a couple times, turns wild-eyed and runs around the ring avoiding contact.

Ed patiently, and possibly sadistically, told me to stop running. I stepped back in, covered my right ribs as best I could and got hit for another interminable minute or so. The bell rang. The round was over.

I stepped out of the ring and sought one of our other trainers immediately. Where had I gone wrong? What could I improve? How could I make sure this pain and embarrassment didn't happen again.

Laura explained some technique and strategy to me, but also made Ed's story clear. Reminder: He was, in fact, a former professional heavy weight boxer. He was going to get some serious blows in on me. Also, getting punched hurts. No one likes it. And when you step into a ring, getting hit is something that is bound to happen. With the wisdom Laura had imparted, I stepped back into the ring with Ed a few minutes later. I did my best to protect my sore ribs, fight smarter and stand in with this man who I knew was going to hurt me. Later that day, I was nursing a bloody nose and my sore ribs, but I couldn't wait to get back into the ring.

I only started boxing a couple of months ago and I really love it. I need to stand in a ring and take some more blows to be confident that I'm tough enough for it, but this is something I could stay with for some time. It's strange, I never really expected it. While I have a notoriously short temper, I am a nonviolent person bordering on a pacifist. I don't take much joy in hitting others. That first day I sparred with Ed, he screamed "Hit Me!" an awful lot. I'm just not actually that interested in dealing blows.

Interestingly, it's taking blows that is more intriguing to me. Don't misunderstand, getting hit is the worst. However, the character it builds, at least for me, is something I love. When you step into a ring, there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. You are confined in a small space with a person who wants to hurt you. One must learn to absorb blows, fight through pain, and simply bear living in an uncomfortable place.

Boxing has become a metaphor, a microcosm of life for me. It has come to represent what long stretches of living can feel like. When we hit tough spots, especially if we live in a community based on Christian faith, a lot of empty platitudes are thrown around:

God never gives you more than you can handle.

All things work for the good of those who love them.

Everything happens for a reason.

When God closes a door he opens a window.

The list goes on.

First off, why in the hell would I want to jump out of a second story window when there was a perfectly good door that God chose to block for some sadistic reason? Second, these platitudes are mostly not true and certainly not helpful.

As Laura counseled me, sometimes there isn't much we can do. I was fighting a 230-pound former pro boxer. He was going to hurt me. That was that. This world is chaotic. We were not built for it. We were built for paradise. What we got is a broken world full of broken people (And don't forget we are all broken and do our fair share of damage to others). It is going to hurt us, and sometimes we have absolutely no control over the pain that is inflicted on us.

We want to make ourselves better, we want to strike back, we want pain to end, but often, it is not time for these desires to be fulfilled. We simply have to learn to live in pain and discomfort and make it to the next round.

The peace that passes understanding is another concept that is thrown around the Christian faith. It seems like an almost unascertainable state of being, one where we live above the pain around us in a deep peace. The pain simply can't touch us. I've developed a new definition for this type of peace. It's living in the depths, feeling the pain, but somehow finding a way to keep moving. To stand in and wait, sometimes for what seems an interminable amount of time.

There are so many ways we can learn these lessons. I'm surprised I didn't learn some of them earlier. I'm thankful for boxing. I'm thankful that it's taught me in a more acute way that pain is a part of life and sometimes the point isn't to win, or improve ourselves, get better or reduce our pain, but simply to survive the moment. In doing so, we learn and grow in more ways than we ever could have hoped.


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