When I was in seventh grade, terror for me was spelled P.E. I found very little use for being physically educated. But because of some ungodly school policy, all of us were required to take gym, which back in those days (early 70’s) meant The Trio of Terror - gang showers, jock straps and dodgeball.
For those of you who never experienced this maniacally sick and twisted rite of passage (or you have spent your life trying to erase it from your memory), let me enlighten you for a moment. If you know anything about seventh grade boys, you know they come in all shapes and sizes. They are just beginning to hit puberty with the exception of one or two guys on either end of the spectrum. There’s always some poor kid who looks like he just finished first grade, while his locker partner could be mistaken for a high school graduate. I was neither, although I would have certainly been more comfortable sharing a locker with the first grader than Mr. Jock with the armpit hair.
Boys measured each other up both in P.E. and in the locker room. There was a ranking system based on athletic ability and physical development. This did not bode well for yours truly. I was truly a fish out of water, yet forced to join in every humiliating activity.
Dodgeball was one of the worst. Getting your head, stomach, or lower regions whacked with a red rubber ball by the likes of Mr. Jock could ruin your entire day. The most merciful thing I knew to do was to throw myself in front of the first grader’s volley and take the hit like a man. This, of course, allowed me to sit out for the rest of the game.
But on one occasion, the universe shifted as planets aligned in one massive uber-eclipse and I found myself the last man standing on my side of the gym, while all my teammates watched and cheered from the sideline. On the other side of the gym was my nemesis and P.E. enemy, Mr. Jock.
I was filled with mixed emotions to say the least. As Goliath stood there staring at me under those Philistine eyebrows, tossing the red rubber ball in the air, just waiting for the right time to attack, I can remember thinking, “Wow, I actually made it this far! Yes, I’m about to die, but at least I outlasted my team mates for a few brief glorious moments.”
So now, I’m sure you’re waiting with baited breath, wondering what happened next. But to tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure. I really can’t remember. Maybe it’s because part of me was so ecstatic about making it that far, everything else is just a blur. It’s also possible that the trauma of getting my head pummeled by Mr. Jock’s signature move, the Exploder, gave me a bad case of selective memory. But I’m pretty sure what actually happened was rather anti-climatic. I believe I actually tried to catch his ball only to have it bounce free, leaving me with nothing but bright red marks on my forearms, which of course I wore like a badge of honor back in the locker room.
So here’s the moral of this story: When life hands you one brief moment of glory in the midst of your otherwise terrifying life, don’t miss it, don’t dismiss it, and by all means, don’t forget it. Celebrate it.