I wasn’t an athletic child. I was rather puny and awkward and pretty much hopeless at games. Well, not all games. I rocked at board games and word games and card games and oh my God, I was a geek! Good thing we are talking past tense, right? No? Whatever man! Say what you will, but the table was my stage and I sure could work it. The outdoors on the other hand, not my stage. All my gaming prowess became useless the instant I stepped outside. Out there, I was just a bag of left legs and arms.
In dodge ball, my skin was like a magnet for the ball; I swear that ball cut ninety degree corners to find me! In rounders, I was either tripping myself or tripping others or you know – getting hit by the ball. In skip rope, there was a lot of rope and a whole lot of tangling. In hopscotch…OK, you get it. I sucked! I was the kid no one wanted on their team. I knew it, and I didn’t much care. I knew that when I was up on my stage, all those athletic cheerleader types would be rooting for team me.
Besides, my awkwardness had other advantages – no one ever challenged me to those after school duels. You know, the ones where Shaka Zulu wannabes would draw lines in the dust and dare opponents to step over them (if they wanted to eat said dust).
If ever there was a show of bravado, this was it! I mean, if you’re going to do something, just do it! Why give so much power to a line in the dust?
Anyway, what do I know? In this arena, I wasn’t deemed a worthy opponent. Good for me. I was enjoying the benefits of non-violence, long before I ever heard of the Dalai Lama.
But I do remember one duel. Shaka and the other chap, let’s call him Sindile, both boys in my class. All day long, Shaka kept sounding reminders, saying stuff like “Coming soon to a line near you…” and each time, his crowd made scary ‘war sounds’ like “Y-e-a-h!’
In the other corner, I could just feel the fear churning in Sindile’s tummy. All day long, he just sat quietly like a chicken on Christmas eve. Then the bell rang and school was over. Shaka and his crowd were first out the door – there was no escape for Sindile. He took his time putting away his books, then he sighed and stood up.
I followed Sindile. He was after all, my desk mate. Chap was in no hurry to receive his beating. The crowd grew silent as he approached. He stopped before his prancing challenger. The crowd closed in. The line in the dust was drawn.
“Step!” the order came.
Chap just stood there.
“I said step!”
Not a sway from my chap. Then someone pushed him right over the line.
“That doesn’t count!” declared Shaka. Things were getting dicey.
Again, the line was drawn. This time, Sindile stepped on it. He didn’t say a word, but his body language was like “I’m sick of this crap!”
I couldn’t believe what happened next. Shaka’s headdress fell to the floor. His hands hang limp, where his shield should have been. “I forgive you.” He said. But the voice too lacked oomph.
My chap took a few more steps then he walked right past him. Best fight I never saw. We all knew who the winner was. This Dalai Lama thing was really catching on!
Back at home, things played out a little differently in Dad’s courtroom.
“Give me ten reasons why you were rude to Mummy!”
It was always ten reasons. So any screw-ups were followed by hours of speech rehearsal. And when Dad got home, I’d have all of three reasons for my error in judgement. I’d try to stretch the reasons as best I could, but in the end I still got my serving of whacks.
But then I turned eight and Dad said I’d gotten old enough to listen with my ears instead of my behind. He didn’t use those exact words, but that was the bottom line. He he…get it?
Dad would sit me down like a grown up and talk to me. He had this way of reaching deep and pulling all the guilt to the surface. Then the words would haunt me for days.
“If not your mother, who my child? Who?” I really missed the rod unsparing days. But as Dad always said “Let’s talk and listen. This is how grownups solve their problems.”
Talk and listen, huh? I sure wish grownups did more of this. I sure wish we understood, not feared our differences. I sure wish we hid less behind lines in the dust, and instead blurred the lines of them vs us. I sure wish we reacted less to the rants of so-called opinion leaders, and instead formed unbiased opinions of our own. I sure wish we respected each others stage with the same zeal with which we demand that they respect ours.
I sure wish we fought less.