Given the fact that my brother and I were so involved with music, we never participated much in organized sports. We did, however, play many disorganized ones, such as a pick-up game of basketball, football or softball with our friends. I never excelled in any of them, but still enjoyed playing whenever the opportunity presented itself.
One such opportunity arose during a church youth camp many years ago, when a few of us teens chose sides for a game of football. Even though I weighed about a hundred and thirty five pounds soaking wet at the time, I still thought I could hold my own among the group I was playing in. Besides, this was church camp, so it’s not about whoever wins the game, but that we all had fun participating, right? Okay, I was overly optimistic and foolish back then.
My first clue should have been when a guy on the other team mentioned he played football for Lexington’s Tates Creek High School...on the varsity team. All that meant to me at the time was that it was a good thing we had someone playing who knew the rules. It didn’t even faze me when he ended up being the first guy I was supposed to block. I looked it as a challenge. I remember thinking I might not stop him, but at least I figured I could slow him down a bit. Did I mention I was overly optimistic and foolish back then? The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back, looking up at the sky, gasping for breath. That guy went through me as if I were one of those paper hoops the players run through at the start of a homecoming game, only I’m sure the hoop never wheezed with pain. After enduring a couple more hits like that I needed to make a choice. It would have been no disgrace to feign an injury and step off the field, but at the time the only thing that was really hurting, (aside from my chest, my gut, and the back of my head), was my pride. Instead I chose to stay in the game, and did my part for the team, which wasn’t very much. Mr. Tates Creek continued to outrun, slip past, and basically trample upon me for the rest of the game which, mercifully, didn’t last very long.
Afterward, when my ears finally stopped ringing and my breath returned, I tried to put my moment of bruised shame into perspective. This guy was good at football, or at least he was better than most of us playing that day. He had obviously worked hard to become that good. So even though I was little more than a doormat to this guy, I still considered my masculinity to be intact because I stayed in the game and didn’t back down. Besides, I’m sure this guy could never play along with one of Neil Peart’s drum solos, and I could. That put us on equal footing in my mind, so I held my dirt encrusted head high as I limped off to join the others for the evening meal.
I still carry this stubborn “stick it out and see things through” attitude with me today, but I still have moments when I find myself shrinking back and trying to call it quits. One such moment is when I find myself playing music with far superior musicians, which is pretty much any time I play music. A couple of years ago, a friend and I were asked to play along with a very talented Bluegrass group, even though neither of us played much Bluegrass music. At one point during an up-tempo tune, I looked over at my friend and asked him how he was doing. “My arm is going numb”, he said, with a big smile on his face. Mine was too, but as long as he kept playing, so did I. Neither of us proved to be very impressive that night, but just like that memorable football game, we lasted through it and managed to enjoy ourselves in spite of our limp arms. This is where humility comes in, and I remind myself of how much I can learn from others, and to be thankful I can play well enough to not stink. That’s the nice thing about music. Even if you aren’t super accomplished, as long as you can stay on beat and on key, no one minds your skill level. If either of us had given up and stopped playing, we would have missed out on a lot of fun.
Overcoming those deficient feelings and sticking it out becomes more crucial when it involves family and marriage. I certainly felt pretty much out of my league when I asked a certain Wyoming redhead to marry me, and even more so, after meeting her imposing city manager father. Somehow, I have been able to keep her happy, and like my music analogy, I have managed to stay on beat and on key enough for us to make beautiful music together. We have both stayed in this game together for quite a number of years because we have never considered quitting as an option, even after discovering we are sometimes not the perfect spouses to each other. We have walked through many challenges with our children and discovered we aren’t the perfect parents either, but our kids still need us just the same. In spite of our deficiencies we both still line up daily on that metaphorical line of scrimmage, and lead our family through the game of life; often against a front line that’s far rougher than that Tates Creek kid. At the end of the day, however, after the ringing in our ears subsides, we clean the encrusted dirt off our heads, and thank God we aren’t in this game alone.