I’m not sure if we were supposed to be in the Junior High band room, but there we were. The Three Musketeers…Randy, Paul, and Mike, hanging out before school, acting like we belonged there and were kings of that particular mountain. Come to think of it, at that point in our development, we might have been more like the Three Stooges, but no matter. There we were, 3 band geeks, with the jocks and brainiacs locked out of our territory, so we hadn’t a care in the world.
The problem with locking the perceived problems out of your world is that you can never lock out your real problems, the ones that you carry around inside of you. Mike, Randy, and I were good buddies. We got along great, until some little minor tiff escalated into an all-out row. This morning, all it took was a little ribbing. Naturally, I started it. Randy had a cleft in his chin and I started teasing him about how he was going to be able to shave when his beard started to grow. Randy was a little touchy this particular morning and he was hurt, so he went for the jugular. “How about that acne? How you gonna shave around that?” He had a point, but at thirteen, I was more than a little touchy about my problem. “Well, my pimples will go away, but you’ll always have that cleft” I’m still amazed that such a little, stupid flap could grow into a major altercation, but before we knew how it happened, we were trading blows right there in the hallway leading to the practice rooms.
Back and forth, we went–smacking each other on the body with our fists, until I stopped short. “I’m not doing this,” I stated as I turned away. “What’s wrong with you? You chicken?” came the mocking reply from Randy. “Maybe you’ve had enough. You know I can beat you up!” I retorted, “No, that’s not it, but I’m not fighting with you!”
Now before you get in your heads that I stopped from some noble flash of discernment, realizing that I was destroying a friendship, you need to understand that no such thing was true. I just knew something that few others knew about Randy and it was enough to make me put on the brakes and back away from the physical brawl. When Randy was born, he had a congenital heart defect, a hole between the chambers of his heart which allowed the blood to flow from one chamber to the other, instead of being pumped out to his whole body. When he was a toddler, an operation had been performed to repair the hole, but he still had the scar in his chest, and he was never allowed to participate in sports or physical education classes. The only thing that stopped me from pummeling him as long as I had strength, was the picture I had in my head of Randy on a stretcher, headed to the hospital because some coward caused his heart to stop working. Now, I know it was highly unlikely that anything like that could have happened, but then, I was scared to death.
“Why won’t you fight me?” he asked. “I just won’t,” I replied. Within minutes, he was crying, because he realized that I had stopped as a result of his weakness, not mine. It was an interesting feeling, to know that I had defeated him by not fighting…not a great feeling, but a little eye-opening to be sure. Randy and I patched up things and went on being the Three Stooges…er…Three Musketeers, along with Mike for a few more years, but that day still stands out in my mind as a reminder that there are better ways to win an argument than physical domination.
I learned that lesson about the physical aspect of domination, but it was about the same time that I started to come into my own with the verbal arguments. I had learned to argue early. Well, being the youngest of five children, you could hardly expect me to handle it otherwise. I’d love to tell you that my verbal problem was solved while I was still young, but I still struggle with it. Perhaps that’s the reason that the inscription from Proverbs, which my Father wrote on the fly-leaf of the Bible he and Mom gave me as a graduation gift, says: “A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” Mom and Dad knew well the mayhem I could cause with my motor mouth.
Maybe someday, the transformation will be complete, but the lessons learned along the way keep shoving me that direction. I still don’t always get the muzzle on in time, but I’m working on it. The reminder that the spiritual heart can be damaged by verbal brawling is every bit as powerful as the lesson I learned about physical brawling in the band room with Randy that day so many years ago.
It seems that maybe instead of using fists or mouth, it might be better to put a fist into our mouth until the moment passes. I think I’ll try that next time…
“Discussion in an exchange of knowledge; An argument, an exchange of ignorance.”
(Robert Quillen, American journalist and humorist, 1887-1948)