There are events in life that reach the level of defining moments. These are moments or timeframes that teach a lesson and generally build confidence in some way.
I was 12 years old and I just entered the seventh grade at the school across the river. This was a big deal to a shy, unconfident young boy like me.
My family had me trapped in a time warp and I did not know how to break out of it.
This was 1968.
While everyone my age was sporting longish hair, I was still sporting a crewcut, kind of like something out of 1962. My appearance, posture, and timidity were like letters on a neon sign that said, “pick on this kid.”
When I say, “the school across the river”, I mean it literally. Up until the time, with the exception of second grade when I attended a Catholic School, I attended elementary school in a public school which was two blocks from my house.
It was safe, comfortable, and in my neighborhood. Best of all, I knew everyone and everything.
Now that I was a “grown-up” seventh-grader I had to ride on a bus for about twenty minutes to a neighboring town that was part of our newly formed school district.
This school housed students from seventh through 12th grades. Now I was forced to attend school with kids from the town across the river who were rumored to be tough, strong, and thuggish, and I was going to be on their turf.
All went well until about a month into this new chapter in my life.
I was getting by and even made a few new friends, although we were still feeling each other out.
Then in a blink of an eye, I found myself staring down a crisis.
A strange kid from the neighboring town kept pushing me in the back as we stood in line. I had enough of his antics and pushed him back. Before I knew it, he threw down a challenge that the dozen of kids within earshot all heard. He challenged me to a fight behind the woodshop at lunch.
Because so many others heard the challenge, I could not back down.
Lunch was upon us before we knew it, and I had been growing more and more nervous about the impending brawl throughout the morning.
As I made my way to the “ring” behind the woodshop I was amazed that about 100 kids were already standing there, waiting for the fireworks to begin. I was going to be the main event for these bloodthirsty spectators. Before I knew it, my nemesis, Carl, appeared.
We both stood there facing each other, not knowing quite what to do.
Rather than hesitate for too long, I threw the first punch.
It was a roundhouse and landed solidly across Carl’s jaw. The brawl was on. We stood toe to toe and traded punches. I guess if you watch the latest Rocky movie you will get a sense of the damage we were inflicting on one another.
The crowd roared their approval. The spectators were ecstatic.
We were giving them a good show. Right before Carl and I reached the point of exhaustion we each felt a hand on the scruff of our necks. It was the vice-principal pulling us apart.
The bout was called.
It was a draw.
The crowd dispersed.
We were both shuffled into the school office, and because this was a simpler time in 1966, no police were called and no charges were filed. By later that afternoon, Carl and I were the best of friends. We had earned each other’s respect. No harm was done. Lessons were learned.
That was one of the first defining moments of my young life. I did learn lessons. It is interesting that I never got into another fistfight my whole time in high school. Other students saw I did not back down from the fight, and I gave out punishment as good as I got.
I also learned that there was truth to something my father had said. He said some of the best friends he had were people that he had gotten into a fight with when they first met. Standing up for what you believe and not backing down are powerful statements.
I am not advocating that anyone go looking for fights, but I am advocating that people stand up for what they believe.
This recalls another timeless truth; if you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything.