I was recently reminded of an event where my then 90-year-old grandmother socked one of my cousins’ square in the eye. It began innocently enough with my cousin giving her a hard time about being in his way. Her response was to warn him that she could take him down with one smooth stroke. He mistakenly dared her to do it, stooping down to her height and saying “I dare you to hit me”.
You might guess the outcome – she put all the energy she could muster into her balled up fist and punched him in the eye. This story traveled through the family at nearly the speed of light, warning the rest of us that it wasn’t a good idea to mess with grandma.
I had a similar type of medicine applied to me at the age of twelve. Our neighbors, living just three doors down, were the Olsen’s. Though there might be tens of thousands of Olsen’s in the country, only one had a son who played football as a defensive lineman for the Los Angeles Ram’s Football Team.
Merlin Olsen graduated from college when I was three-years-old, so I never had the opportunity to meet him, but I did get to know his younger siblings as well as his parents. His Dad, Lynn Jay Olsen wasn’t a huge man, maybe slightly bigger than the average man, but his mother was a giant of a woman. Perhaps that’s where all the Olsen kids got their size from.
One Sunday as we were walking to our Sunday School class I was stopped by Merlin Olsen’s dad. I don’t know why he singled me out, maybe because I was being the nosiest of the group, but he had me stand still, extending my arms straight out as wide as I could reach. What happened next came as a surprise to all of us.
Mr. Olsen made a fist, and with what felt like the hardest pounding I have ever felt, punched me in the chest. Of course I wasn’t expecting to be thumped so the force of it landed me right on my rear end. I’m sure if he had meant to harm me he would have broken ten of my ribs, but instead he reached out his hand and helped me stand up. “I’m just checking to see how tough you are,” he told me. With all the wind knocked out of me all I could muster was “Did I pass?”
I think it was just the medicine I needed at the time to help remind me I wasn’t such a tough guy after all.
As I have gone through life I have often tried to pause and ask myself if I’m learning the right medicine. This could be kindness, compassion, humor, hard work or any number of other virtues. Like Lynn Olsen, people are put into our paths as we journey through life to help us discover things that make us better people.
If I were keeping score I’m sure I have been the recipient of more help from others than I have given to others. Maybe keeping score isn’t a virtue at all because once we get ahead, the human condition would have the effect of having us slow down. In a 100-meter dash, the runner who wins the race never looks back to see how close his pursuers are. He simply runs as fast as he is capable, knowing the first to the finish line is the winner.
Sometimes we are the runner who wins the race, but more often we’re just one of the competitors whose job it is to compete.