When I say that Mr. Thomas was scrawny I don’t want it to seem like an insult. I guess it sort of does, though. I’ve never heard anyone use that word in an overly positive way. “The bride looks simply stunning in her wedding dress…and she’s so scrawny. Her husband-to be-is one lucky man.” It just doesn’t fit.
To me, though, the word scrawny means “little, but tough.” The person being described that way may be small in stature and somewhat frail looking, but he is a survivor. Life may have knocked him down a few times, yet he keeps getting back up and pressing forward with pride, strength, and honor.
Mr. Thomas was scrawny.
As I have mentioned before, I was a band geek during middle school and most of high school. In the marching band I played the mellophone (sort of like a bloated trumpet) and in the concert band I played the french horn. Don’t make fun. Us french hornists are a tough, tight-knit group. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. So you better check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or something like that.
Somewhere during my band days, Mr. Thomas became the assistant band director. Unlike many of my teachers, I never heard his back-story. I wasn’t told anything about where he came from or anything at all about his past accomplishments. He just showed up one day, a 125 pound man of mystery on a mission to whip the Carter High School Band into shape. I’m not sure he accomplished this, but he did put a whipping on himself occasionally.
He made a habit of punching himself in the gut. He did this to show those of us who played brass instruments the kind of muscle control and abdominal strength we could gain if we kept playing. So at least once a week we got to see a man who looked to be approximately a billion years old breathe in real fast, then breathe out real fast, then stiffen up and punch himself in the stomach as hard has his little bony fist could punch. I grimaced each time he did it because I was afraid that he might punch a whole right through himself. It was terrifying.
He told us a story about being the band director of a high school several years before that had a football coach who didn’t appreciate the band as much as Mr. Thomas thought he should. To defend the band’s honor, Mr. Thomas told the coach about how well-conditioned being a trumpet player had made him. The coach scoffed at the notion. That is when Mr. Thomas issued his challenge.
Mr. Thomas told the football coach that he could take the coach’s hardest punch to the stomach and not lose his breath.
The coach, wanting to put the scrawny band director in his place, took him up on the challenge. They stood to face each other. Mr. Thomas breathed in real fast, then breathed out real fast, then stiffened himself up and nodded to the coach to take his best shot. The coach rocked back, stepped forward, and punched Mr. Thomas in the stomach with all of the force that he could muster. The punch sent Mr. Thomas flying into the wall, hitting it with a thud before crashing to the ground.
But he never lost his breath.
This story was a source of great pride for Mr. Thomas. He stood up to a bully, took his best shot, and gained some respect in the process. Sure, he wasn’t as big or as strong as the coach, but he proved that he was just as tough. He took a punch to the gut and was thrown against the wall, but he didn’t lose the challenge.
Unlike Mr. Thomas, I haven’t had a lot of physical punches to the gut throughout my life and I sure don’t make a habit of hitting myself. But I have had plenty of emotional punches to the gut and they hurt just as bad. Often they hurt worse.
Doing the best you can do only to hear words that make you feel worthless. Helping others when they are down only to find no one willing to help when the same things happen to you. Dreams being shattered beyond repair and the feelings of despair that arrive along with the heartache.
What are we to do when the punches to the gut seem like they are never going to end?
I think that being like Mr. Thomas is a good idea. Let’s breath in real fast, breath out real fast, stiffen up and prepare for the punch. And when it comes let’s refuse to let go of our breath of hope no matter how hard the hit is or how far it knocks us back.
The punches to the gut aren’t going to change, but we can change how we react to them.
Reacting like a scrawny assistant band director sounds like a good idea.
(Have you been punched in the gut and responded well? Maybe you were hit a responded poorly? Either way–go ahead and share.)