BOWEN COLUMN: Lesson-learned the hard way, back behind the gym

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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In all of our studies, we are constantly trying to teach people — whomever will listen — a lesson or two they can retrieve when needed. For some reason, while thinking on that thought, this story came to mind, along with the lesson: Some of the best lessons may be taught … back behind the gym. Read on.

As a boy, I never liked to fight. Mama always said, “Just walk away.” I’d even do better. I’d take off and run, if needed.

But sometimes, a fight hunts you down. When I was about nine, I was down at what we call the “Y” — a nice recreation center in my old hometown with a gym on one end and an air-conditioned section with ping pong tables and a TV on the other. I was taking a break one day from playing basketball and was relaxing watching TV when a young fella I’d never seen before walked in, looked me over, and said, right out of the blue, “Hey, buddy, do y’think you can whup me?”

Stunned, I looked at the fella and saw immediately that he was at least two years older than I, and three years bigger. You never know what you will say in those moments, but I just said “I dunno,” and continued to watch TV. After a few minutes, I walked out of the TV room and went to play a game of ping pong; but the walls around those rooms were all glass, so he easily found me again, and said, “No, tell me, do y’think you could whup me?”

I shrugged again and very nonchalantly said, “Prob’ly could,” my tongue obviously engaging without consulting my brain. As soon as I had spoken, the boy grabbed me by the shirt, said “Let’s go,” and dragged me out behind the gym. We weren’t alone either, because you can’t keep the news of a good fight away from the crowd. A dozen spectators gathered around before the fight started, many of them being friends of my big brothers Tim and Wayne. Once outside earshot of any adults, my newfound friend proceeded to beat the tar out of me. I don’t know any other way to say it. It was a pitiful sight.

I guess the first lesson is don’t get into a fight with a fella who you know is going to beat the tar out of you … neither back behind the gym or anywhere else.

But he made a mistake. During the whipping, he rared back and kicked me in the shin. That flat made me mad, for the first time. I didn’t mind getting beat up, but the kicking in the shin really hurt, and I started crying. I can’t explain what I did next. I went crazy, tearing into him like a hound dog on a pork chop, swinging at anything I could see move. It didn’t take long before the boy turned and took off running — I mean, running away and never planning on coming back, I guess. But he didn’t get far. The older boys grabbed him and put him through some added embarrassment by making him admit that he really was scared of me and didn’t want any more of what he just got — which may have been worse than the whipping itself.

It’s a funny thing — I never saw that boy again. I never got his name, never learned where he came from, and never knew why he did what he did.

It was just a fifteen-minute acquaintance, and he was gone as quickly as he came. But, when he left, he had learned a valuable lesson, one I hope he is still carrying with him: Being a bully isn’t all that cool, after all. That was what he was.

He was just a bully. He found the littlest boy in the Y and picked a fight with him; and he never expected to go home with a black eye, bloody nose, and an ear as red as a beet — and some well-earned, real-life, bona fide humility to boot.

I never forgot my lesson; and I hope he never forgot the lesson he learned that day, either … back behind that cruel gym.