“You can’t kill The Rooster” – D. Sedaris
As he got back up, complaining about how he’d been unfairly checked, the player on the opposing team failed to notice that his skate had taken the liberty of slicing up my hand, my own hockey glove long gone. I failed to notice it at first as well, picking up my stick and skating towards my wayward glove, blood streaming down my hand. The ache was replaced by the adrenaline of being knocked on my ass after the aforementioned player and one of my teammates collided. As soon as I noticed the bleeding, I headed to the locker room to try and tape off the flow, more angry than hurt. These guys were bringing a tough game; it was one in which I would continually get knocked down, hit by pucks and otherwise made to look the fool as our fire department hockey team attempted to keep the losing point spread to less than double digits. I came back out onto the rink and promptly took a high-speed shot to the thumb as well as a few more shoves, hits and wayward stick beatings. Into the third period, I wound up for a slap shot and was able to finally score. Shortly thereafter I collided with another player and I’m pretty sure I broke my lower face, as I couldn’t feel my jaw after my head hit the ice.
We lost 7-5.
And it’s exactly what I needed.
My friend Jake is one of the operators of the site LIVXFIT, a place where CrossFit mentality is applied to domains outside of the gym, utilizing positive values to approach life’s continual hurdles. We’ve been mind-bending ideas about his take on adversity, dealing with it, working through it, overcoming it. I recently threw my virtual hands in the air, signing off with the complaint of how I’m not exactly a good sounding board at this point. There is chaos o’plenty in my household, it’s not being helped in any way by the gossiping of people in my world and I’m feeling like a grade-A failure at so much right now; these aren’t exactly ingredients for overcoming your adversity with your head held high.
Then I took a look down at my leg. That’s my tattoo in the picture. It stems from a mock-Latin phrase made popular in World War II by General “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell and translates into “Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down” (I’ll leave you to decipher the red ink). A song by the same name was made popular by ska band The Toasters back in my younger years. I’d always liked that saying, and one day when a good friend closed our correspondence with that phrase, I knew immediately what my next tatt would be.
Funny thing about getting ground down by bastards and adversity in general: we usually don’t get the luxury of determining which adversity we’d like to embrace or which bastards will be attempting to grind us down. Places like CrossFit allow us to define our challenger (weights or times or strands of rope hanging from the rafters), and failure to overcome our self-imposed adversity can be conquered with the repetition, discipline and determination. I’d love to be able to choose which obstacles will be placed in my life’s path so that I could prepare, train and eventually, hopefully, triumph; to do this all while striking manly poses and giving off the scent of cool confidence would be even better, thank you very much. Even house fires and vehicle accidents, while chaotic in nature, can be mitigated with the application of training, knowledge and experience. When we successfully extinguish a fire, it’s not a triumph over adversity; it’s our job.
Unfortunately, our choices, both good and bad, dictate just how hard those bastards will come out swinging. Oftentimes those bastards turn out to be our own selves, and we’re left bloodied and battered and bruised by the struggle. Some turn to spiritual guidance for solace. Others, cynics and agnostics alike, often look down into the well of their own soul, searching for strength from within. Wherever it comes from, the ability to rise to the challenge of adversity boils down to survival. It’s easy to say you’d choose to be strong should the occasion demand it; I’d also like to say I’ll lift a car off of a baby if I have to, in spite of the fact that I wrenched my back trying to lift 315lbs. of non-screaming metal off of the ground a few months ago. Only actual experience will bear out whether we have the sand to make it in this tragic and beautiful life. I can only hope that turning towards whatever adversity that rolls my way gives me a chance to survive the impact and learn from the experience. It’s gotta beat curling up in a ball and screaming at the circumstances.
As we limped off of the ice, I noticed some of my best friends on our team were grinning like foxes in the henhouse. They knew, as did I, that despite getting the ever-loving shit kicked out of us, we brought a tough game right back to them. They were better players and the scoreboard showed that. Our ragtag band of hockey-illiterate firemen had somehow scraped a few points off a well-prepared challenger; at least we got to select the adversity in advance. But the spirit shown is the same that I’m finding necessary to endure the challenging times that lay ahead.
Our paths aren’t well lit, nor pre-determined, in this life. It’s time to take a puck to the face and realize that it won’t, after all, kill you. It’ll hurt like hell and if you’re lucky, the scar will be more of the “life of danger” type than the “I look like a serial killer” variety. But that’s not what matters. The struggle, however, does. Let’s make damn sure we’ve given it all that we’re capable of, even if at the end of the day, the scoreboard doesn’t declare us the victors. The victory lies within the effort.