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TEDDY ATLAS WORDS FROM THE CORNER: Lessons Learned As Scars Heal

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I’m a boxing guy so I tend to think of most things in terms of fighting.  The other day I was thinking about the condition of this country.  I thought of it in the same way you might look at a fighter during a bout. You can look to see if he’s breathing with his mouth open- which can often tell you if he is getting tired.

I tried to imagine where we as a country are in the fight.  Is it still the early rounds-middle-or is it getting late?

Thinking of time in that way seemed to make me drift.  I thought about what such a tough and often misunderstood sport had done for me, aside from flattening my nose.  It helped get me to a practical way of thinking.  I mean either you move your head or you get knocked on your backside. Reality in a world confused and deluded by reality TV and politics.

Responsibility was taught- if you didn’t do your road work and hit the bag even when you were tired, well,  you might be sorry in the second or third round when your opponent looked like he was just getting warmed up.  The one main thing you learned was accountability.  If you got your bell rung by a left hook, the reason was simple— you dropped your right hand.  You couldn’t blame the ref, or the fans for cheering louder for the other guy.  These memories made me wish that some of our politicians and so-called leaders could take a few boxing lessons.  But I realize very few people will ever bring themselves to a boxing gym to have those virtues banged into their heads.  Then it kind of hit me that it hadn’t initially been the sport of boxing that first introduced me to these necessities of life.  It had been a doctor.  A general practitioner  who worked seven days a week and did house calls— free ones— in between. He was my father.  And while boxing might deliver the jab and right cross it was his words and his way of living that allowed me to see them coming.  He was the one when as a stupid 15 year old I walked into his office both wobbly and cocky as if I had done something to be proud of instead of ashamed.  And as my two similarly intelligent friends cleared the way like a corner man leading a fighter to the ring my father stood there in his crowded office of sick people and looked at me holding a towel to my head as the blood ran down,  and calmly and firmly said have him go and wait like everyone else.  I hadn’t done anything nearly as noble as taking a jab to the head in the ring; no,  I had a tire iron delivered to my skull in a street fight.

So now, no longer feeling the pride of a Joe Frazier walking down the isle of “Madison Square Garden,” behind the cheers of an honoring audience, I sat in a plastic chair that looked the way that I felt.

Cheap and unspectular.

And after the real patients, the ones who didn’t want to be there, had been seen by the doctor it was my turn.  And as his nurse prepared the needle of novocain my dad asked something that I’m sure he had never asked before in all his years of medical practice: “What is that for?”

“The pain,” she said…and his answer was as swift and accurate as an Ali combination.

“He doesn’t want that.. if he’s going to live this kind of life he needs to know what it feels like.”

How right he was.

But four years later the lesson had yet to be learned.  Life is like that.. at times delivering segments like courses of a meal giving you time in between to digest and perhaps contemplate whether you had enough.  I had just come out of surgery where 400 stitches (200 inside and 200 outside) had been sewed into the left side of my face after a knife had opened it. I can still remember lying in my bed still in and out of consciousness like a fighter—a very inexperienced and careless one at that— trying to keep from being knocked out.  Then finally I was where I wanted to be, back to a safe place, in my corner with a familiar and trusted voice that I had been waiting and hoping to hear.  It was my father, and at first I only ‘felt’ him there, but then I could see his shadow and feel his hand softly, but purposefully probing my face.  Then,  as he had those years ago with what some might interpret as a cold tone,  he delivered an empathetic and brutally honest diagnosis of the situation.  He said, “A good job,  but there will be a scar the rest of your life.”

The surgeon had done a good job…and I do have a scar the remainder of my life.  {And I have lived a positive and productive life since.}

If somehow we could for a moment get to that ‘very practical’ very real world we do live in, and put aside all politics, whether conservative- liberal- populist-progressive- lock it all away in a storage room of a great arena.  Where hooks and jabs are exactly what they are meant to be- straight and forward.  Not some wiggly contrived words from a promoter or politicians’ mouth.  And in that moment might we look at our country and some of what is happening and say,  ‘Good job, but there will be a scar.’  After all the economy is strong, stock market is up, unemployment is down, and there is an attempt to better protect our borders.  But there is also the other side with concerns of international relations- healthcare- proper handling of immigration-taxes and climate control- things that can leave a ‘scar’.

I guess what I am saying is that we need to sometimes see the good.. not ignore the bad, but allow ourselves to learn as we move forward. We can live with a scar and even understand that it will fade with time.  But we cannot live and we cannot prosper if we only fight.  Then scars do not heal. And life does not move forward.  It stands still and there is no applause in the arenas for ‘well fought’ fights and properly presented arguments.  There is no appreciation of courage and guile.  There is only the howling that exists when anger and fear are thrown together into a dark pit.  We are supposed to be better than that.  We have to be better than that if we are going to have a future where old fights and old mistakes may leave a mark, but also can lead to a place where a good life can be lived.

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