I ran for the sideline to get another helmet, desperate to not let the team down. An image of the fullback’s muscle-knotted arms protecting the football with simultaneous animal grunts and flash of light hung in my mind. I had just tackled another young man who outweighed me by fifty pounds.
The raw power of snapping a face mask off a football helmet emerged and disappeared quickly as we lined up for the next play. I’d never known a face mask could just break.
Decades later with many visits to that moment and others like it in my football career and life, I’ve taken time to look repeatedly at what went into that vivid moment.
I now admit to feeling a bit of shame still. And that emotion is fueling this writing so that by accepting it I may relax with its gift of returning to my integrity.
How does it make sense to say I feel shame? What I did was what we were taught to do. Tackle with your face, cause a fumble. That’s what I was supposed to do. And I got praise and satisfaction for doing it….and maybe a concussion.
That moment of aggressive power that went beyond the limits of protective headgear is still unfolding as a life lesson for me and so I share it with you.
My painful feeling of humiliation persists so long as I look down on my behavior as somehow unworthy. This isn’t just about a play on the football field. Observing and weighing my life has served me well, guiding to the understanding that there are experiences which are not worth repeating.
Endangering or hurting our physical bodies goes against Nature. Biological life forms are discouraged from repeating behaviors which are damaging to them. We can see it in plants and organisms. This discouragement happens via feelings and thoughts.
Physical and emotional pain guide us to continued life. Still on the topic of shame here, up ’til this moment, the feeling of embarrassment about the broken facemask has continued to nudge me towards accepting that something unnatural happened and ought not to be repeated.
So here’s the way the lesson appears to me now.
I was for the first 19 years of my life chasing after acceptance by others, meaning my father first and anyone who might see me performing. My development included social influences which led to more regard for the opinion of others than I had for myself. I became a minion of others’ thoughts and values by overruling my inherent biological drive to be healthy.
The reasons for being out there in front of thousands of people included one I am still learning to ignore:
You shouldn’t let fear rule you
The idea that fear is unmanly is no longer true for me. What I now understand is that ignoring fear can be an act of cowardice.
I was on that football field because I was afraid to say “I’m afraid”.
I accept that my ability to overrule the universal drive to stay healthy is also part of my life. I get to direct my body, senses, thinking. It’s up to me whether I choose to endure difficulty and pain for others. This choosing is part of our intelligence and allows for the preservation of life in the ways we see as most beneficial.
Helping others is a primary drive in life. By helping others, we simultaneously help ourselves, even if it means we give up our own comfort.
Would you risk your life for your children? Would you give your life for them?
The ability to put ourselves in harm’s way is a choice we all have and use. Back to the football field and my long term lesson about fear.
For me, the choices I have made to ignore my own feelings and do what others valued has gone awry when my integrity was overruled. That happened when I was 12 and tried out for football.
Tackling practice is necessary to learn how to tackle. A sick feeling inside me said, as I watched the boys in front of me line up to run into each other, “this is not good for me”.
My turn came and went. The predictable pain happened and encouraged me to leave, to run away, to protect myself. But my thinking was influenced by another fear, the fear of not being accepted, approved of. My father was standing over there watching. So I continued.
Today I speak from the integrity that has not diminished and speaks constantly. It’s important to know and share what I feel, including and especially when I am afraid, so that my non-fear, my wise and understanding self will choose what happens now.
This post was previously published on The The Father Connection and is republished here with permission from the author.
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