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Revenge, Boxing, & Forgiveness

When I was 12 years old, I took over a paper route delivering newspapers for the Peoria Journal Star.  Every day, I picked up the newspapers at Stafford’s Dairy, which was located about 6 blocks from my parents’ home.

There was a boy my age who periodically hung out in the parking lot of Stafford’s dairy, where he smoked cigarettes and caused trouble.  His name was Rick.  Shortly after I started delivering papers, Rick started picking on me.  He would get in my face and cuss at me, and when I tried to walk away, he would start pushing me and daring me to fight him.  Although I was strong for my age, I didn’t feel that I had the fighting skills to take him on.  Consequently, each time he became confrontational, I acted as though his actions didn’t bother me and got away from him as quickly as possible.

In order to avoid seeing Rick, I eventually started varying the times I arrived at Stafford’s Dairy to pick up the newspapers.  To say that I hated him is an understatement.  Unfortunately, the only time I was ever willing to fight him was in my imagination, which was on a regular basis.  Of course, in my imaginary fights, I always pulverized him.

After I gave up my route, I didn’t see Rick again until I started high school.  Although we attended the same high school, we didn’t have any classes together.  By then, he was into drugs and hung around students I wasn’t associated with.  I don’t ever remember crossing paths with him at the school.  I’m not sure he even knew I was a student at the same school.  He eventually dropped out and I never saw him again.

When I learned that Rick had dropped out of school, I was disappointed.  I had started lifting weights when I was in 8th grade, and joined the wrestling team my freshman year.  Although I wasn’t a very good wrestler my first year, everything fell into place my sophomore year and I ended the season with only one loss (on points rather than by being pinned to the mat).  I had looked forward to the day when I could finish what Rick had started, but he ruined my plans by dropping out of school.

During my junior year, I heard that Rick’s younger brother, Danny, had come into the school as a freshman.  When I asked around about him, I was told that he was a bully and a troublemaker just like his older brother.

During the second semester of my senior year, my class schedule was arranged in such a way that every afternoon I passed one of my cousins in the hallway at the same time.  On one particular day when I passed him, he had a look of fear on his face and was running down the hallway.  I turned around to see what was going on.  There was a guy right on his tail chasing him.  It was Rick’s brother, Danny.

By the time I caught up with them, Danny had knocked my cousin’s books out of his hand.  The books were scattered all over the floor.  While my cousin was on his knees attempting to pick up his books, Danny was standing over him taunting him and telling him that he was going to kick his a**.

I helped my cousin pick up his books.  After I handed the last book to my cousin, Danny was still taunting him.  I bolted toward Danny and knocked him down.  As he was getting up, I yelled at him: “If you want to fight him, you’re going to have to go through me first!  We can take care of this now or after school.  Which one do you want – now or after school?”

Danny stood up and raised both of his hands in front of him with his palms facing toward me and said: “Hey man, this isn’t between me and you.  You don’t have anything to do with this.  It’s between me and him.  I don’t want to fight you.”  I told Danny that he was going to have to fight me first, but he kept repeating: “I don’t want to fight you.  This isn’t between me and you.”

I then got in Danny’s face and hollered, “If you ever lay a hand on him, I will hunt you down and beat you into the ground!  Do you understand?  You’re not to ever touch him or talk to him again.  Do you understand me?”  At that point, Danny stepped back and looked around at the crowd of students that had formed a circle around us.  In a defiant tone of voice, he shouted, “Yea, I understand!”   Then he turned around, pushed his way through the students, and disappeared into the crowd.

I walked my cousin to his next class and told him that if Danny ever talked to him or bothered him again to let me know.  He thanked me for sticking up for him and walked into the classroom.  For the next few weeks, I asked my cousin every day if Danny said anything to him or bothered him.  The answer was always “No.”

As I think back about what happened, I’m glad Danny didn’t take me up on my challenge.  When I saw how he was treating my cousin, I was filled with rage.  If we would have ended up fighting, I probably would have really harmed him (instead of just teaching him a lesson).  It had been 6 years since his brother had bullied and humiliated me, and it was payback time.  I wanted revenge.  Since I couldn’t even the score with Rick, I was willing to settle for his brother.

I thought about Rick and his younger brother, Danny, last week when I read about the death of “Smokin’” Joe Frazier.  My mind flashed back to 1971.  At that time, I was in 8th grade and was a huge fan of the heavy weight boxing champion of the world, Mohamed Ali.  In March of that year, at Madison Square Garden in New York, Joe Frazier beat Mohamed Ali.  It was the first loss of Ali’s 11-year professional boxing career.  Ali went on to beat Frazier in two subsequent matches: “Ali-Frazier, II” in 1974, and “The Thrilla in Manila” in 1975.  As with all of his fights, Ali mercilessly taunted Frazier before, during, and after the fights.

You’ve heard of “perfect love”?  During that period of time, there was “perfect hate” between Ali and Frazier.  The difference between the two of them was that Ali made it fun to hate his opponent.

Besides superior skills, the greatest fighters of all time have had two qualities in common: anger and hate.  That’s why champion fighters are so good.  In their own minds, their anger and hate toward their opponents justifies their cruelty.  They have adopted the belief that if they don’t absolutely crush their opponents, they will get crushed.  Their opponents are not only their enemies in the ring, but oftentimes, become enemies for life.  Forgiveness is never an option.

In 1996, Mohamed Ali was asked to light the Olympic torch in Atlanta.  After the ceremony, a reporter asked Joe Frazier what he thought about Ali being asked to light the torch.  Frazier’s response was short and to the point: “They should have thrown him in.”  It had been 21 years since Frazier’s last loss to Ali and the anger and hate toward Ali still consumed him.

This year (March 8, 2011) was the 40th anniversary of Frazier’s first fight with Ali.  Prior to the anniversary date, Frazier told a reporter, “I forgive him.  He’s in a bad way.”  The “bad way” Frazier was referring to was Ali’s deteriorating physical condition.  Ali has suffered for years from Parkinson’s Syndrome.  His condition has gotten so bad he has trouble speaking and can barely write his name (because of the constant trembling).

As a senior in high school, it never occurred to me that I should forgive Rick for the way he treated me.  Prior to this year, I wonder if it ever occurred to Joe Frazier that he should forgive Mohamed Ali.  One of the hardest things for us humans to do is to forgive another person for his or her cruel behavior, especially if the person happens to be a family member. Next week I’m going to share with you a very simple and powerful technique I use when I want to forgive another person for his or her past behavior.

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