Sunday, March 13, 2011


An e-mail I sent to a good friend of mine, updating him on my life.

Hey X, 
I am glad to hear that you have been flinging your cat around. If you wish, I will show you advanced cat hurling techniques and if I deem your skills acceptable, even cat annihilation techniques. Despite the name, these techniques also work on pigs, bears and humans. You may have already intuited this knowledge. 
In response to your question, my life has been rather fulfilling of late as I've been learning a lot (though I always wish I had more time to reflect on these lessons!). I guess I shouldn't be, but I was rather surprised that the martial arts gym I've been going to for the past two months has been the source of my insight. I absolutely LOVE this gym. It's always packed, but that's OK because the gym isn't your traditional gym where you get on a machine and flail away. No, entering this gym feels like entering a hipster military bootcamp. Tattooed patrons are doing jumping jacks, pushups and squats. Others are doing kettlebells, still others are doing yoga or stretching.  
But you can find that at almost any gym. What separates this gym is the intensity with which many of the parishioners are approaching their workouts. See, what makes this gym special is that there's at least one professional fighter and about a dozen amateur fighters. If they're sloppy in their workouts they risk broken bones, concussions, even death. They train like their life is on the line because it is.  
This has been one of the most invigorating times in my life. I only took the basic membership which didn't allow for participation in the fighting classes but I was inspired just by training next to these warriors. Even the girls had spirits which pushed mine. One of them I might have passed on the street or in my daily routine and never given her a second thought but she came to the gym sporting massive bruises, green and purple on her shins. Others, men and women, had tape wrapped around broken toes, bruised ribs and yet they continued to train.  
My membership ended this past Tuesday and I've been feeling a bit listless as I've rested. Going back to training alone will be... well, lonely. I can find other teams to train with but I don't think it'll be the same. Distance athletes are too laid back. They may compete in 100+ mile races but many of them are mellow, married with kids. I miss the fervor and the intensity of a person who trains knowing that his own life is at risk. That's when I realized that I take this attitude into every area of my life, physical and otherwise. 
I grew up believing in certain truths. If you don't get a job at a big corporation with benefits, your life will be miserable and no one will want to marry you. If you don't go to the right school, you won't get such a job. If you don't get all 100's, then you won't get into the right school. The purpose of life is to have kids. People will get old and weak. As an adult, you have no time to enjoy life. Asian men will never be attractive to, nor respected by, Caucasian women. Whatever you do, don't date the white women.   
I could go on. But the most painful one was that getting steady pay and coming home to watch TV and go out to eat at restaurants was the best life had to offer. Play softball in the summer. Go to some island somewhere for vacation. I howled in the prison of that belief system. In all my ambitions, in all my training, I've fought for my release. I work so hard because I'm still trying to escape that prison. Perhaps others may find joy and God in such a life. Perhaps. But after a quarter century and change of living, I realize that normal sort of life numbs my sense of divine proximity. I sense God most truly when something great is being risked, when something audacious is attempted. God seems the furthest away when things are soft and safe. I long to live at the very fringes of existence, the places you can't bring a lawn chair, the places where iPads, iPad2s, iPhones and fancy cars look laughable.  
Sometimes I wonder whether it's my youthful vigor speaking and whether this attitude will flare out with age. "To hell with that!" I say. A Christian brother, parroting conventional wisdom, said that a guy like me couldn't do marathons and triathlons many years ago. Well, I got 2 of each under my belt with more to come. Conventional wisdom says that we grow decrepit and laid back as we age. Yet there are 80 year old power lifters and 90 year old marathoners. Those who say something is impossible should not interrupt those who are doing the impossible. 
Mmm, if this email seems a bit harsh and stringent, please forgive me. I am writing to answer your question but also as an exhortation and reminder to myself. In James, the author writes that a man who listens and fails to act is like a man who looks at his own reflection and then goes away forgetting what he looks like. I'm trying hard not to forget who God made me. For so many years, others drew my identity for me. Only lately have I begun scratching away the faded paint from the mirror and finding myself underneath. The reason I am so adamant, so unyielding, so contemptuous of those who lived the life I formerly did is because a big part of me hurts to be away from them. I desire community. Long for it. But I just can't have anybody. Five Points helped me realize what I need. I need people who train with their lives on the line. My soul is on the line, X. I find myself thinking like a man released from prison. "I can't go back. I'll do whatever I have to not to go back." 

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