It was obvious that something was bothering him but he didn’t want to talk about it.  Like me, he can be guilty of bottling up his emotions wanting to work through them himself.  After several failed attempts at getting him to open up, he finally relented.  He was discouraged.  He was just starting school and already he was finding the homework difficult.  He just couldn’t remember stuff from last year.  I tried to encourage him that was normal and suggested we work on it together to jog his memory.  He doesn’t want to work on it together.  He wants to be able to do it himself.

Then there was flag football tryouts.  He was pretty sure he wasn’t going to make the team and that had him down too.  Why couldn’t he just be good, really good, at one thing he wondered.  I remember thinking the same way at his age.  I longed to be stellar at something but had the sinking feeling that at best I was just average.  Of course, at that age, what mattered was being an athletic superstar and looking good.  If you had natural athletic ability and were beautiful, you were in for sure.  Even having one of the two was good.  Having neither, you were pretty much doomed to the out group.  If your natural gift was that you were smart, you were classified a nerd.  I don’t think artistic ability even registered anywhere.  I didn’t have the magic combination or even one of the two desirable traits and I knew it.  It depressed me the way it’s starting to depress him now.

We talked, him and I.  I gave a short but impassioned spiel about character.  Learn to persevere despite what you don’t seem to have.  Find your groove.  Everyone has one.  Be patient and just keep trying.  Be the best you can be.  He listened and I think he felt a little better for our talk.  It’s hard for me to see him suffering the same inner trauma I struggled with for so long.  I’d rather he was confident, believing he could take on the world, going for it.  I hoped that I wouldn’t see shades of myself, especially those undesirable shades, popping up to haunt yet another generation.  My own struggle with mediocrity kept me from trying so many things for such a long time.  If I couldn’t be the best at something, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to try at all.  I limped through my teen years feeling vastly inferior to pretty much everyone, nursing an anger inside about it all.  At least I got him to talk about it.  That’s more than I did.

Thinking about it all again, I came across an article in the newspaper I deliver daily.  It was about the young Terry Fox.  Apparently he wasn’t very athletically gifted.  He wanted to play basketball but was short and wasn’t as talented as his peers.  His coach tried to gently steer him to cross country running but young Terry was determined to succeed.  He began showing up early at school so that he could practice and improve.  His first year he played a scant 12 minutes on the court.  He also wasn’t naturally a great runner.  The coach telling the story said that more often than not he was dead last not because he was goofing off or anything, just because he wasn’t that great at running.  He worked hard and after a few years became co-captain of the basketball team at his school.  He just refused to give up.  His determination and perseverance, developed in those early years at school, would be exactly what he needed when he faced something way more challenging, cancer and a leg amputation.  Of course, now everyone knows the name Terry Fox.  Books have been written about him, statues erected in his honor, streets named after him and annual runs conducted for his cause.  He wasn’t handed an easy hand to play but he didn’t let that stop him from becoming someone great.

That little story challenged me.  I still have a tendancy to get discouraged and want to give up when I don’t succeed right away.  I need to let problems and difficulties become stepping stones to more Christlike character instead of millstones that sink me in the pond of despondency.  My sphere of influence is small but it includes one boy that needs to see that hardship can lead to creativity, patience, greater appreciation, a whole host of good things.  I’ll let him read the Terry Fox article and hope that inspires him but more than that, I hope that he sees those qualities in my life.  I still haven’t really found my groove but I’m looking.  I’m trying to be the best that I can be right where I’m at.  Everyone who’s anyone probably started right where I’m at and if I can help even one person shorten the struggle or not have it at all, I’ll feel that I’ve succeeded.  Terry Fox had a coach that was willing to work with him.  Maybe I can be that for a kid that needs it.