To My Son on Wrestling “Senior Night”….
Within the month, you will be wrestling your last High School match. Your Senior season has been incredible to watch. What a journey it has been! Like most things, though, that journey is going to come to an end. One way or another, you will soon be wrestling your last match, ever. That sounds so final, doesn’t it? And, yet, that is how things go. High School students everywhere will have a series of last moments. Perhaps a final basketball game, or a final walk through the hallway, a final goodbye to a teacher. Life is full of “last” moments. They don’t need to be sad, though. The key is to live in such a way that we don’t long for them once they are gone because the lessons and memories that we learn from each experience will carry on with us like a beacon that guides us through the years.
Listen, it’s no secret how much I loved watching your matches. Despite my endless complaining about early mornings, limited food at the house during the season, or the hours of travel to get to some of the most remote high schools in the universe, the truth is that I will miss every bit of it. You will probably miss it, too. This is what I know, though…..Everything you will need to be successful in your life, you learned inside that circle. If you allow it, those matches will live on with you. Trust me on that.
I kept a journal of your experiences through the years. As your momma, you know I never cared about the points. I cared about the life lessons. SO much, in fact, that I am certain I exhausted you with my endless attempts at connecting the experience of a match to what you will experience in life. In the end, despite how far someone takes the sport, that is really what they are left with. The lessons.
Here are a few of my favorites through the years. These lessons are the ones that I feel you will revisit the most as you grow older. You don’t know it yet but those matches – mostly the ones you lost – have equipped you with a unique skill set that many won’t have. You won’t notice it at first but, eventually, you will wonder why there are moments in life that you seem to be able to handle better than other people do? I assure you that it will be because of the many times you have trained, battled, won, and lost on the mat. How do I know? I have been there. Though my “circle” was a “ring”, my life lessons were learned on the mat, too. You have told me that as a mom, I am tough. Karate taught me that. You have told me I am fair. Karate taught me that, too. It taught me patience, timing, and balance. Actually, almost every life skill I have came from the mat. Everyone has a different journey, though, and what you take away from your experience will be different from what I took from mine. From my perspective, however, these are some of the biggest lessons you learned that, now, you can hold close to your heart and take with you as you move on in life.
Lesson #1) You Learned About Courage
Let’s face it. The first time you stepped into that circle, especially as a freshman with no clue what you were doing, it had to be terrifying. And, yet, you took that step anyway – committing yourself to being the strongest version of “you” for six minutes. Every good thing that ever happened for you in wrestling ONLY happened because you were courageous that first time.
I think you will be surprised to find that many adults won’t be as courageous. Perhaps it will be their fear of failure, or their concern of looking foolish, but many folks won’t try new things. Don’t ever let yourself fall into that trap. When you are faced with something you have never done before, when you feel uncertain about your capability, or when someone asks something of you that you aren’t quite sure how to do, remember the courage you had at 14. I hope you walk out into the “middle of a circle” countless times in your life. You will find that Courage is the foundation of all great opportunities.
Lesson #2) You Learned How to Lose:
That entire first season was an endless stream of losses. It seems a long time ago now, but I am sure you recall them. They were quick – and they were brutal. Trying to encourage you to find a silver lining each time you lost, I would ask you what you learned? Annnd, each time you would tell me that you learned you didn’t like to lose. Ha!
Well, nobody does, right? But – the thing about life is that loss, be it literal or figurative, is a part of living. Eventually, everyone experiences it. If they don’t, they aren’t risking enough. Like wrestling, sometimes loss will be within your control. Other times, it won’t be. BUT – as much as it sounds like a cliché, what will ALWAYS be within your control is perspective. Also like wrestling, when you experience loss, you must ask yourself the painful question – “What did I learn from it?”
Lesson #3) You Learned How to Take Responsibility
We live in a world where many people seem to obsess over placing blame for their own shortcomings. When something doesn’t go well, they blame society, each other, their job, family, education, economy – the list goes on.
One of the most beautiful things about wrestling is the fact that when you lose, it is public. You can’t hide from it. You can’t pretend you didn’t lose. You can’t spin the story. You can’t rewrite the ending. With the raise of an opponent’s hand, a wrestler is instantly must make one of three choices:
#1) Blame someone or something for the loss.
#3) Take responsibility for the loss and then get busy figuring out how to get better!
Thankfully, you chose the third.
At the end of Sophomore year, YOU decided you were done losing the majority of the time. I couldn’t make it better for you. Your coach couldn’t make it better. Your teammates couldn’t make it better. Only you could. And, you did. When you asked for me to drop you off 15 hours from home and leave you for a month – well, it was the scariest thing I have ever done. I couldn’t tell you at the time but I thought you were in waaaaay over your head. After looking at the skill level of the wrestlers, I prayed for your safety. (Literally – LOL). I knew you wouldn’t quit but I waited for the call that you were hurt. It never came. I held my breath. You held your own. You learned. You listened. You grew.
From the moment you came home with that damn Black Shirt (LOL), you were a different person. I never worried about you again. Whether it was your internal drive, lessons you learned while you were at JROB, or just the mere fact that you took action to change something in your own world – I knew that you had acquired a huge piece of life’s puzzle. I didn’t know how your choice would affect your wrestling but I certainly knew how it would change your future. I will never be able to put into words how proud I was of you that summer.
Lesson #4) And, Then You Learned to Win
As we found out, the camp did change everything. And, suddenly, the landscape became very different. Everything heated up. Goals changed. The battles were bigger. The lessons were, too. One of the great truths about wrestling is that one day you will be better than someone – and the next, someone will be better than you. When you found yourself at the top of the podium, I was proud that you didn’t act like a jackass. And, when the tide turned and someone else was up there, you were grateful when the other guy didn’t, either.
Humbleness and Graciousness can never be overrated. Not on the mat…and certainly not in life. If you are the “best” for a moment, be grateful. Enjoy it for a minute. Take it in. And, then – get back to work.
Lesson #5) You Learned to Stay Calm Under Pressure
Life is a contact sport. It really is. Whether it’s small stuff, like waking up and finding that the coffee pot is broken (trust me, someday that will seem like an emergency) – to the big stuff like losing a job, a home, or a relationship…sometimes life can show up hard and fast. It’s kind of scary at times. Some people truly can’t handle it. They panic, flailing about trying to figure out what to do. You? You have learned to stay calm under pressure and find your way out. Seriously, you think that your days of “10 seconds left in the third round, down by two” is only for wrestling? Ha! That is how life works. You will be there MANY times. And, my son, you will be able to handle it every time. When things get crazy, and they will, just tell yourself, “I have been here before.” Take a breath, clear your mind – and, just like you did on the mat, you will find your way out.
Lesson #6) You Learned to Shake a Hand
Every match, win or lose, there was an extended hand to shake afterward. Sometimes it was to congratulate, sometimes to console, sometimes it was simply etiquette. But, it was always there. There were moments, I know, when you didn’t want to shake the other wrestlers hand. Certainly there were moments when they didn’t want to shake yours! Perhaps you were mad, or embarrassed, or you thought he was a jerk. But, you resisted the urge to walk away and shook his hand anyway. I know for a fact that in a few of those cases, that hand shake led to a conversation. The conversation led to an understanding. In a few cases, the understanding even led to a friendship. If you had walked away when you wanted to you would never have bridged that gap.
Now, listen. This will be the most important lesson of all.
You see, it seems that the world has gone a little mad recently. Everybody arguing about everything. People divided on everything from social issues to race to politics. It’s gone beyond the pale, really. Life shouldn’t be like that. I think, as you get older, you will find that most people are genuinely kind, hard working folks who truly are doing their best. Sure, some people don’t deserve a handshake or respect but, overall, most will. The world will try to make you jaded. It will attempt to make you fear people, hate people, argue with people. Resist that. Don’t be the guy who thinks everyone out there is an ass. Rather, remember the importance of extending your hand – especially when you don’t want to. Fighting is easy – especially when you are good at it. Extending a hand when you don’t want to? Now, that takes a true man. Remember, nobody can cross a bridge that they are not willing to build.
Let me leave you with this: When that last match is over, win or lose, I want you to stand in that circle for a short moment and quietly give thanks to God for blessing you with a healthy body that allowed you to experience such great lessons over the past four years. Then, I want you to briefly take it all in. The smell, the feeling, the emotion. That moment, my sweet son, is one of life’s good moments. Capture it. I want you to remember it forever.