The Man in the Arena

Today the kids in Grade 6 were at the Jaffa Environmental Education Centre for a day of wilderness structure-building, orienteering and fire-starting.  I wanted to see them again so I showed up in the afternoon.  Apart from my coughing, I had fun – it’s always great to talk to 11-year-olds.  A few kids hugged me.  One boy asked permission first and then came close.  Very sweet.

We headed back to the school in time to catch the buses home and that same boy came up to me with a gift-wrapped present.  Inside were yummy cookies and waffles plus a pair of cool blue socks, with little bow ties scattered on them.  The gem, though, was the card.

I had met the mom just before I left for Senegal, at the school’s Christmas concert.  We got talking.  I told her about my wife Jody and the book I’d written about her, and mom wanted a copy.  I got one from my car Scarlet and signed it for her.  Little did I know …

“Jenny” lost her dad six months ago and misses him so very much.  Jody’s book helped her heal.  Wow.  That makes me feel so good …to think that my dear wife contributes to others’ lives after her death.  Thank you, Jodiette.  You sure contributed to mine.

Jenny wrote: “You were part of my journey and choosing happy.”  Wow again.  Thank you, Jenny.

Towards the end of her card, Jenny mentioned Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech in 1910.  He’s a former President of the United States.  Here’s what he had to say:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

And then … “I think you’re an arena man too!”

When people praise me, I’ve learned to simply say “Thank you” from my heart.  I know that life is a mysterious mixture of praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, and that these experiences touch us all.  Attaching myself to praise doesn’t work.  Acknowledging my good points does.

I do believe that I am:

Actually in the arena
Marred by dust and sweat and blood
Someone who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again
Someone who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions
Someone who spends himself in a worthy cause

***

Does this make me better than anyone else?
No

On we go

Praise

There were about twenty of us tonight on an internet call of the Evolutionary Collective Global Community. I enjoyed practicing 1-1 with one of those folks, assigned randomly by some computer. And then the group had about ten minutes at the end for sharing.

“Tessa”, a woman that I had met in Asheville a couple of weekends ago, started speaking. I never know what people will say, but usually their words come from deep down in their experiencing. What a treat to be on the receiving end of such realness.

Well … “receiving end” indeed. Tessa began talking about me (!) She mentioned the deep love that I show in these internet gatherings. (Gulp) She told the group about my love for my dear wife Jody, and the book I had written for her. (Gulp again)

I wanted to avert my eyes away from the cast of rectangles that lay before me. I wanted to hide. But I decided not to. “Just look, Bruce, and listen.” Tessa had moved on to talk about someone else but I was still writhing and sighing, writhing and sighing, within her words.

My small brain had its typical response: “You’re not that great, Bruce. Actually, you’re quite ordinary. You’re a nice guy, but nothing off the charts.” Plus “Don’t let your ego run roughshod here, my friend. You’re not exactly the next incarnation of Jesus. Get a grip!” Or “Tell them about the times you’ve been mean to people. They need to hear that stuff too, you know.”

Thanks for the feedback, small brain. But what’s true here?

1. I’ve very rarely been purposely mean to anybody. In fact, I can’t think of the last time I did that.

2. I’m extremely unusual. I’m likely more spontaneous than 99% of the population. I love the word “silly”, and “weird” is a pretty good concept too.

3. My love for my fellow man is immense. I am deeply compassionate towards those of us who are suffering. I want each one of you – family, friend or “stranger” – to be supremely happy.

I don’t often get praised so directly. I don’t have much practice in dealing with it. Perhaps I should simply accept it with grace and return to loving the next person who comes my way.

Yes, that would be a fine thing to do.