I started spacing out at an early age. My mother was alarmed by it, my classmates zeroed in on an opportunity for ridicule. My dad didn’t seem to notice.
Looking back on it now, I can see why my mother was worried. Digesting knowledge is important, (particularly if you want to be a writer—which I didn’t know I wanted to be at the time). A limited pool of knowledge, limits the avenues of expression. In this regard, my looking out the window was a negative.
But the flip side of the coin is that anything I’ve ever done worth a grain of salt comes from looking out the window. There is a reason my head is in the clouds. The clouds are where all the great ideas come from.
But I didn’t know that at the time, and so I was ashamed of my inability to keep from tuning out.
It didn’t help that I was not considered a particularly good athlete by my peers in school. That is hugely important aspect of social status amongst boys growing up.
The thing is, I wasn’t necessarily a bad athlete. I was coordinated, I could skateboard, ski and perform tricks on my dirt bike better than most of the kids in my class. I just never really practiced or participated in traditional sports that involved a ball. My dad never encouraged it or participated with me in that kind of activity.
And so I was at a disadvantage when I first started playing sports. It put me in a hole, that combined with my spacing out, made life difficult.
But I do remember one afternoon in 4th grade, learning something about myself. A spark of something I didn’t fully understand then, but have come to appreciate since.
Our PE teacher announced that we were going to be taking a physical fitness test for the state of California to determine just what our bodies were capable of.
We began a series of assessments to record our speed, stamina and strength.
My scores were mostly average, until ...
A test was announced that involved something a little different. The test was to hang from a bar in a chin up position, with your chin lifted above the bar, for as long as you could.
Huh … Sounded simple enough.
In order to get the highest mark for the state of California, you had to hang for 40 seconds. I didn’t think anything of this. I figured I’d be average, just like everything else.
And perhaps I would have been … if not for something I overheard while standing in line awaiting my turn to be tested. One of the dorks in class began a conversation with a group of other dorks in line behind me ... He said, “can you imagine, ha ha, if someone hung up there for 100 seconds?!! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!” “Can you imagine, ha ha ha, if someone hung up there for a 1,000 seconds? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!” “Can you imagine if, ha ha ha, if someone hung up there for a million seconds?” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!” His laugh got goofier and louder with each increase in time increment.
As I was overhearing this, a thought occurred to me. “ A million seconds? No. It ain’t gonna happen. A thousand seconds? Still too much. But 100 seconds? That was within the realm of possibility.”
As I approached the bar, another kid behind me made a derogatory comment. “Uggghhh. Chris Livingston!! Try 2 seconds!!!”
That did it.
I jumped up on the bar, pulled myself into a chin up position, and the stop watch started.
The strongest kid in the class had gone a few people ahead of me. He was far stronger than I was, and a far better athlete. He had managed to hang up there for a whopping 60 seconds. Nobody else came close. I think one other kid got 50 seconds. So as the clock began to tick I made a decision. “Fuck these assholes. I am going to hang up here for 100 seconds.”
When the P.E. instructor called out that I had gotten to 20 seconds, the nasty kid behind me was notably silent. People were still not paying much attention because 20 seconds was still average. Then the clock got to 30 seconds, and I think it registered on a few people’s radar that I was approaching the high mark for the state. I got to 40 seconds and --people were giving me kudos and congrats, expecting me to drop.
Then it got to 50 seconds and people were now staring, starting to take notice from the other end of the playground. I got to 60 seconds and people started to congregate around me. Then it got to 70 seconds. People literally began to oooh and ahhh.
But I wasn’t the fuck finished.
When I got to 80 seconds I could see that even the PE teacher was astounded. People were going ape shit.
Then I got to 90 seconds and people were now cheering me on and telling me to go for a 100.
When I got to a 100, I dropped.
The whole class crowded around me congratulating me. They were absolutely, stunned and awed. So was I.
The guy who said, “2 seconds,” told me he wanted to be my personal trainer. It was a blip on the map of childhood, but this blip learned something about himself that day.
If I put my mind to it, I can be terribly stubborn.
But another lesson was seeded that day, which took a lot longer to learn.
Iron will is cool, but it can get in the way. Banging your head against the same wall until it breaks, might get things done, but finding ways around, over, or even choosing another direction that doesn’t involve a wall—avoids concussions and often gets you to where you want to go faster.
I have wasted many years attempting to hang for 100 seconds, and wasted a lot of time in not accepting what I am being handed as a gift from the universe, and wanting to re-define it and make it something else.
The ultimate lesson?
Letting go is what produces the miracle.