Several years ago I got a call from a friend who is a principal in a kind of rough school in Ohio. He was genuinely excited when he called. “I just took a punch right in the face!” He was breaking up a fight in the hallway and a wayward right cross connected with his face. I’m going to tell you something weird. There is this section of most every man’s brain that I call the “what if I got punched in the face” zone. I can’t speak for whether or not this exists in women, but I suspect some version of it does. There is a part of us that wonders how we would stand up under duress. There is a part of us that harbors questions about what we’re made of. We hope that we are brave, but it’s hard to know for sure. We suspect that we are tough, but without taking that punch in the face, how do we know? It’s this part of the brain, when tempered by self-control and discipline, that can lead to moments of sacrifice, inspiration, and victory. It’s also this part of the brain, when those virtues are absent, that can lead to moments of foolish risk and senseless violence.
It’s pretty clear that we are currently getting punched in our collective face. It actually feels like we’re being pummeled. This is the moment where we get to see what we’re made of. How do we take a punch?
I’ve got two stories that give me hope today.
May 2011 I saw my town get nearly knocked out by a monster tornado. 161 people died. Thousands of homes and businesses flattened. A major medical center totaled. It was awful, but it was also inspiring. I’ve never witnessed people rally the way they rallied after that disaster. Driving through the heart of Joplin the next week, it was hard to imagine the town would ever be a shadow of its former self. As I drive through Joplin almost ten years later, I can’t help but swell with pride at what we’ve overcome. I know the situation we are facing now is different. It’s bigger. It’s scarier in the way that unseen monsters are always scarier than the monster you can see. We are still in the darkness of the storm, but I’m heartened that eventually we will rally. Eventually we will get off the mat. Just think of the party we’ll have.
The second story is about my 94-year-old grandma. I called her today. It’s been too long. She’s being protected by my Indiana family like the priceless treasure she is. She still lives on her own. I realized today that I had never talked to my grandma about those dark days of World War II. I’d heard some stories from both of my grandpas who fought in the war, but I’d never heard my grandma’s perspective. She talked to me about rationing and not being able to get the kind of basic things that we take for granted like sugar and a new pair of shoes. She talked to me about 18-year-old boys graduating from high school and shipping out immediately, never to return. She said, “You know back then, we felt like it was never going to end.”
An Amazon delivery came while we were on the phone. We were running a little short of dish detergent, and I didn’t feel like going to the store.
As I said “goodbye” to my grandma, I choked up. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that I fear for her. I also know that my grandma knows how to take a punch. If she can take a punch and get back up, I know we can too.