Moses and Jesus are playing golf. Moses steps up to the tee and hits a beautiful shot straight down the middle of the fairway. Jesus steps up to the tee and hooks the ball into the trees. Jesus looks up into the heavens, raises his arms, and suddenly the sky darkens. A thunder clap rings out, rain pours down, and a stream rises among the trees. The golf ball floating on top finds its way into the mouth of a fish. Then a bird flies down and takes the fish and the ball out over the green, drops it in the cup for a hole-in-one. Jesus turns to Moses with a satisfied grin, and Moses says, “Look. Do you wanna play golf or you wanna fuck around?”
I’ve always been lazy. This is the truth. Once, as a kid, I’d been swimming in my grandparents’ pool and the old lady asked me to post a letter for her on my way home. Basically, I said no because it would’ve taken me all of two minutes out of my way. Once, as a kid, I took a book out of the library, forgot I had it, then lied my way through their return requests until a year later, when my mom found it and took it back it for me. Once, as a kid in high school, I gave up on cricket because of all the warm-up runs around the field, because practice was a little too far from my house, because I’d rather have spent my after-school afternoons fucking around.
Everything is irritating. Take traffic: a million cars in front of you, a million behind. Each one filled with precisely one idiot. A million idiots, between you and the million miles you need to go. Your knuckles white against the steering wheel, seething, pick a lane, dickhead. Why is this so hard? Everything is infuriating, especially the alternatives. Take the train: running late, broken down, overflowing with idiots. Your headphones on max, wanting to kill the next person who opens another bag of Nik-Naks. Why can’t this be easier? Who knows where it comes from, this thirst to hate everyone and everything, but it’s real and it’s not fucking around.
These days, Clever has me sparring twice a week. 6am, he points to the ring and I hope I won’t run out of it this time. He gets his headgear and I hope this time I’ll make sure he needs it. We move around the ring, I hit him a couple of times and Clever smiles wide, says, Good one. These days, I’m keeping my eyes open for longer, taking the hits better, not flinching or fading or freaking out, and Clever starts shouting: pressure, pressure, pressure. He’s smiling and singing and I hope it’s because he’s loving this. Happy that I’m getting better, moving around his punches, into his body, where I can hit him. That I’m still here, still learning.
That I’m not fucking around.
What does it mean to grow up? To learn the limits of your life? To accept that the world won’t change to suit you, no matter how hard you scream at the sky? To face your faults and go against the grain of your ego? To know that winning the game means nothing once you’ve bent the rules?
I’ve never been disciplined. I spent five years at varsity getting a four-year degree, bunking exams and drinking too much and writing half-assed papers at 3am, past deadlines, past caring. I went overseas on my parents’ dime, teaching half-assed English and partying too much and living in a hovel with weird people, blowing money, wasting time. I came home, on my parents’ dime, when it got a little too hard, a little too irritating, to live on my own in a foreign country: the shitty weather, the shitty food, the shitty job and all the millions of shitty people. This is the truth: I’ve never been disciplined and I’ve drifted through most of my life in a lazy, stupid daze.
Everything is hard. Take eating: a few years ago, my wife went away to study for a few months and I almost drowned myself in junk. What started out as a sad but simple ciabatta-and-cheese habit turned, pretty quickly, into a manic, MacDonald’s-noon-and-night addiction. Super-sizing everything, including my waistline, out of sheer self-pity. Everything decays. Take your body: a few years ago, work took over my life and I spent each and every weekend on my couch, away from the pool and the pitch and friends and daylight, watching one shit TV show after another until my health turned to mush. If you let it, your comfort zone will kill you.
How does it feel to take charge of your life? Like stepping into a ring and staring down your weaknesses, not hoping for a way out, not running away? Like getting hit in the face and landing a few of your own right back, not bitching and bawling and breaking the rules?
Clever likes to put me up against other guys. Here at The Armoury, there’s all kinds of fighters: first-timers, old-timers, at all kinds of fitness levels and experience. Clever likes to pick and choose, depending on how he feels I’m improving. He puts me up against Mark, who’s here almost every day, against Paul, who’s been here for years, against Luke, who’s just started. Mark, Paul and Luke, like something out of a Bible story, all have something new to teach me. Luke doesn’t say much, but he hits me a lot. Mark takes it easier on me, says it’s all about learning. And Paul bats away my half-assed punches, hits me, and says, Come on, commit.
These days, all this sparring has me walking around in a daze. Punch drunk, driving home through traffic and not noticing how I got there. What’s irritating about this? My brain fuzzy, my ears ringing, getting on the train and getting off again like it was two minutes, like all those people weren’t even there. What’s hard about this? Get hit in the head enough, and other people, other problems, fade into nothing. These days, all I think about is me. What I want, how I must commit to getting it. How I must move, keep my eyes open, breathe. How I must stay awake, go forward, into problems. These days, all I think about is how the quality of my life is up to me.
Get hit in the head enough, and you understand life’s not about traffic or trains or other people or their problems, it’s all about you. Your life hinges on how you live it. What you learn depends on whether you’re ready to accept the rules and move forward within yourself. Do you want to be strong, or sink into a sad, self-indulgent daze? Do you want to be active and effective and awake, or hide away on your couch? Do you want to commit to a fuller life, or do you want to shake your fist at the sky forever? Get hit in the head enough, and you realise life’s too short to stay lazy and stupid forever.
This is what it means to grow up: to know that the world you’ve stepped into is only so big, and there’s no running out of it. It’s finding an answer to the question: do you want to be alive, or do you want to fuck around?
Photo by Stephen Coles via Flickr