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Fear of Sacrifice

June 3, 2017

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It was the fall of 1969.

I had been the punching bag for an undefeated high school football team, a team so small that freshman practiced with, and stood in against, varsity players – some of whom were good enough to play in college. That meant that by November I was the Rudy of the Park School Pioneers – the worst player on the team.

But, for the first time, at 14, I was part of a team.

By November there was less of me, I was harder, the soreness in most parts of my body was gone and the crotch rot was mostly healed. “Duo has reorganized his body some.” was my coach’s Football Dinner freshman introduction.

I was a joke as a football player in 1969. I only had one attritubute: I tried.

My life was survival then: I was dropped into downtown Buffalo – a swift exit from the gentle prison of screaming Mid-Century Mad Men rage. It was a NYC suburbs life of the Alcoholic Provider Model. I was the youngest, the others away, a place my mother wanted to be, apparently.

My mother had Buffalo family, who knew the wee school I attended. I saw the brochure – it had an image of football. I had seen some games on TV, I went to a game with my Dad at Yankee Stadium.

Football was everything I was not. The players used their bodies in a brutal, sacrificial way. They seemed called to a common, loving mission: winning. I had one mission: survival. I expressed in grades and school, but I was on the down low in school. But school, now, was far away, in a grimey abandoned home in a failing city. But it had football.

Opposites attract. For reasons unclear then, and now, I found mission in sacrifice.

I knew I was terrible, but I did not know how bad I was until the first day of summer practice. I was rocked – sandpaper had be hard set to my balsa wood body. It was a very bad season of errors and pain.

But I found dignity in open incompetence – but focused on the possibility of being better. But there was only one way to get better: sacrifice. Any pride was the first victim, then comfort, then I lost entrapment.

In the Buffalo mud I could try, fail, fail again, but not give up, I could remain, in the team, broken and hurt – but not lost. I could be a total loser in sacrifice. There was no gain, only belonging. I may have been lame, but I was not alone out there.

“I am the wrestling coach” said the Offensive Co-Ordinator as I turned in my equipment. I knew I needed to please him. So I showed up at the Wrestling Barn the next week.

So began a two year focus on sacrifice. If I was a terrible football player, I was a worse wrestler. But the coach knew how to lift weights, and weight was the central focus of all wrestlers. He demanded getting stronger, and losing weight: I did. And lost every match over two years.

But each pound, each lift was between me and myself: my family was away. It hurt, it was humiliating, but it got better. I learned that sacrifice was not masochism: there was mission in failure.

It got better. There were transactions of time, effort, learning and change. I could find a different place. I needed to. I was not “perfect” the way I was – I was desperately unhappy.

Failure is everywhere, every day: nothing is “perfect”. It wasn’t in my Mad Men life in suburbia, it was not in Buffalo. But it could get better. If things are “perfect” there is no sacrifice. If there is no sacrifice there is no mission: despite GaGa “I was born this way” until I changed.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Janet Jarvis Hicks permalink
    June 26, 2017 7:00 pm

    We remember you, Duo Dickinson, your fellow Parkies. This past weekend, at a reunion party for the class of 1972, we remembered how hard you tried. Win or lose, you were there and noticed in a loving way.

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