Truth, Justice, and the MMA WayFeatured, Sports — By Jeff Ell on August 4, 2010 at 8:00 am
Growing up, we had a bully in our neat suburban neighborhood. His name was Brian and he was about four years older than I. He taunted, teased, pushed, cussed and punched younger boys like me in the stomach. Getting punched in the stomach is so humiliating. You loose your breath, double over, and when you’re little, you cry. You can’t run away or fight back because you can’t breathe. Brian would invade our pickup games on the street and slowly circle us, deciding who the victim of the day would be.
We tried to appease him with sheepish hellos or pretend to be distracted and not notice him. My throat would lump up as we waited for him to make his selection. As much as anyone hates to admit it, there’s a certain amount of relief when the shark grabs your friend, or the bully beats another kid. It’s a guilty relief, to be sure — survivor’s guilt — but we can’t pretend we are not relieved when someone else gets it. We’re just glad it’s not us.
I have two older brothers who would have protected me, but during Brian’s reign of terror, they weren’t around much. They had gotten too old for playing on the streets, and like other guys their age, they had taken part-time jobs at fried chicken places and started to play guitar and chase girls. Now that I think about it, the absence of older brothers was the one thing all of Brian’s victims had in common.
I remember one evening in particular. We were playing baseball at the bottom of the street like we did all summer. Home plate was a man hole cover and first and third bases were sycamore trees on the streets edge. Second base was another manhole cover that was out of line with home and too far into center field. From above, our field would have looked more like an asphalt-covered tear drop than grassy diamond, but it worked.
Also, we actually didn’t use a baseball; we used a tennis ball. Tennis balls didn’t break windows and didn’t dent the cars often parked between home and first. It was during one of those inning-less games that Brian came and punched me in the stomach for the last time. As usual I collapsed to my knees, tears filling my eyes, while Brian wandered up the street. Once I caught my breath and recuperated enough to walk, I went sniveling toward home.
On my way I saw my brother Douglas playing Wiffle Ball in the side lawn of our neighbor Pat’s house. He was with his friends. It was an odd occasion for these older guys, but they had run into each other and were goofing around trying to see who could hit the plastic ball over the roof. And there watching them was Brian. My brother saw me coming and then as I got closer he saw that I was crying.
He asked me what had happened, and I told him in choking gasps that Brain had punched me. I pointed my finger, identifying the criminal; the trial was over in a nanosecond. He confessed his guilt by turning and trying to escape, but he was too slow. In a single motion my brother snatched the bat away from his friend and caught up to Brian’s fleeing backside.
The sound of hollow plastic thwapping bare skin was the sweetest sound my ears had ever heard. Brian was wearing shorts. My brother meted out justice by reigning down a series of welt-raising lashes on the back of his naked legs as he tried to flee. Thwap! Thwap! Thwap! Bully Brian covered his butt with his hand and crumbled to the ground. He cowered as my brother stood over him with the yellow staff of justice. I don’t remember seeing Brian after that day; he was too old to be playing on the street anyway.
My brother can’t beat up bullies for me anymore; he has Multiple Sclerosis. But I learned something from him about being a good older brother—about protecting those who can’t defend themselves and speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves. I’m thinking more of us pastor types could learn something from MMA, that in prayer and preaching we should be the ones climbing into the cage and pointing out the bullies.
I also know all humanity has an older Brother who’s not squeamish about meting out justice, who knows a whipping in the temple is a good thing. Maybe it’s why those closest to Him understand justice, and why many have an octagon-shaped hole in their hearts waiting to be filled.
Jeff has been married to Deneen for 26 years, they have three daughters. He is the pastor of Grace Covenant Church of Roanoke and the author of ”Ruth Uncensored-The story you thought you knew” available on Amazon.