Last night I was at the juvenile processing facility. I got to meet a kid named Phillip. American name, but didn’t speak a word of English. I thought it weird. Whatever.
He was a baby, barely 15, but he wanted to be a boxer. He’d trained with his uncle before winding up in prison on a year and half sentence. I secretly wondered what a 15 year old could do to wind up in prison for 18 months. Geez. Either that or what I’ve heard about the racket of "lawyers" extorting money in the projects para bregar was actually true.
"You have a friend who gives you a Playstation… what do you do with it?"
Puzzled look – like I was trying to trip him up with a trick question, like if he said, play the damn thing, I’d zing him and say… no you give it to charity and spend more time in church on your knees thanking the good Lord for your life. Remember to wail and gnash your teeth. He loves that.
"You would… " I motioned with my thumbs as if to fiddle with the controller.
"Yeah!" I exclaimed, "You play the thing. That’s why your friend gave it to you. And what is a Playstation for? To be P L A Y E D."
Phillip smiled a 15 year old smile, ear to ear, clean teeth to clean shining teeth.
"So now you’ve got this Playstation that you didn’t ask for. You kind of know what to do with it, but it’s really no fun by yourself. Who do you call first?"
"Mis amigos?" He offered.
"Right. Then you get together and share your gift with your buds. You pass time with them sharing the Playstation."
"Yeah." Phillip smiled again.
"Phillip, what’s your talent? What do you want to do with your life?"
Phillip hesitated. I don’t know why, I had not been trying to trick him. The quickest and most natural thought is usually the right one. I had not led him astray up to that point. He stilled seemed to be searching for some kind of noble Godly vision of what he should be doing with his life instead of what he wanted to do, what he was good at. He gathered the courage and offered:
"I want to be a boxer."
"Cool," And without missing a beat, "Did you know that Jesus was a boxer?"
Again Phillip was thrown for a loop. Jesus a boxer? How could it be? Boxing isn’t Godly. Boxing isn’t pious. Boxing is at best the red-light district of sports and humanity.
"Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘leave it all on the field’? Or in your case ‘leave it all in the ring’?"
"No." He looked at me quizzically.
"Well, after you fight, you should barely be alive. After you finish, you shouldn’t be able to stand. After you are through, you will have nothing more to give, no interviews, no congratulations, no celebrations, and if you lose no sorrows, no regrets, nothing. You will have used it all up and left it in the ring."
Phillip looked at me, eyes wide in puzzlement or amazement.
"Phillip, for what purpose do you have this life? Did you ask for it?"
"Are you going to get out alive? Does anyone live forever?"
"No, I guess not."
"Isn’t it a gift like the Playstation? Aren’t all gifts just that; not asked for? And just like a gift that you didn’t ask for, the best thing you can do with it is use it, before it breaks, before it becomes obsolete… or the Playstation III comes along." Phillip chuckled. "What would you save it for anyway? You’ve got to use it.
Jesus wasn’t just a boxer? He was the champion of the world, uncontested, undefeated, even in death. He knew one thing that only the greatest champions have ever come close to knowing. He knew that how you do a thing is more important than anything else. That whatever you do, you live it fully, completely, with no regrets.
When you box, it’s a spiritual exercise. In order to do it well, you’ve got to study it. You have to train. You have to discipline yourself. You must have respect for it. With all the things you do you pay homage to your life and your life is that which has been given to you as a gift. You honor your gift by being the best boxer you can be.
Remember too, though, that all gifts carry a burden. You have a heavy responsibility. If you want to be like Miguel Cotto you have a heavy burden to carry. You might see his victories, his money, or his fame, but his bouts show his discipline, his patience, his devotion to his craft. He’s not hanging with his friends in the evenings. He’s training early in the morning and getting his rest. When he’s not training or resting, he’s probably reviewing films, studying his sport or eating a special diet. Yes, he has time for friends, but he’s a championship boxer and it’s not easy. And he’s surely not getting in trouble.
Phillip, is this future what you want? Do you accept this? Will you take up the burden, the responsibility, and the commitment to make your dream a reality?"