I stand on the pitch, looking downfield. Fifteen grizzled men look back at me, squinting into the sun and slapping their chests rhythmically. Their captain calls to them. They respond with a war cry, thrusting their fists skyward.
We charge in response. The sound of our feet is like the rumble of a thousand cavalrymen.
Blood-thirsty screams and whoops pierce the rising dust-cloud of our wake. My legs churn like pistons, despite the stink of fear that clings to my sweat-soaked body. My emotions mean nothing; I am but a cog in a violent war machine intent on destruction. We are a rolling wave, gathering momentum and power with every stride; they are the jagged rocks of the shoreline.
Finally, we crash.
“Yeah, we did actually.”
“Well then, looks like you deserve a beer.”
I was too young to be in a bar, especially in the middle of the day, but there I was. Dirt and blood mingled together from dozens of minor cuts and bruises. My leg throbbed and sitting on that barstool sent my back into a dull steady spasm.
The beer presented to me was a bottle of Budweiser, and to this day, I can still see the bits of ice slide down the sides of the brown glass, and the mist swirling out from under the bottle cap. The label wrinkled with moisture.
There had been a broken leg, a fractured clavicle, and a dislodged tooth that afternoon against the Merchant Marine Academy, but I had survived. I took a long swig from that bottle, and it was the coldest, most delicious thing I had ever tasted.
It was my first rugby match.
I considered myself a warrior after that game, and why not? I had gone into battle with my band of brothers, looked fear in the eye and come out on top. What more is there?
Twenty-four years later, I think deeply about that question: What makes a warrior?
This first week of “quarantine,” has certainly tested my mettle. An avalanche of news and information assaults me. The statistics are discouraging.
Every square of toilet paper brings renewed terror.
“Will we have enough?”
Everyone is guessing and judging each other’s decisions. I hate how quickly and vehemently we point fingers at each other. It’s sad because we all know we are in uncharted waters. There aren’t any answers out there because, well, there aren’t any answers yet.
Whatever, go ahead and shout. In the end, our businesses are closed, our jobs are tenable, and the soul-shattering phrase “social distancing,” has forced us back into our homes.
But here, amongst the dwindling paper towels and anti-bacterial wipes, we find our heroes.
The seriousness of this pandemic is not lost on my family. My wife, a special-education teacher, is in knots about her students and co-workers. My youngest misses school and wonders why we can’t go into McDonald’s. My fifth grader told me, “I feel like this is the end of the world, I really miss my friends.”
It’s hard for me to hear these things. I want to protect my people, shield them from evil, take the brunt of their pain, but there is nothing I can do, no solution emerges.
The walls close in, and my wife takes charge. Twenty minutes later and we are hiking.
My sons leap from rock to rock. They skip stones and trap crawfish near the banks of a swift river.
I snap picture after picture, struck by the beauty of nature. I am inspired by my sons’ vigor and vibrancy. Before long, I am climbing right next to them, balancing on logs and scrambling up mossy boulders. I feel my youth returning.
The next night we’re in the garage. A thin mat serves as our makeshift jiu-jitsu school. My son and I don our gis and shrimp and bear-crawl our way around its perimeter.
We hate the mat. We want our real school, the Bushido Academy. We yearn for the sounds of 80’s “hair-metal,” as we warm-up, or Coach Jay’s loud voice telling us how good he looks in wick-away. But what can you do? We train as best we can. We hone our skills. We make do.
(I miss jiu-jitsu, I wasn’t prepared for how much I would miss it. I didn’t expect it would become a part of me so quickly. It’s strange, it creeps up on you, sucks you in. I can’t wait to go back.)
Filled with fresh air, Ben wants to build a fire in the fireplace. We make it together, side by side. He laughs as he blows on the coals to catch the kindling. I watch his beautiful face glow from the flames’ orange light.
The joys of this past week fade quickly. The worries of our world are palpable, and our future is no less uncertain, but something hums beneath the sickness.
I notice it in my family. I see it in the stories of the healthcare workers and the service providers battling it out on the front lines.
That hum is what gives us hope, helps us find a way to give when so many things are taken, and provides us with the power to endure.
I heard that hum on the rugby pitch twenty-four years ago, and while sitting on the subway on September 12th, 2001, the day we went back to work.
That hum is the spirit of the warrior.
That spirit is in all of us.
Owner Spowerks LLC
“Let your imagination set you free.”