A friendly neighbor lent me a copy of The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (spoiler alert: I will share a few excerpts from the book below).
It’s a fascinating true story about nine Americans and their quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The rowing team consisted of boys who were farmers, loggers, carpenters and shipyard workers. They came from dirt poor backgrounds and gave a new meaning to the word “grit.”
The main character of the book, Joe, has an absolutely devastating backstory. The amount of misfortune he faced is hard to comprehend.
Aside from how brutal life was for all of those in the Great Depression, Joe faced problems at home. Not once but twice Joe’s father and family abandoned him. He was around 10 years old the first time and in his mid-teens the second time.
When Joe’s family deserted him the second time, his father left him with these words:
“…Look, Son, if there’s one thing I’ve figured out about life, it’s that if you want to be happy, you have to learn to be happy on your own.”
And with that, his family drove away into the darkness and rain.
Several years later, as Joe’s reputation began to rise on Washington University’s crew team, Joe found the address of where his family lived. He and his girlfriend, Joyce, decided they wanted to stop by and say hi.
Joe knocked on the door and was greeted by his mother. After a long pause of silence, Joe spoke up and introduced his girlfriend. After some brief small talk, Joe asked if they could come inside. Up until this point, Joe’s mother was not only avoiding eye contact but had only opened the door halfway.
She finally looked at him and coldly said, “No.” “Make your own life, Joe. Stay out of ours.” And with that she closed the door.
On the ride home, Joyce simmered and eventually exploded. She couldn’t understand how her boyfriend could sit there and take the abuse. Why wasn’t he angry? Why did he keep trying?
I felt like Joyce as I was reading this. How cold-hearted could a mother be? It made me sick. Joe’s response blew me away:
“It takes energy to get angry. It eats you up inside. I can’t waste my energy like that and expect to get ahead. When they left, it took everything I had in me just to survive. Now I have to stay focused. I’ve just gotta take care of it myself.”
When anger festers, it turns into bitterness. Bitterness is like a disease – it eats away at you. Sometimes we become bitter without realizing it and other times we are afraid to look bitterness in the eye – Just like Joe’s mother couldn’t look at him.
What are you bitter about today? What are you holding onto? The only way to win the battle is to let go. Until then, you will always be a captive to anger and bitterness.
This also brings me to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. There are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week and 52 weeks in a year. We are all given the same amount of time. However, the amount and type of energy that we put forth into each hour, minute and second, varies from person to person.
We all have different energy levels. Using energy requires effort and at some point, we’ll need to rest in order to restore enough energy for the next day or situation or part of life.
What Joe seemed to realize better than anyone – even in the worst of conditions – was that we can use our energy in one of two ways: For things that will make us better or for things that will make us worse. That’s what it boiled down to for Joe.
“Will acting in this way make me better?” “How will this help the situation I’m in?” “What good does this do for me or anyone else?”
Lately I’ve been telling myself I could do better. I’ve got of energy to use and I know I can spend it more efficiently.
Sometimes it’s with the internal things, like the thoughts in my head that tell me I can’t do it. Other times it’s external – like how I go about interacting with friends, family and strangers on a daily basis.
It may seem odd, but I’ve started to consciously ask myself how I can put forth my best effort in all of life’s cracks and crannies. And I mean all of them. Such as:
“How could I put a smile on the face of the guy pumping my gas?” “How many new hands can I shake after church?” “Who haven’t I spoken to in a long time that would really like to hear from me?”
We can use our time and energy in one of two ways: For things that make us better or for things that make us worse.
How are you using yours?