A simple act of kindness

30 Sep

About three years ago I was standing in the front of the gym where I trained my fighters in Adams Morgan in Washington, DC. I was waiting for them to arrive for an early Saturday morning training session when I noticed a young man in his middle-late teens standing at the front of the gym by the windows that looked out onto the street. He was a tall skinny kid and he had on black shorts, black socks and old tennis shoes that looked as though they were barely hanging on.  He had on a white cotton undershirt, tank top, with a hole under the left arm and a backpack with a broken zipper stuffed with something… but I wasn’t sure with what. 

He seemed nervous and a little out of place and he was just standing in front of the gym nervously shifting his weight from one foot-to-the-other as if he were waiting for someone.  Once in a while I would notice that he was looking up at me, however, for the most part he just kept his head down. I assumed he was waiting for someone he knew to arrive so I said nothing. Soon, my fighters began to arrive at the gym and as they did we immediately went to work. Every once in a while I would look over at this young man and I would notice that he was still standing at the front in the same place…just rocking back-and -forth ever so slightly and watching me with his eyes.  It was a weekend morning and practice only lasted about an hour-and -a-half. After practice had ended and after I said goodbye to my athletes, I noticed this young man still standing in front of the gym and by now I was curious… so I went to the front of the gym to talk to him.

Hey man”, I said “are you waiting for someone”? The boy looked up and immediately I noticed he had a strange… almost disappointed look on his face…as if his heart was broken. “You don’t remember me” he said. The second he said it I realized there was more to this than met the eye and the tone of his voice was one of disappointment. Instantly, I searched my memory for any sign of who this young man might be but I just could not place him. The truth is I have coached hundreds…no….thousands of kids over the years and often times I just can’t remember them all.

Yet I could see that I needed to remember this kid somehow and if I didn’t I would be affirming every doubt and insecurity he ever had in himself. I was fryin bigger fish here than just hello..if you know what I mean? For a second I did not know what to do and was lost …but then it came to me.

Give me a hint” I said with a big smile. He said “I was in here about a year ago and you helped me…do you remember?” He went on “I left for the Army right after you worked with me and you told me to come back and see you when I got my first break…and, well, here I am.”

“How come you didn’t just say hello earlier”  I said….“why didn’t you just come over and say hello?” Well sir,” he said “I remembered how you used to yell at the kids for interrupting you so I thought I would just wait ’till you came over. You’re ugly when you’re mad, Coach”  he said.  I smiled and as he spoke I searched and searched my memory but I still did not remember him. But even so his comments gave me the opening I needed. I immediately walked over to him, smiled and grabbed his hand….that’s right, I grabbed his hand. You’d be amazed what a little kind human contact can do for some people. Anyway, I grabbed his hand and as I did, I pulled him down to sit next to me on the couch that was at the front by the windows.  He sat down with me slowly in a sort of ridged way, at the very front-edge of the seat looking straight ahead, sometimes looking out of the corner of his eye but still unable to make eye contact with me…he said nothing.

Thank you,” I said…”thank you, thank you, thank you” and I gave him a hug…when I reached over to hug him he did not hug back at first, and, in fact, he pulled away slightly…but not all the way. He slowly turned his head towards me and with a puzzled look on his face said, “why are you thanking me Coach?”

I said “what’s your name son?” “Jamal” he said. I said “Ah, Jamal, of course, I remember now.” …I went on, “You see Jamal, you’re  one of the only kids to ever come back here to say hello. Yep…very few of the kids ever seem to remember Ole Coach Bruce” I said. “Do you know I’ve coached thousands of boys over the years just like you and I can remmebr only a handful that ever have come back the way you did today…to say thanks or hello….did you know that?” I said. “Truth is, I feel forgotten here sometimes and I wonder why I do it…you’d think some of these kids might remember a little…but I guess they just don’t…makes me sad sometimes.”  Now I turned to him and as I did he turned to face me and there we sat face-to-face talking on the couch. As I continued, I placed both my hands on his shoulders and looked him squarely in his eyes. “Man that really hurts sometimes…do you know what I mean?”

Jamal smiled and we both knew exactly what I meant. You see, I had made that all up. Truth is, that I remain in close contact with many of the kids I’ve coached over the years. Their my children…so to speak. I have God children all over the place and I often tell folks if all you guys ever died on the same plane I’d have enough kids (my God children) to dress out an entire football team…LOL. I have kids in nearly every profession in life and in every branch of service in the military who write me from time-to-time to keep in touch. It’s the light in my life. And I love them all. But Jamal was the kind of kid I loved most. He was the forgotten one and I knew, in that moment, that I needed him to feel as if he were saving me rather than feeling I had forgotten him. So I lied…not something I do often as an adult.

As we sat there chatting we talked about what his plans were and how he was doing in the Army. He was a mechanic and working on transportation systems and really loved it, he said. Every once in a while I would say “Thank you, Jamal…I will never forget you for being so kind to me.” 

As we talked, I was able to gather more information about when he was here and our time together and it enabled me to build a picture of our relationship….even if I didn’t really remember it. At one point, he told me that I was the ONLY person in his entire life that had ever made him feel important and that he had capabilities beyond those he had placed on himself. He told me that when he decided to join the Army I was the only person he mentioned it to and that I told him I really admired people in the military so that helped him to join. As he spoke I realized that, despite the fact I could not remember him, I had had an influence on him beyond measure. My heart was full and as I sat there I realized I was as close to a father figure as this kid ever had before going to the Army.  I was overwhelmed. We talked a little while longer and then he said he had to go in order to catch his bus that would be coming by soon. We stood up and I gave him a hug and I said “thank you, Jamal…thank you for making me feel so good…I will never forget you son.” Jamal leaned in and hugged me back and as he left he turned to say something but the words did not come out…but I knew what it was. “I’ll see you soon son” I said…”don’t forget your old coach now,” and away he went.

I think about Jamal from time-to-time and hope he’s doing well. I worry about him being in the Army and all that…but I’m sure he’s fine…I could not bear to hear otherwise. I have not seen nor spoken to Jamal since that day and the gym actually closed not long after our interaction.

A simple kind gesture. A few minutes of my time in the gym and this kid remembers me. It also makes me mindful of the other side of that coin and what a few harmful words can mean to a kid in the same situation.

Honestly, sometimes I do my best coaching outside the ring!

Pay if forward, please.

Love. Coach

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One Response to “A simple act of kindness”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. In Your Corner: It’s Complicated to be Coach and Husband (or Wife) For the Same Person - thatgirlisfunny.com /  thatgirlisfunny.com - December 26, 2011

    […] found this great story written by a boxing coach and posted on his “Your Corner Man” […]

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