Those Charlie Brown Moments
When I told my story, you responded; train me well in your deep wisdom.
Psalm 119:26 (The Message)
At some point in my early childhood, I fell in love with food. My mother and her family came from the deep-fried South. “If it can’t be boiled in bacon grease,” as Dad would say, “send it up North and let them eat it.” We lived large on fried okra, chicken-fried steak, and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy. It didn’t take long for me to learn the mysteries of physiology and physics, and in particular, the law of cause and effect.
My first lesson occurred during PE class at the beginning of seventh grade in Midland, Texas. Our coach instructed all the boys to stand in a single-file line. I arrived somewhere in the middle, wearing my super-cool Rod Laver tennis shoes, standard-issue white gym shorts, and a funky smelling white T-shirt. At the head of the line was the trainer for San Jacinto Junior High School. Little did we know at the time that we were walking in the steps of a former student by the name of George W. Bush. Looking back, I wonder sometimes how he ever lived through what happened next.
One by one the trainer weighed and measured each of us on a rusty old balance-beam physician’s scale. Then, in a rather dramatic fashion, he called out the name, weight, and height of each kid. The scene was a set-up for high drama of the first degree. Preteen boys will use any opportunity to humiliate another classmate. No doubt some of the world’s most notorious thugs were born out of the embarrassment they experienced in a seventh-grade gym class.
“Baker … 105 pounds, 5 feet even,” the trainer shouted. His voice lingered as sounds echoed from the walls. An assistant registered the information on a Big Chief tablet as though it were being recorded for an upcoming auction.
“Young … 119 pounds, 5 feet, 1 inch.”
Snickers erupted from the crowd. “Porky” and other such slurs were commonplace.
“Johnson … 85 pounds, 5 feet, 3 inches.”
“Hey stick,” someone yelled, “the girls weigh more than you!”
On and on it went until I was next. “Shupp … 141 pounds, 5 feet, 1 inch. First one to crack 140! Good job, son.”
Embarrassment started creeping over me as I heard the crowd of hecklers behind me. But it quickly subsided with his next statement. “Shupp,” he said, “go see the football coach.”
The next thing I remember was the opening game of the season against Goddard Junior High. I was a defensive lineman. The score was 0 to 42. We were the zeroes. Frustrations ran high. We were exhausted from chasing the running back into the end zone. Just perhaps, if we could score one touchdown, we could leave the game with our heads held high.
Close to the end of the game, Goddard’s receiver fumbled the ball. It bounced wickedly, eluding all players on the field—except me. Somehow it came to rest at my feet. I looked ahead, and there was a clear shot into the end zone.
There are rare moments in life when someone is destined to achieve greatness. All that’s required is the right opportunity and the appropriate action for the spark to ignite and set the world on fire. In such moments, time itself slows down. Temporal distortion seizes the senses. From the crowd, I could see the arms of moms and dads waving in unison. Through the quarter-sized hole in my helmet, the roar of the crowd reached my ears.
“Pick up the ball! Pick it up! Run!”
I looked at the ball. It was solitary, motionless. A wave of red and green jerseys began advancing on my position. In a surreal fashion, everything and everyone slowly faded out of my peripheral vision. I focused singularly on the ball. The sound of the crowd intensified.
“Pick it up. Run!”
My moment to shine had arrived. That dormant spark trapped somewhere deep within was about to blaze a glorious path to the goal line. Already I could see myself walking into school the next day. I envisioned cheerleaders surrounding my locker. Between classes and in the hallways, jocks were chanting my name out loud. I would tell the story repeatedly as often as I’m asked to relive it. I would be…
Suddenly, an offensive lineman fell on the ball. I had over-analyzed my moment. My chance for glory—vaporized. When the final whistle blew at the end of the game, there was a big donut on the scoreboard next to our school’s name.
Charlie Brown made a new friend that day.