When I was seven years old I contracted a polio virus, which left me partially paralyzed. I was bedridden for six months. Then I was in a wheelchair for about four months, then on crutches for about six months. Then I started walking on my own, but with a noticeable limp. I was slower than the rest of the kids. I could run but much slower. I was also slower in the classroom. I was always in group 3 in reading and I only made it up to group 2 once, but that lasted only about a week. On standardized tests of reading and math, I was almost always a year behind, sometimes even more.
By the time I was ten years old I realized that the standard rules for achievement were eluding me. That’s when I made a discovery. If I couldn’t achieve success by following the standardized rules, I would make up my own rules so I could succeed.
For example, when I was cut from the local little league baseball team as an eleven year old, I created my own baseball league. In creating it I made sure the rules favored me. For example I made a rule that only sock balls, not baseballs, could be used. These were balls made out of old socks. I rolled them up, and sewed them together until they were tightly bound. The sock ball’s unique feature was that when it was hit in the air by a bat, it would fly, but not as fast or as far as a regular baseball. That way I had enough time to run underneath the sock ball when it was hit in the air to catch it. It was a ball tailor made for my physical condition.
I invited my neighbor Tommy, who lived in a yellow stucco house three doors down from me, to form the league with me, even though he was 3 years older than I was. We would alternate hitting and pitching using his garage door as a back stop. It was his garage door, but my rules! We set up the league, with just two teams, two players (him and me), and one championship game that was called the world series. The reason I insisted on a championship game was that I knew Tommy would win the regular season games (after all, he was older than I was, and a good athlete), and I wanted to be ensured that I would play in a championship game. Things went pretty much as I thought they would. Tommy won all the nine regular season games, and it now came down to the world series.
“Tommy,” I said, ”it’s winner take all.”
He laughed with that Tommy laugh of his. I cracked him up a lot of times.
The Day Before the Big Game
I invited my mother to watch our world series game. But, wouldn’t you know it, the day before the game, Tommy had gotten into a fight and broken his nose and sprained the thumb on his right hand. Tommy told me he’d play anyway. So, that night I asked my mom to help me make an extra tight sock ball.
“Really sew it tight, Mom”, I told her.
The next day was world series day. Game on! Tommy was the home team, because he had the better record. That meant I was up to bat first. My first three at bats were all outs.
Tommy was now at bat. Because his right thumb was sprained he batted left handed and held the bat with his left hand only. He hit a home run his first time to the plate, which meant that any ball hit over my head, that went as far as the end of the driveway, was a home run. During Tommy’s next at bat I threw the sock ball high and inside and noticed that he quickly backed away because he didn’t want anything to come near his broken nose.
“Watch it”, Tommy barked out.
When he said that, I became fixated on his nose. It was swollen with black and blue lines under his two eyes.
“Watch it”, I whispered under my breath.
“That’s the biggest nose I’ve ever seen, except for Uncle Po’s nose”, I thought to myself. With that I placed the ball into my throwing hand, made a very deliberate wind up, and threw the ball as hard as I could. As I released the ball it slipped and flew right at Tommy’s head and hit him dead on in the middle of his nose.
“S _ _t”, he yelled as loud as he could.
After about five seconds his nose started bleeding, like really bleeding badly. Tommy’s mom, who had been watching the game from her kitchen window, shouted out, “that’s it, Tommy get in here and take care of that nose.”
As Tommy was half running- half walking into his house, his head down and hands cupped catching the blood, a thought shot into my mind which I blurted out, “Tommy, you forfeit. I win.”
He muttered back angrily, “ prick.”
I responded quickly, “You’re a prick, I win.”
With her out stretched arm and index finger pointing to our house, my mom stated firmly, ”Home now!!”
I got a one day grounding for saying the “P” word. I protested saying that Tommy said it first, and that he was older.
“I’m not going to argue with an eleven year old,” were her last words on the subject. The next day two of my friends came up to my open bedroom window, and peering through the screen asked why I couldn’t come out.
I stated matter of factly, “ I hit Tommy in the nose with a sock ball and it started to bleed.” “He cussed, I cussed, and my mom got mad at me, and put me on restriction,” I continued with a tone of resignation.
My friends asked several more detailed questions about the collision between ball and nose, commiserated with me on the severity of my punishment, and then left. But, as you will see, that would not to be the last of it.
An Unintended Consequence
That fall I began seventh grade. Come to find out my friends who had visited me at my bedroom window had told other kids at school that I had thrown a “baseball at this older kid’s nose and broke it.” There was blood “all over the place.” New kids, I didn’t even know, started coming up to me during breaks and asking if it was true.
“I didn’t break it,” I said, “ I just made it bleed.”
That seemed to be enough! (Junior high school boys are fascinated by blood.) For the next couple of days, it seemed to me, I was the center of everyone’s attention, and I was happy. No one asked me about being cut from the little league team. They just wanted to know about every detail of the moment I threw the “ball at that older guy’s nose and made it bleed.”
“How much older was he?” they’d ask. “Were you scared?” “Did he come after you?”
“Did you throw it at his nose on purpose?”
I answered all of their questions with as much detail as I could conceivably make up. I’d never received so much attention.
And the results?
Just think, what if I had accepted my being cut from little league as the reality that defined me as a person? I would have started seventh grade as the guy who didn’t make the “majors” in little league. As it turned out, I was anything but that.
And as for me, what had I learned? Reflecting on it, I think it was that at a young age I had discovered that life is flexible. I had come to realize that If the rules of life don’t favor you, you simply can change the rules. For me, I didn’t want to be the kid who was always getting cut from baseball teams. I’d had it. So, I created my own league with my own rules. I enlisted my own players, played in every game, and when the opportunity presented itself, proclaimed victory. The unintended consequence that I hadn’t counted on was the attention I received when I started junior high school. Truth be known, it gave me social standing with my peers that I had no idea would be coming my way. It was an unexpected result that I enjoyed benefiting from. I had changed the rules of the game, and the new rules had changed my personal condition. This wouldn’t be the last time I changed the rules. I’ve done it at several critical times throughout my life. Each time I’ve done it, unexpected opportunities arise. When I’ve acted on those opportunities, the condition of my life has changed, at times dramatically.
Would I recommend this approach to anyone who feels like things are not going the way they had hoped they would? Yes, of course!