What Being Bullied Taught Me About Trusting Forces Bigger Than Myself
Learning to get creative in asking for help
One dark, inky night on the backroads of Indiana, a heavy, four door sedan with three teenagers inside hurtled toward the edge of a major highway, not knowing that in a few moments they’d be spinning through the air.
The headlights from cars on the ever closer highway out front, bobbed up and down, twisting this way, now that until we got to the final turn that would take us to the on-ramp.
I remember looking left at at the mercury vapor light on top of a grain silo just as the driver yelled “hang on!”, and then silence. Everything got quiet as we left the road, a momentary screech from the tires and then that eerie silence followed by what seemed like an eternity of spinning. That light that was spied off to the left only moments ago was now spinning in our windshield, one, two, three times and then the most bone-shattering, tooth loosening impact I’ve ever felt.
Before we even knew what had happened, the roof of our vehicle was now resting on the headrests, and our driver was frantically asking if everyone was alright. I was alive, and my best friend whose name happened to be Nate, was too. But he was holding his head and the side window was gone.
With mouthfuls of gritty dust between our teeth, the driver whose name was ironically Lane, began to kick his door open. He managed to get it halfway with just a few kicks, probably because he was a ninja.
I’m not kidding. We had just left our ninjitsu martial arts class only a few minutes prior, not having even the faintest idea that we’d shortly be in a ditch, next to a major country highway, car thankfully upright on all wheels, but smashed flatter than those cars that monster trucks like to land on.
A friendly Samaritan on the highway must have seen the wreck, because within a few minutes we were headed for home. I don’t remember any police or ambulances, probably because we lived so far out in the cuts that it was safer to just drive home really fast, as long as we all could talk and didn’t have concussions.
I found out a few days later this was not the case for my friend Nate, who’d broken the side window out with his head, and a later trip to the ER confirmed this. I was thankfully fine, save for the massive, purple, strangely long streak of a blood blister across my torso. We’d had a bag of weapons on the back seat, like training swords and a wooden stick called a hanbo used for class, which had apparently scraped my abdomen sometime during our three rolls through the air or shortly thereafter.
I suppose you’re wondering why this all came about in the first place. Well, funny you should ask, it was mostly related to the unhappy fact that I’d been getting bullied in school.
I’d started taking the martial arts class because of a couple fine gentlemen named Philip and Jessie. For some reason they thought that picking on me was more fun than picking out more black Megadeth concert t-shirts after a rocking show, or maybe just because I was scrawny and seemed like a good target. Either way, these two guys were the bane of my existence around ninth grade.
It was the classic bully scenario. I’d see them down the hall and turn the other way, sometimes ending up late for class because I had to take some convoluted route or hide in a bathroom stall until they were gone. But every now and then, when I wasn’t looking they’d catch up with me like the bully Farkus in the Christmas Story.
Eventually I got sick of getting bad grades because I couldn’t face up to these guys. I told my parents and they enrolled me in a ninjitsu class. My best friend decided to join me as well, though at six foot tall in ninth grade and on his way to six foot six, he didn’t really need the classes anyway.
But it wasn’t that martial arts class that stopped the bullies from chasing me away from a better life.
And it wasn’t the appointment with my principal, telling her the names of these guys and what they were doing, nor was it the fact that she promised she knew this had been happening to others, and that she was going to put an immediate end to this.
No, none of those things made any difference whatsoever until I got creative. I had a friend named Lance that sat next to me in a science class. I knew he was on the football team and had lots of big friends. One day I decided to ask if he could grab some of his biggest buddies from the team and go put an end to the reign of terror these fine individuals had put me through for the last six months.
A few days later, I saw Phillip and Jessie in the hallway and they took one look at me and went the other way! It was like one of those moments in the movies where the enemy starts running away from the little guy only to have the camera pan out and see an army behind him, and he’s like oh yeah okay, that’s why they ran. I found out later that my friend had enlisted the biggest linebacker on our football team to go up and grab those guys by the collar and tell them they’d better never mess with Nate again. I’d never met this person, but what he did for me is still one of the most awesome and decisive victories I’ve had in life.
I learned in that moment that it’s okay to go find people bigger than yourself, with better resources, and there’s nothing to be ashamed about in that.
We all need others to help us get where we need to go. Without those that have the things we lack, we’d probably never be able to accomplish most of the things that we do on a daily basis. The point is that people with much greater resources than me are responsible for most of the things I take for granted everyday. Think about your life and how many things are like that for you. How many of the things that you take as a given everyday were created by people with more resources than you?
But probably the best takeaway is that I learned to be thankful for my enemies.
Thank you to the other bully, the kid at the bus stop in seventh grade, with the cast on his arm, who called me out one morning for a fight.
Thank you to the guy named Jeff who smashed my head into the locker in junior high, shortly after getting my books for the next class.
Thank you to the kid whose name I can’t remember now, but who tried to turn one of my best friends against me, in front of all the cool people, at a football game in eight grade. And yes, who also wanted to fight.
You taught me how to hustle, how to get creative about finding answers and solutions when life knocks the wind out of you.
Now I know how to dig in when losing a job, how to keep trying when the creative well is dry and most importantly, hear my deepest self above the noise. I learned that from you, Philip and Jessie, wherever you are now, and for that I thank you.
What I’ve learned, the hard way, is that we all need adversity to become our best selves, the version that we’d want to meet someday at the end of our lives, if we ever hope to fulfill all that we’re meant to be here, on this spinning rock in the middle of the unwritten blackness of space. What we get is a chance to make our own way, to take the negative space and use it to create, to heal, to launch. And not just ourselves, but others as well. As much as we don’t want to admit, it’s the adversity that brings out our highest purpose.
Is there anyone or anything chasing you around right now? How can you take that moment and turn it decisively in your direction?
In ninjitsu we were taught to use our enemies’ momentum against them, to go with the flow of motion rather than resisting with force. How does this work in the real world? Let’s say you’ve just had a major software contract pull back on you, and you don’t know what to do. Should you A) double down and write more software, chasing even bigger contracts or B) maybe take this as a nudge from the Universe that software isn’t what makes you truly happy?
You can’t think too much you have to feel it, like those artesian wells that just flow water all the time, up from the deep where it’s been filtered and it’s fresh and clean. Those guys in my martial arts class, true ninjas, taught me how to belong, and gave me confidence that someone had my back.
Though it may seem like an unlikely source to draw inspiration from, this echoes what DJ Khaled once said in his song I’m So Grateful:
I also want to thank all my enemies for turning their backs on me
In the end, what did I learn from my friend, the ninja who failed to see the turn? Maybe something like this:
You may never know what’s coming up around the next bend, and that’s okay. Many times it’s not your fault, it’s a depth perception issue. We didn’t know that the driver of the car that night had a visual impairment. He told us later that was probably the reason we crashed, that his depth perception was off, especially driving in the dark. I’m glad that he was able to be honest with us about the reason for his crash, none of which was his fault, and I’m also glad that we walked away from that accident with mostly scrapes and bruises. Because in reality, we walked away with so much more.