My Last Arena

Living Lessons with Duke Tirschel


What time in life should you consider yourself a man?
Is ‘becoming a man’ something that just happens to you? Maybe it’s after an accomplishment in some competitive sport? Is it after high school or is it after college? Maybe it’s when you get married or after you become a father?

The Marine Corps says they’ll make a man out of you but then the Army goes even further and says, “Be all the man you can be.” Just exactly what does a boy have to do to become a man?

Sam Keen wrote in ‘Fire in the Belly’, “To the victors belong the spoils, especially the women. So when the going got tough, the tough got going, and soon men began to thrive in direct proportion to their ability to sustain a high testosterone level … clearly, warfare changed the arena in which manhood was to be won.”

Becoming A ManWhat better time for a man to fight than when he feels so certain that he’s in the right. And it’s even better when he knows the other man is already beaten.

How can you tell?

Look at him, he’s standing over there…the beaten one, he’s holding a Styrofoam cup to catch the blood from his broken nose. And look at his girl friend standing between us and frantically waving her arms and screaming hysterically in a futile attempt to protect him.

When the two bouncers dragged his ‘protection’ out of my way they said to me, “Go on man, he’s all yours, take him down.”

Earlier I ignored this guy challenging me to fight as he resorted to blowing kisses towards me to say that he saw me as someone he could openly ridicule. The remarks he made after that I didn’t hear but whatever he said made the people at the bar join with him and laugh at me.

That was a few minutes ago. But now… what is this change? Where is the demeaning glare with which he challenged me? I can see he’s taken a closer look at me through the blood pouring from the gash above his left eye. And as he catches the blood from his broken nose he stands in front of me and all his friends … crying.

The crowd poured out of the Palace from both the front doors and the back. And again I heard someone yell, “Go on, he’s yours. Take ’em down.”

The black night sky was fading as the early morning could be seen rising in the distance. Clouds streaked a bright orange against a deep blue sky and this gave the parking lot at the Crystal Palace the appearance of a festive ‘hometown’ arena.

I stood facing this young man who had a problem with me earlier and I looked over my shoulder and saw my friends take their place to back me up. They knew the fight wouldn’t get to them but they were answering a ‘call’ for their own personal need. And by just standing there and being ready to cover my back in case any of his friends tried to ‘blind-side’ me, they joined me as we all were reaching beyond who we really were and allowed us to see ourselves as the hero’s we’ll never be.

All of this happened in a split second.

“What better time for a man to fight than when he feels he’s right, but; more than that, what better time for a man to fight than when … ” I raised my hands and took a quick lunge in his direction; but, stopping short from where he stood I had to drop my hands and smile. What I thought I was going to do just didn’t hold the same weight it did a few minutes ago. I didn’t mean to laugh at him but he looked so pitiful when he dropped the cup filled with his own blood and froze wide-eyed in fear.

I heard the crowd yell… “Take ’em down”… “Go on, what are you waiting for?” “C’mon, lay him out man.”

I looked around, there were a hundred people or more still pouring out of the club, yelling, “C’mon Duke is going to fight – Duke is going to fight”. and I saw people ‘strapping-up’ for a battle that wasn’t even theirs. Some were taking off their coats while others were rolling up their sleeves. And a few others were pulling on leather gloves and glaring with hatred as they began closing in on the young man who was standing there in front of me.

Most of the people in that crowd didn’t even know what set him and I against each other. They just wanted to see, and be a part of, someone getting hurt. They saw that he wouldn’t fight and that made them want to.

His girlfriend kept yelling from across the lot and begging that he not be hurt. My heart went out to him and his girlfriend, and I wanted to stop this from going any further, but I couldn’t. You see, I was so afraid that I would look weak to everyone. And I didn’t even know why I felt obligated to please this crowd but when I remembered what he had done to provoke me I thought to dazzle the crowd and take him out real fancy. I took my time and entertained myself with thoughts of just how I would do what ever I do to him.

I was one breath away from letting my anger explode and create a mess of both our lives. Gritting my teeth, I tried to sink into that state of wanting to rip this guy apart. But as hard as I tried to fill my heart with hate I couldn’t bring myself to want him to be hurt anymore than he already was. And right then, in the midst of it all, I found myself wishing I hadn’t hurt him at all.

What a dangerous time and place to have a thought like this.

And then another thought bit me: I don’t need him to feel bad in order for me to feel good; he has absolutely nothing to do with how I feel about me.

Where were these thoughts coming from?

But wait a minute … what about this crowd? What will they think of me? What about my reputation? What will all these people say?

Oh, oh … now I was beginning to see the fight I had to face. The real war that was being waged was me against me. Would I have the courage to back off now?

No way, I just couldn’t. After all, I lived for the way these people thought of me.

This was my life. I trained the bouncers and escorted the strippers; I protected the high rollers and the peddlers of all those things one buys for pleasure and pain so late at night. It was in this low level living that I found it so easy to feel so far above everyone else.

But now? What would all these people think of me if I let up?

Still, I was overwhelmed by a desire to do something for this kid. Something that would help him … something that would get him out of this mess. But I knew if I did … everyone watching would no longer think of me as I thought they did.

The whole world moved in slow motion. Each scene clicked mechanically… frame by frame. I stopped and took a look at all of us. And all I could see was the scared little boys we were right then. And what we feared most was that someone might see that we were not all the “man” we were cracked up to be. I thought of how often we plant our souls in the shallow dust of these worthless arenas and then we wonder why no gardens grow. I thought about it; and I decided that I wanted out of this worthless arena and I realized that this was as good a time as any to make my move.

I stepped forward and I put my arm around this young man’s shoulders and I walked him away from the crowd and I talked to him. I said things that came from my heart and I hope they entered his because I was moved by a spirit that I thought might shed some light in this young man’s life someday.

I ignored the smirks from the crowd as they shook their heads and laughed at me. I kept my focus on the message I was giving this kid because it was one I was hearing for the first time myself. I have no idea if I did what I thought I did for him but I know I did what I did for me. Because when I stepped out to help this kid I buried who this crowd thought I was and as soon as I did; I knew I no longer wanted to belong with those boys who dress up like men and strut about the way they think a man would do. I decided that someone has got to help a boy become a man and hopefully I can help them see that our ‘manhood’ will never be found in the worthless arenas, alley ways and bar room brawls.

Maybe we should tell them that we don’t become a ‘man’ by seeing a challenge in everything and anything that doesn’t agree with us. And we don’t become a man by acting as though we’re the toughest guy on the block … because frankly, we’re not … no one is; and it’s insane to want to be, or to think we are.

There’s a number of paths we can take to make ourselves feel like a ‘man’ but there’s only one path that will really get us there and the Man whose name is above all names will gladly walk every step with you, if you asked Him to. Oh yes, and one more thing, the most common deception of all, you do not become a man simply by growing older.

It was months later that I returned to that young man’s hangout, and looked in on him, as I said I would. He and his friends froze when I walked through the door. And when I held out my hand to this young man they all just gave me a cold blank stare.

When he finally took my hand he started to speak but then he changed his mind. And for just a split second the message in our silence spoke to us and I believe we both heard something that we’ll understand someday to have been very good.

So, without a word spoken, we exchanged a slight smile, and a nod, and then we shook hands and I turned and walked away.