Life lessons: Finding our seat in the boat


By Betty Slade | PREVIEW Columnist

Life is interesting. Why did it take a lifetime to learn which seat I belonged in, much less which boat I was to board? I learned from the story “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown that the Master choses the boat, seat and time. Our job is to be prepared.

Our place depends on how He made us in our mother’s womb and called us to do a certain task for a designed purpose. It’s a long life to live without knowing our purpose. For me, it was many years of floundering, pursuing what I thought was mine and wasn’t mine.

The assignment for our writers’ group was to read “The Boys in the Boat.” At a designated time, like a book club, we review and talk about what made the book a classic, a best seller or an engaging story. How did it affect us and what did we learn from reading the book? What will help us in our own writing?

There are many lessons to take away from the account of one young man, Joe Rantz. Staying alive and raising himself was the plight of his existence.

Rantz was one of nine Americans whose quest was to win gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He was part of a working-class team from the American West who had true grit to overcome hardships beyond reason and earn his seat on the boat. He trained his body under grueling conditions to be on the rowing team. 

The team, made of ragtag boys, were sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers. They were never expected to defeat the elite college teams on the East Coast and Great Britain.

 The book’s description reads in part, “The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boy’s own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement …”

The specific seat on the rowing team required a certain boy’s makeup — his body, size, upper-body strength, mental strength, instincts, character and uniqueness. He fit in that place among the other rowers. As distinct as each boy was in his place, he was disciplined to become one with the others. They chanted their mantra, “MIB” (mind in the boat). They learned to row as one and row for the others without any selfish notion.

Rantz, a loner, left to take care of himself at 10 years old, had to learn to become part of the team and turn independence into depending on others. It was all necessary to be a contender and win at the Olympics.

On our eight-hour trip home from the weekend boxing meet in Mesa, Ariz., the family listened to and finished “The Boys in the Boat.” We discussed what it took to win the gold and how the boys faced many obstacles but had been through much harsher times. They were disciplined to put aside everything in order to stay focused on their goal — to win the gold.

That weekend, we had also entered into another athletic sport, the world of boxing.

Our grandson, 26, moved to Las Vegas to take his dream seriously — to become a boxer. His first step was to believe in his dream, knowing he needed to be where he could accomplish it. He found a coach, a gym, an apartment and a job.

From Brown’s book to the boxing ring, I saw a similar parallel for these young boys. They were following their dreams, finding their place in life, trying to make their mark, not sure what their dream would require and if it was worth the beating.

Our grandson scheduled a match in Mesa and we made plans to watch him. His opponent went for our grandson’s head. With two brutal blows, the referee stopped the match. With a technical knockout, our grandson was still standing, but with a possible concussion or head injury.

He saw stars and wobbled to the ropes. The doctor examined him. He had suffered two severe blows and his body was shaken. The fight came to a screeching halt. The boxing commissioner took away his pass. He would not be able to fight for a month.

Afterward, our grandson said, “I don’t know if my head can take any more blows.”

He was being real and honest. Is this the dream he wants to pursue in his life? Is it worth the pursuit? Will he forget what it felt like in a month and climb back into the ring?

For me, it wasn’t a defeat but a pause for understanding. He will never have to say, “I wished I would’ve had the courage to follow my dream.” This bump in the road will buy him time to reevaluate his dream, change his mind or train differently. He was given time to decide his next step. 

I felt the weekend was more than the fight. It was knowing about himself. Fighting the good fight doesn’t mean staying in the ring, but learning where his place is.

Final brushstroke: As we fight the good fight of faith, sometimes a knockout is a way to stop us in our tracks, give us understanding of who we are and where we belong. For many, it takes a lifetime of beating the air, taking the blows and running after our dreams to finally fit in the seat made for us.

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