My Silent Teacher

by Peg Coleman

Growing up in a family with four sisters and one brother, I quickly learned to turn to my brother for adventure. Only a year and a half older than me, he seemed so wise and full of knowledge. I trusted him completely and followed him whenever I could. That `whenever' was usually in the evenings ( the time between dinner at 6:00pm and curfew at 7:30pm!) when he and the neighborhood boys got together for their adventures. He rarely acknowledged me, but he never told me to leave them either. If his friends ever protested at my tagging along the most I ever heard was "she's alright" and that was the end of it.

One night he and his friends and I, the silent shadow, stole a very large pumpkin out of the neighbor's garden. The boys took turns passing it back and forth as they climbed to the top of the floodlight tower at the football field (70+feet high). Once at the top they dropped the pumpkin and it landed not far from my feet where it smashed with a satisfying "squelch" sound into little pieces. We collected all the bits and walked to the nearest main road. Once there we laid the pumpkin in a line straight from one side of the road to the other. Breathless with the excitement of our daring and the anticipation of things to come, we ran and hid behind nearby bushes to await the arrival of the next car on the road. Then we saw it! A car was coming! We waited. It slowed down. Our hearts, along with the car, stopped. The driver paused at the wheel. We could almost hear the silent questioning "What IS that? Can I drive through without wrecking my tires?" We rolled with silent laughter as the driver cautiously stepped out of his car, walked to the front where his headlights held our pumpkin captive in their gaze. Then always—always, the driver sheepish scratched his head while furtively looking around to make sure no one saw him before he got back in the car and drove quickly off. Such a simple thing, yet to me so daring and exciting!

Little did my brother know how much I idolized him. The best times for me were the nights his friends couldn't play and it was just the two of us and the promise of adventure. Once such night happened in late autumn. It was one of those Minnesota nights when the air was so crisp and clean and fresh that the simple act of breathing it in was heaven.

That night we decided to bestow our attentions on a neighbor who had a lovely woodpile, neatly stacked, behind the garage in their back yard. We decided it needed rearranging. So we took it apart log by log until every piece was laid out flat—we completely "un-stacked" it. The next day we saw it stacked neatly in place again, so that night we repeated our deed. So it went for several days.

Finally after about three nights of this we arrived home from our most recent efforts to find mom standing at the door. She said Mrs.B had just called to accuse us of doing what we had, of course, done. Mom asked, "Is this true?" In the same breath, on the same beat, at precisely the same time as my brother said yes I said no. Mom looked at me and said "in the house, in the tub and to bed." She looked at my brother and said, "you can play another half hour."

Sitting in the tub that night I thought long and hard about what had happened. Mom did not lecture me. In fact I do not recall ever talking about it again but the point was clear: you don't lie. What was even more clear to me was that my brother really was someone special and not for the reasons I had originally thought. Although I did not know the word, I was witnessing integrity in action. My brother demonstrated a willingness to take responsibility for his actions and to accept whatever consequences might follow.

Then came 9th grade and The Great Dividing Line. My brother moved to another school and out of my life. He was heading for the world of grownups and leaving me behind. I felt a great loss.

At this time my brother was, as everyone said, growing like a weed. The basketball coach noticed and "adopted" my brother. They not only worked out in the regular training sessions together but also in extra ones—outside the normal schedule.

I watched my brother change from an awkward, second string basketball player in grade school to the star player of our high school. Doing those years I watched him mature with the same dignity, integrity, courage and determination I first began to see the "night of the woodpile" incident. Though I did not analyze it at the time, I now know that he was an example of what was possible when a person determined to do something. He went on to win a full college scholarship, was scouted for the Pros, but chose another path for his life.

I moved to England where I lived for 16 years. Not only did I leave behind family, but also the excitement of the sport of basketball, which I had grown to love through the years of supporting my brother. But I found a new hero in the British runner Sebastian Coe. He had a distinguished career as a record setting miler and as a person of integrity. He seemed a genuinely nice guy. However, the time came when he could no longer ignore the fact that he was competing at a disadvantage and that the joy of pure competition was a thing of the past. Illegal performance enhancing drugs had altered professional competitive meets for good and for him that was not acceptable. So rather than having to "turn a blind eye" or work harder than he already was in order to overcome this unequal and unfair advantage, he choose to retire from the field. Competitive athletics lost a true competitor and gentleman at that time but he lost nothing in his standing in my estimation as a man of integrity.

Are you a sports lover? Do you find sports are becoming less enjoyable now because of the attitudes and actions of players in their private lives? Why is that, do you suppose? Do we have any right to expect athletes to meet OUR criteria of how we feel a "good athlete" should conduct himself or herself on and off the court? Are you any less attracted to watch and support a team or competitor because of the big money and the use of performance enhancing drugs which are both becoming a part of amateur as well as professional athletics?

We recognize integrity when we see it and many of us admire it and strive for it in our own lives. But have you ever stopped to question why we feel it is important? Why is there this standard of integrity that we measure ourselves and the actions of others against? I believe it is because our own conscience bears witness that this is the way we are meant to live our lives. We often hear discussions about the existence of good and evil and although we may differ widely as to their origins most people would agree that they do exist. But it is what we choose to do in our own lives, in the light of their existence, that makes the difference.

The Bible says, if you walk in the light (i.e. truth) as I am in the Light you will have fellowship (unity, connection) with one another. The one frees and liberates and creates a space of ease. The other constricts and compromises and keeps a person continually looking over one shoulder for the consequences of actions they know were not right.

So back to these men, my brother and Sebastian Coe. They both walked away. My brother from a potential career in professional basketball and Sebastian Coe from a world class reputation in sport. Why could they walk away? Because they were free. They were men of integrity.

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