Let me tell you the story about a boy who had the pleasure of commuting on a public school bus to and from a Christian school each day from the ages of 11 to 15. I would have to leave for school well over an hour before school even began to take the bus to my district public school, and then a van (insert short bus joke here) to the various private schools with other kindred spirits in similar situations.
Coming home was much the same, except instead of riding the high school bus, I would be on the middle school bus returning home. So while most kids might have 7 hours of school with a 30 minute commute on the front and backend of their day, my day was extended by an additional hour or more on either end.
The long day was the least of my challenges however. Wearing dress clothes and a clip-on tie as part of the school uniform led to ridicule from the public school students. This was character building to say the least.
I know my mom was trying her best to bring me up differently in this world, and the tuition was no small expense for a single mother. But I can promise you, this boy sure wished she would've saved her money and spend it on toys or an Atari for me instead!
It was just very hard. I did not fit in. I was quiet, shy, and respectful of those around me. My mother had a very tender heart, and I learned this from her as well. So I tended to be nice to people around me, or just mind my own business. That sentiment was not always returned in this particular setting, surrounded by 30 to 60 other children, many with different moral upbringings. The bus could get rowdy for sure, and while I tried to sit near the front, that wasn't always possible.
Was I scared? Sure. Who wouldn't be?
There were times I was even bullied. Other students would try to take things from me, and even challenge me to fight. I was usually able to avoid encounters by not pushing back, by standing my ground and not being weak at the same time. I didn't cower and take a beating. I would just stand quietly and say nothing while trying to maintain eye contact. This quiet response was often confused for confidence and they would usually leave me with just a verbal lashing.
The monkey dance hadn't gone down just the way they thought it should, and yet I gave them a face saving out so they could still look tough in front of their peers. What did I care? I really had no peers in that environment. I just didn't want whooped.
There was this one time though, at the middle school around 3 PM while standing beside the building waiting to board the bus, that I couldn't avoid an encounter. A kid my age started pushing me and calling me names. Again I said nothing and stood my ground. Then the fists came towards my head. In defense and surprise, I returned fire, getting lucky and making contact with his nose. He was shocked to see the blood, stopped swinging and put his hands to his nose to quell the flow. He then turned to head into the bathroom, throwing angry curses and threats of vengeance over his shoulder as he walked away. It was pure luck, no doubt about it, as I had been flailing blindly forward with my eyes closed. A lucky strike that at least gave others reason to pause and consider me not such a weak target.
The funny thing is, just a year later at the age of 16, I would join that very public school in the 10th grade. Joining wrestling and Karate would transform me for the rest of my life from then on. Oh, and when my mother found out, she located this boy's home and drove me down to his front door and made me apologize for bloodying his nose. Oh the irony of ironies.
I remember that encounter on the sidewalk in early May. I remember the choices presented before me. Out of my element, scared as heck inside, and deciding in that moment to fake and force my courage. How many times in life have I been out of my comfort zone, terrified inside, and chosen instead to force courage to the forefront? Probably too many to count. From relationships, to business, to life struggles.
We all face these choices.
I'm just very glad that I learned the value of forcing courage until life experiences could support and build a true courage from those few victories.
If you're facing a tough time right now, let me encourage you to do the same. When you don't feel like being strong and it's completely misplaced, force courage and take a stand. You'll be glad you did.