Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ping Pong

I was playing ping-pong with Carly the other day. Just hacking around - the kind of pinging and ponging where each of us took turns smashing the ball if the opportunity presented itself, which was fairly often since we were just hacking around.

There was this one shot that I lobbed which Carly took full advantage of. I saw her begin to wind up and then suddenly the whole world began to move in slow motion: her paddle rose at half speed till it reached shoulder height, she stretched her arm out to a full back swing; gathering and storing energy till her arm muscles were fully tensioned like a spring, and then the release! Slam! I think I saw sparks as the orange rubbery-bumpled paddle made contact with the little white ball. And Time slowed even more: I could read the print on the ball as it came at me:


Do you remember a few years ago, the NHL tried to add a digital (like the yellow line in pro football) effect for TV viewers (no one liked it so they ditched it) where you would see a red streak behind the puck when a player hit it over a certain speed, and the digital streak would even turn blue on a slapshot? That's what Carly's slam was like. The blue streak. But I saw it all in slo-mo.

Slam! Red Streak! Blue streak! Coming straight at my eyes. Can you also remember in Back To The Future when the flux capacitor of Doc's De Lorean time machine was fully charged and they were about to make the jump, and that spacey, electrical charge stuff was all around the car? Well, I didn't see any of that, but the ball did make that zippy crackling noise as it approached my noggin.

Slam! Red Streak! Blue Streak! Crackle!

That's when my ninja instincts and training kicked in. I did that slow-motion-dodge-the-bullet-Matrix-move and the thing crackled by my head, tickling my ear hairs but leaving me unscathed.

Oh, how I wish I had had the foresight to teach that move to - we'll call her Prissy, an 8th grade girl back in the 80's. Janie and I had volunteered to help the youth leaders at our church with a crowd of 8th graders that they were taking to Snow Camp in Rumney, New Hampshire. (Janie and I 'met' at Rumney years earlier, by the way, but that's another story..)

Anyway, we were just all hacking around, playing ping-pong, myself and three of the kids, including brand-new-to-the-group, never-been-on-a-youth-retreat, came-with-a-friend Prissy, when it happened: the Great Youth Leader Blunder. The inevitable lob came my way, just perfectly slow, high and beautiful. Perfect for smashing and total domination of my two child opponents. No decision had to be made: it was pure instinct. My paddle rose at half speed till it reached shoulder height, my arm stretched out to a full back swing, gathering and storing energy till my muscles were fully tensioned like a spring. Then with a twisted facial grimace of destruction and massive grunt like Nadal at Wimbledon came the release.

Slam! Red Streak! Blue Streak! Crackle!

And ZOT! Straight into Prissy's left eye. Up went the wail and down came the tears. What a scene. It was horrific. Nothing bad actually happened to her at all, but oh, what a scene. She played it up big and got lots of attention. I got lots of attention too, but not the kind a youth leader is supposed to get. I heard whisperings: "What kind of monster would hit a four-foot-eleven, eighty pound 8th grade girl in the left eye with a ping-pong ball? Who does that?"

I stood by, limp. The shame.

All ended well, though. I apologized profusely and agreed not to play ping-pong with anyone else that weekend. Too dangerous. Prissy graciously accepted my apology. And everyone went tubing and ate too much pizza and gummy worms.

I'll never forget that episode. I actually really did feel horrible. I had hurt someone. Granted, I didn't mean to, but I still felt lousy. Full of regret. As she held her eye with two hands and rolled on the floor (not really), I would have given anything to have that smash back. But once it's done, it's done, right? Zot. Done.

Recently, I hurt someone. In anger, I - uncharacteristically - lashed out and went off on them. It was all there: the back-swing, the stored nasty energy, fully tensioned like a spring, the facial grimace and Zot! Right in their eye. It was ugly and I was (and am) ashamed. Oh, how I wish I could have those words back. But once it's done, it's done, right? Zot. Done. They had to bring me back down to earth and point out my sin. There's no other word for it. Sin. "When words are many, sin is not absent." Proverbs 10:19. And I lost control like a bull in a china shop and didn't care what damage I was doing. I just didn't care. And that frightens me even now as I recall it. "Reckless words pierce like a sword..." Proverbs 12:18. 

What a powerful negative force is unbridled anger.

But what an even more powerful positive force are grace and forgiveness! I settled down over the next few days and we talked it out like rational people. I finally asked for forgiveness and it was given. Just like that! Grace!

God loves reconciliation. Jesus said that we should reconcile with our brother even before we try and worship God. (Matthew 5:24, Luke 12:58). I love it that God loves reconciliation. I have my peace back and I can live in harmony again.

All because of grace.

Have you fired a shot into someone's eye? Do you have someone you need to reconcile with?


  1. Once again you have elevated my vocabulary as well as my spirit, Chris. "Rubbery-bumpled" - thanks - I'll use that again.
    And I will be reading this to my children, one child in particular who struggles with a temper, and is learning. Super word pictures. Thanks and I'm thinking of you this week and still pray. :) (Hbd!)

  2. Well said, as always! You can't reel a bomb back in once it's left the cargo bay, huh? :D I don't know why we (humans) like our selfish anger so much. It's a temporary feeling of power of something, but it always ends up being hurtful. Anywho - great story!