The Unforeseen Moment: the Failure of Cool

I knew a kid named Tom who always had it together.  His sense of dignity and confidence seemed innate and imperturbable.  He approached a problem with the sure knowledge that he would eventually triumph.  He used reason, detachment and persistence to guide him through difficulties when they made their rare appearances.

I envied Tom.  My emotions often got the best of me, and I had no ability to project an aura of “cool”.  I had a wavering sense of self worth based on performance.  If I failed or if the results didn’t match my expectations, my ego crumbled.

But one day I saw Tom blunder into a fight on the playground.  An older boy picked him out for abuse and refused to listen to reason.  The thug wanted to pound someone, and Tom was available.

A circle formed around them, and I saw Tom taking a measured approach.  He’d fight just enough to ward off the punk.  No need for genuine violence.  Punk ignored Tom’s sporadic punches, lunged forward and grabbed Tom around the waist.  Tom politely hit the boy on the shoulders but found himself hoisted off his feet.  Tom’s face still appeared calm, but I could see a hint of confusion in his eyes.  He hadn’t foreseen this and didn’t know how to react.  The thug threw Tom down on his back and leapt on top.   The circle closed tighter around them, and I didn’t see the rest of the fight.

I came across Tom later in the day.  He sat brooding on a concrete parking lot bumper.  He hadn’t been thoroughly thumped, but mussed hair, a bruised cheek and a torn shirt pocket indicated defeat.   His air of detachment now carried a tinge of melancholy.  His mouth turned down at the corners, and he didn’t look me in the eye.

I’d had three fights up to that point.  George landed a punch on my jaw and staggered me.  Paul connected a hook to my ear and sat me on my ass.  Tim and I fought to a frustrating standstill.   I blocked punches, listened to a steady stream of abuse, and missed all my jabs aimed at his teeth.

I lived in a Charlie Brown world of repeated failure and almost felt sorry for Tom.  He had joined the brotherhood of losers for the first time.  But there was no need to offer him welcome.  He wouldn’t be staying long enough to pay dues and get to know the  membership, but would bounce back the next day and reclaim his accustomed status.

The Golden Ones always did.