“Humility is the ability to give up your pride and still retain your dignity.” — Vanna Bonta
Last weekend I was given an unintended lesson in the art of natural humility. I say natural because for many of us, we sometimes have to work at being humble. We all know humility as simply the quality of being modest and respectful, and I recently witnessed it in it’s most natural form. Here’s a quick recap of the story:
Justin (we call him J.R.), my middle son, 18-years old and a senior in High School, played in his last Varsity soccer match over the weekend, and quite possibly the last competitive match of his career. J.R. has been playing soccer literally since he could walk. He has been immersed in the “beautiful game”, at a highly competitive level, practically his entire life. This year, J.R. made the decision to pursue higher education at the University of Texas (who doesn’t field a Division One Soccer Team) over the ability to play out-of-state and/or small school soccer at the collegiate level. So, he knew this would be the last time he suited up in his school’s colors.
Preparations for the last match had been intense and emotion-filled. As a three-year varsity starter on defense, J.R. is an anchor on the team and a stalwart presence on the back-line. I cannot remember a time in the last few years that J.R. has been substituted during a critical game situation. Not only was it the last game for the graduating senior class, but the game was to be played against a rival team in first place in the district standings.
His team came out totally focused, energized and built a commanding lead. It was clear that J.R. and his teammates were emotional about this game, and were playing easily their most inspired game of the season. Midway through the second half of this intense game, I heard the head coach beckon J.R. to the bench. A substitute player, a young man I had not seen on the field up to this point in the season, took J.R.’s place on the defense. J.R. bowed his head, strolled off the field for what was to be the last time, and took his place unceremoniously on the end of the bench. Not to the applause of cheering fans or throngs of well-wishers. Not to beaming parents and doting grandparents. Instead, to silence. Most of us wondering why he had been called out of the game when he deserved the glory of every remaining minute, like those of our other fine graduating seniors.
After the game, as the fans, parents, and girlfriends waited on their hero’s return to our side of the field, I saw J.R. walking with a confidence and satisfaction that clearly I had not expected. When he climbed up in the stands, he was immediately approached by the mother of the young man that had been substituted in his place. The mother was clearly emotional, tears of joy, and she thanked J.R. in what was complete and heartfelt sincerity. After we had left the field, the stadium lights no longer shining on J.R.’s soccer career, I asked my son what many had been wondering over the last 30 minutes — why had he been substituted at such a critical period? His response was resolute. “Dad“, he said, “You see, the other young man has not played this season, and he was beginning to question his own abilities. He is committed to this team, he practices hard, and he loves the game of soccer. He deserved to play in this game. So, at halftime I asked the coach to substitute him in for me, regardless of the game situation. Simply put, he deserved to play, and I made sure he did“.
Fifteen years of soccer, a thousand games, thousands of practices, blood, sweat, mud, freezing rain, broken bones, trips to the ER, and a lifetime of memories. It all came down to this…. a young man, wise beyond his years, sacrificing his one, final shining moment for a teammate in need.
Later that night, in the privacy of our own thoughts, J.R.’s mother and I cried a few tears. Not because our son’s playing career ended. But because of the way it ended.
Well played, son. Well played.
Author’s Note: Obviously, not everything in these writings relates to cycling, and this post is evidence of that. In PedalBIG, sometimes I’ll simply post about things that inspire me.