My third fight  happened the summer before my senior year of high school.

Several months earlier, I had received my second denial from the Air Force Academy. So I scammed a copy of a previous year’s application to find out what bubbles I needed to fill out to get their attention. On a long list of super-duper exciting leadership activities  – Eastmont High Class Treasurer, anyone? – I found one that didn’t sound too horrifically boring – Boys State.

I wrote an awful essay about how attending would change my life so I can change the world. The acceptance came quickly. A little too quickly. My country bumpkin high school had three slots, and a whopping three dudes applied.

Boys State was actually pretty cool, all things considered. Six long days of hands-on workshops, government exercises and mock political shenanigans for hundreds of incoming seniors across the state. They booked us in dorms on a college campus in town. Most of us were typical nerds who read books or knocked out extra credit assignments between activities, with a smattering of academically-inclined athletes, football captains, wrestling champs, etc… During one of our breakout sessions, I referred to karate as a sport within earshot of this burly minority.

Yah, stupendous idea.

We’ll call our antagonist Meathead Mike. So MM corners me in the dude’s bathroom of all places and asks to wrestle for fun. Weird, but I said sure. To make it clear what I agreed to – imagine a 140lb, 6 foot tall, wiry version of me, and a 200lb, 6 foot tall varsity wrestler, football player athlete extraordinaire. After about a minute of wrestling, MM thinks it would be funny to lift me up – by my hair. Yes, you asshole readers out there – I used to have hair on my actual head. And it effing hurt.

Muscle memory kicks-in from my ‘pussy karate kid shit’ as MM calls it. I throw a short hook punch to his kidney and rapidly removed all of the oxygen from his body. Within 42 milliseconds of catching his breath, he goes all berserker mode on me and shoves me back into the tiny bathroom. Meathead Mike’s meathead friends pulled him back before things got too gnarly. A few bruises, and a shattered ego was gratefully soft consequence of my babbling.

I was badass for a moment, and helpless the next.

Helpless. It sounds so weak. Doomed even.

Hell, the thought of needing help at all makes me cringe. Not I, the great and almighty Nate, conqueror, survivor extraordinaire.

But as fast as my grit has empowered me to make bolder decisions, I just as quickly found myself in a number of situations where I was no kidding stuck with zero real options. When logic, training and circumstance fail you, and all options are stripped away, all that is left is helplessness or hope. Now, hope can manifest in some plain and exotic blends of emotional cocktails. Faith of the religious variety. Belief in rescue from some good Samaritan. Focus on a never-before-seen superhuman surge of strength. You get it.

But, helplessness and hope cannot co-exist in the same moment. They flip flop as the situation and/or your outlook improves or devolves.

Hope is one those airy fairy romantic ideas that I firmly believe in with zero doubt or reservation, like most humans believe up is up and down is down. Why? My rudimentary conclusion: hope seems like the lesser of evils in a dire situation.

I don’t really know what hope is or how to trigger/create/manifest it when shit hits the fan. But I do know that hope is one of those oddities that makes my fellow mammals human. And given the choice between helpless and hopeful, I choose the latter.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

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