And despite this temperament, I’ve been going to a boxing gym for a few years now. Not kick-boxing. Real boxing. There is an art and a ritual to the fight that I’ve come to love: tying my hands in coils of long fabric wraps, crouching low into position, peering out at my opponent over the smooth horizon of my gloves.
Recently, after many months of training by hitting bags and feigning attacks, I was called into the ring by my coach to spar. Initially, I was only on the offense against testosterone-filled guys who weren’t out to hurt me (see picture). Eventually, though, it was a matched fight. As I pulled on my headgear and foul protector, I sized up my first real opponent. She looked small and unassuming, but her slight frame could navigate the ring quickly, with sharp movements and skilled punches. Her expression was cold, toughened and wrung clear of emotion by experience. A well of doom overtook me as I broke from the huddle of onlookers, climbed under the ropes, and took my corner. The buzzer sounded. With a brief exchange of respect, the pummeling began. She attacked me instantly, diving into my range with expert jabs and no tempering of force.
At this point, the sport becomes a dance. A very painful dance. Anticipating another person’s movements, not taking your eyes off theirs, then striking with controlled and practiced strokes, each weighs their own vulnerability. You protect yourself at all costs -- an especially poignant metaphor for life, I think. And facing that boxer’s relentless blows, it was all I could do to pull my head down, shoulders in, and take it.
Fighting is necessary sometimes, to work out all that sticky stuff inside. I started boxing precisely when I was most sleep-deprived and over-evaluated in design school. My usual escape was running, but mile after mile trekked alone left me missing some human connection. In boxing, the inner aches could find a way out as I trained my body to move in line with the chaos around me.
Still, there is something comforting about having remnants of a bit of pain. An expression of what hurts us makes our struggle that much more real. After a bout, however short, my head rings for days and my nose feels like it’s broken. Those physical pains, be they accidental or the byproduct of working hard at something a little riskier than the usual, can give some solace.
Brought to light, lathered in ointment and nursed with Advil, they heal. And remind us that the bigger wounds in our emotions, minds and hearts will heal too. As long as we keep fighting for resolution.