Gilbert navigated his world concentrating on the negative. This fact alarmed his parents. It also made them feel guilty as they felt partially responsible. He had, after all, been weaned on the don’t method of living.
From the time their over-sized, yet agile boy began tottering on his sturdy legs, his parents continuously counseled him: Don’t touch/don’t run/don’t scream. Don’t go near the pool/the pond/the angry dogs. Don’t play with electrical sockets/wasps/pitchforks.
It continued into adolescence: Don’t take drugs/have sex/drive too fast/forget to floss, gargle or smile. In school and sports, his concentration on the don’ts seemed to pay off. Don’t be late/forget to study/ fail a test. Don’t be lazy/let anyone beat you/eat too many carbs. This method carried him academically and made college football scouts take notice of “Gilbert The Glacier,” the most formidable tight end in the state of Michigan.
Eventually, the don’t method of living permeated every area of his life. When he heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, only the don’ts penetrated: Don’t murder/divorce/swear oaths. His mind could not grasp the do’s: Love your enemy/give to the needy/ask/seek/knock.
His parents tried to reason with him, to make him see the value of looking at the do’s, but it was of no use. “Don’t try to change me now,” Gilbert told them.
He entered his last year of high school with a single-mindedness toward the future. Don’t let anything come between you and your dreams, he repeated, jogging out to the practice field where a new head coach—Coach Kapauski— greeted the team.
Coach Kapauski had a different philosophy on the job of the tight end than the previous coach had had. The old coach’s mantra had been: Don’t let anything, I mean anything get to the QB—period! No problem.
This new coach, though, wanted Gilbert all over the place: blocking for his running backs, faking patterns, running patterns, receiving. Gilbert tried but couldn’t formulate the coach’s instruction into language that would work for him. He didn’t know what to concentrate on. Don’t forget to catch the ball sounded ridiculous, even to Gilbert. With his focus gone, his performance headed south.
The weeks passed. Coach Kapauski gave Gilbert new tools, but the stubborn boy couldn’t or wouldn’t grasp the concepts and so the August heat continued evaporating The Glacier’s football future into the stratosphere. His team/school/parents alternately cajoled/threatened/begged, but it was of no use.
Fortunately, it was not in Coach Kapauski’s nature to give up. “Don’t worry,” he told Gilbert shortly before the big Homecoming game. “I have an idea.”
The following Friday the team lined up for practice wondering who the girl with the exceedingly long rippling hair was. To Gilbert, she looked like a medieval princess. Coach Kapauski introduced his daughter, Adele, a freshman at Michigan State. She was there to help him compile stats. “Now,” said Coach Kapauski, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s scrimmage.”
Gilbert, with a renewed fire, took his position on the offensive line hammering himself all the way: Don’t blow this. Don’—don’t glance up/peak at her/notice her tanned legs, billowy blouse, and reflective, sun-streaked hair. But The Glacier melted under Adele’s warm glow, radiating so near. He glanced up/peaked at her/ noticed her tanned legs, billowy blouse, and reflective, sun-streaked hair. The whistle blew and Curtis, a defensive lineman flattened the tight end, the running back, and the quarterback.
As Gilbert brushed himself off, he heard Adele say, “Ouch, that didn’t look good.” She made some marks on her clipboard.
Back in position, Gilbert chided himself and swore and then his eyes crept behind him along the turf, running up her flip-flop before stopping at the glint of the gold encircling her delicate ankle. Thwump! He was slammed again. “Ohh,” said Adele, contracting her shoulders, making more marks.
Gilbert was now ticked off. He eyed Adele boldly, squatted into the line-up, and when the ball was snapped, his mind provided commentary for his actions focusing his attention in a new direction: That’s it; shoulder the defense/provide a pocket/take-off to the left/button-hook/jump/receive/score. “Whoa!” cried Adele. “That was incredible. Do it again!”
The Sunday after Homecoming, Gilbert arranged his sore muscles into a familiar pew. He closed his eyes as he listened to the entire breadth of Christ’s exhortations. His mother smiled at her tired boy. She tapped his knee and whispered, “Hey honey, don’t fall asleep.”
Lord, he thought, forcing himself to concentrate on the positive, forgive her; someone has to.
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