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  • Reverend James Squire

Where Have You Gone, Michael Tyson?




There is a tune with a timely twist that we can sing paying tribute to the Simon and Garfunkel hit of years ago that was a background song for the movie, The Graduate. “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio (Mike Tyson), our nation turns its lonely eyes to you?”


There are lessons to be learned at the national, international, and personal level as we have witnessed President Biden and Mr. Putin play chicken over what will happen regarding the Ukrainian nation who is in the middle of this standoff. There has been nothing subtle about the buildup of the Russian troops at three sides of the border of this vulnerable nation.


I have been asked what I think should be done. My answer is, “Call Mike Tyson!” Tyson’s most well-known quotation that is at the heart of his philosophy is, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” He said this in the context of his high stakes fight with Evander Holyfield. People were repeatedly asking Tyson for his strategy to defeat this formidable opponent.


I think that Tyson was right. Have you ever wondered why most boxers keep their hands up to protect their face even when they have to play peek-a-boo with their gloves acting as windows into the facial area? A good many boxers can be seen with broken noses as everyone is trying to connect to that area of the body. They aren’t protecting their bodies. That isn’t because they want to look pretty. They want to survive to fight another day.


There should be a plan whether it be in the ring or in preparing to meet an enemy on the border of Ukraine. But that is not the most important part of surviving difficult news or physical threat when the first sudden blow hits. You have to withstand that initial blow to the most vulnerable part of yourself. Think about your reaction to the events of 9/11 or getting news of a bad diagnosis for a loved one.


Getting punched in the face is a metaphor for life. Rabbi Harold Kushner said, “that tragedy doesn’t have a ticket into our lives. It has a box seat.” Everyone at some point is going to take that hit in the face when we may or may not have a plan for it. Recall, Elizabeth Warren’s mantra, “I have a plan for that.” True but maybe not for the sudden unexpected blow that happens to us.


When you are hit in the ring or in your everyday life, you have to survive the initial blow. The first thing that happens is that we are stunned. You have to keep your feet moving. When a boxer is knocked down, notice how he tries hard to get his feet under him when he gets up. He may bounce up and down at first. It is one of the first thing that boxers are taught. It’s difficult to embrace the situation and call it our reality. You have to, to use the metaphor of keeping your feet moving, embrace this unwelcome reality. Usually, the stunning blow is unexpected. Evander Holyfield who went on to win the fight against Mike Tyson never expected Tyson to bite part of his ear off. He was stunned but recovered quickly.


The stunning blow can be a surprise medical report or that dreaded call in the middle of the night. Keep your feet moving by embracing the blow and your new reality as quickly as you can.


Unfortunately, experience is needed in taking that sudden blow, but it is not everything that is needed to claim the reality in the moment when life stuns you. You can’t plan for the most important things in life because you want to be living your life to the fullest not worrying about everything that could occur. A favorite piece of wisdom for me is “man plans and God laughs.” You want seasoned people in our nation making decisions in the toughest of moments. Joe Biden has many of those moments to pull from after he takes a stunning hit. He has the deaths of his wife and daughter early in life, and later in life, the death of his son, Beau. He also has numerous campaigns to be president and failure to win. These moments equipped him to survive the metaphorical punch in the face, keep his feet moving, and quickly move from being stunned to a backup plan.


Experience isn’t always enough. He didn’t do this after the failure to get caught with his hands down and a vicious blow to his mouth regarding his approach to liberating Afghanistan. Biden was stunned by how fast the military and government would fall. His generals said that there was not a sufficient plan. The President has rejected that report, but he won’t move forward until he accepts that reality described in the report. He may learn that lesson the hard way if he, in fact, forgets the wisdom of Michael Tyson to embrace reality after being stunned as quickly as you can.


I realized something recently that I had on my mental checklist for hiring. I seemed to only choose people who “had been through something.” I wanted to work with “seasoned” people. You can be seasoned when you are 16. Seasoned doesn’t relate to age. It was an unconscious sorting for me. Likewise, when certain people would come to me for counseling, they would begin by saying, “I am coming to you because you know what I am going through.” For example, I belong to that club that no one wants to join as a parent who has lost a child. They also knew of my personal background and journey from others.”


Battles take many forms in a boxing ring, war, and in our life. Let’s turn to the story of David and Goliath. David knew he had to strike a stunning blow to Goliath. Goliath probably didn’t have much experience with losing. David’s sling shot stunned Goliath. He couldn’t keep his feet moving, and death ensued. Who knew that David possessed the same philosophy as Mike Tyson?

“Where have you gone, Michael Tyson, our lonely nation turns its eyes to you?”



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