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"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view."
"I don't like that man. I must get to know him better."
My high school soccer and wrestling coach was Laslo Nyitrai. He captained the University of Budapest’s soccer team, and wrestled for Hungary in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. He fought in the Hungarian uprising as the Iron Curtain descended in 1956, and fled to the U.S. when the Communists won. He taught himself English when he arrived, and ultimately landed at my high school where he started our wrestling and soccer program. He slept with "Betsy", a double-edged battle ax, hanging over his bed, which he once used to dispatch two unlucky armed burglars who forced their way into his home. A barrel-chested, physically imposing man, he was, needless to say, a towering figure in our young lives.
One fall day when I was sixteen, we were in heavy competition on the soccer field. Playing center forward I was quickly dribbling the ball up the field when my legs got tangled in another player’s legs and down I went. The other player fell on top of me. A third player fell on top of both of us and I heard a distinct "Snap" from the bottom of the pile. A sharp pain throbbed its way up my body and I lay there assessing the damage. The game was stopped, players and officials gathered in a circle around me. I rolled over onto my back and looked up. Coach Nyitrai broke through the circle and stared down at me, hands firmly on his hips. He said nothing for a few seconds, just looking at me. Then he spoke. "Sissy!", he cried. "Go home and play with grandmother!"
I was mortified. Our demi-god coach had just suggested, no, actually stated, that I didn’t deserve to be on his field. So, I did what any self-respecting teen of that time would do. I got up, walked to the sidelines, paced back and forth until my foot was numb, then told Coach I was ready to go back in. He smiled, and put me back in. I finished the game, then collapsed and had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. I had turned a clean break of my left ankle into a bone-splintered compound fracture. An operation was required, and a pin inserted in my ankle where it resides today, accurately alerting me to upcoming changes in the weather.
Coach Nyitrai never spoke to me about this. The director of our school play had a lot to say, since I had the lead and was now on crutches. My family had a lot to say, most of it questioning my judgment. I had done what I thought was expected of me. I respected my coach, wanted his approval, and wanted the approval of my peers. Perhaps Coach should have thought about the power he had over our young lives, and how we looked up to him. Perhaps he should have considered that I really was injured and shouldn’t be playing anymore that day.
It is now the start of a new year, a traditional time for resolutions. Perhaps there is no better time than the present to re-affirm our connections with those around us, to care for our relationships and to see what we can do to help each other. Let’s reach out to folks, nurture our community, let them know we are thinking about them and are hoping they are okay.
Time is fleeting. What’s going on in your life now? Whether it’s great happiness or sorrow, business-as-usual, successes or failures, it will pass, and in the perspective of history, will pass quickly. Let’s do our best to act with kindness, dignity and generosity while we are here. By sharing our thoughts, our courage, our strength and our love we can nurture our community and make our world a better place.
On behalf of our Bar family and my family, I hope the New Year brings you Peace, wellness and happiness.
"Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man."
"Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right."