My friend C asked me if I ever had a moment when I needed to leap forward as a kid. It wasn't phrased that way but that's the gist. The answer: Yeah. My whole freaking life. Here's what I wrote:
My whole youth was spent trying to live up to my brother, the athlete. He finally wound up playing for St. John's baseball when they went to the College World Series. He was good. Little, like me, but a player. He played semi-pro till he was about 60 and got Bells' Palsy during one game. He was a cop, a lieutenant who worked the streets of Harlem for 20 years before becoming a lawyer and now, after retiring after 30 years, he's a part time judge in Manhattan.
He invented the Strong Kids Club when he was about 12. The others in the club were my sisters Pat, 9, and Peg, 7 and me, 5. The basic tenets were to live through pain. Fill the tub with ice. Add water, up to 6 inches. Lie in it without moving for 30 seconds or start over. Do cartwheels all around the house in underwear when it was snowing in Queens. Write your whole name from a single pin prick. Fail and get pricked again till you could write Peter Thomas John Gorman. Lots of pricks to get that done.
So at 14-15 I started Aikido, then moved on to Karate for three or four years. Fought in Madison Square Garden, got killed. Was in a picture in a Karate magazine, not looking good but they said I was cool.
Never measured up. Made the ball team in high school but was not as good as the guys ahead of me who got college scholarships. Worried my whole life that I wasn't tough enough, which led me to go to the jungle--and you can see that I'm still trying to measure up. So if you're asking if there was a pivotal moment or two, I'd say my whole life has been trying to measure up. And now that I'm a dad, now that people have depended on me for years and years, I'm still questioning whether I know enough to be entrusted with the lives of my boys, my daughter, my grand baby, Chepa's babies, my clients in the jungle, my team in Peru.
Cause I'll never be as good as my brother or my dad. They were athletes, and I was just a sick kid living in the hospital with rheumatoid arthritis for months as a 5/6 year old and came out weighing 165 because I was a trial patient on the then-new drug, cortizone. How the hell do you recover from that? You don't. You just fight to be better ever day.
Pivotal moment? Yeah. When the tub was too cold. When the kids in my hospital room were wheeled out dead daily for months, when I went to school and Thomas ran backwards against me and beat me by 20 yards in a 50-yard race. When, when, when...
But you know, you keep fighting. You keep facing up. You fail. You falter. You fall. You get the freak up. You keep fighting.
And though I lost almost all the fights, I'm finally a winner. Nobody ever came back for seconds. And no matter what the circumstance, you keep getting up, catch your breath, and look for an opening. And that's okay for us losers. Just keeping on is what keeps us going. And nothing can stop us--you and me--if we keep on getting up.
So stay strong, okay? Keep trying. We'll all get across the river if we just keep swimming.