I once regarded the story I am about to share as one of embarrassment. Though, over the years, as I have reflected on it and drawn a particular lesson from it, it has become one of my most cherished memories.
After a few weeks in Naval boot camp we had a pretty major inspection. For those not familiar with how inspections go in the military, it is a pretty stringent examination of you, your uniform, and your sleeping quarters. You gradually prepare for inspection over the weeks by getting inspected by those in the lower ranks (Navy: Petty Officers and Chiefs) and eventually work your way up to the officer rank (Navy: Usually a Lieutenant). These inspections are graded and can have an impact on your military career, but what is worse, a poor inspection can mean hell for you or your entire troop. Each recruit is required to stand at attention in front of their rack (bunk bed) and await their turn for the inspecting officer to come by and look them over. One of the things they tell you pretty early on is to not lock your knees while standing at attention or you will pass out.
I was about 3/4 of the way down a line of about 20 guys, standing at attention, while the Lieutenant spent about 3-5 minutes for each inspection. I was doing pretty well. I was a mean ironer and shoe shiner so I felt alright there, but I was worried about my stubble, like I could feel it growing as I waited. Anyhow, he finally makes it to me and asks a few questions as I looked straight ahead:
Lieutenant: “ Did you shave this morning, Yarbrough?”
Me: “ SIR YES SIR!”
Lieutenant: “ You need to start shaving twice a day, got that?”
Me: “ SIR YES SIR!”
As he was taking his sweet time checking me over I must have locked my knees, or forgot to breathe, or perhaps it was just nerves, but I began to get light-headed, and that strange, slow dimness started coming in the corners of my vision. Apparently it was visible to him as well:
Lieutenant: “ How are you feeling there, Yarbrough?”
Me: “ FINE SIR!”
Lieutenant: “ Really?”
Me: “… I’m a little dizzy sir!”
At this point I would have expected him to jump all over me, but he didn’t, and this is the part that really speaks to me. Instead he turns to two other recruits, one on my left and the other on my right:
Lieutenant: “ You two, close in here, shoulder to shoulder on Yarbrough. Don’t hold him up with your hands, just keep him steady. And, if he falls you’ll be answering to me.”
The Lieutenant then turns to me and switches to more of a conversational tone:
Lieutenant: “ Where are you from, Yarbrough?”
Me: “ North Carolina SIR!”
Lieutenant: “ You wouldn’t happen to be related to Kale Yarbrough?” (A famous old-school Nascar driver…who I had never heard of before this moment)
Me: “ SIR NO SIR!”
When Men Stand Together
“A man must stand erect, not be kept erect by others.” – Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, 121 AD-180 AD
Marcus Aurelius was quite the manly man (if you don’t count his persecutions of the Christians, but hey, everyone was doing it back then right?), but I have always taken issue with this particular quote of his. Perhaps something was lost in translation and it should read:
“A man ought to be able to stand on his own, not be continually supported by others, but on occasion, when a man is temporarily weakened, men should stand together and support one another.”
Being a man doesn’t mean going it alone. Like my boot camp situation, we often have to fail in obvious ways before we ask for help. We are too concerned about the consequences of admitting failure or weakness and not concerned enough about the consequences of continuing in our weakness and failings.
Along those same lines, we often have to be forced in to helping each other rather than doing it naturally. Churches, charities, and many times our wives, organize and pressure us into simply lending a hand to our neighbor.
When men stand together great things happen. When we provide just enough support to help a fellow get back on his feet or accomplish a task, we both gain some manliness.