Jack McCall

Jack McCall

I heard and read a while back with both disdain and amazement that some of our major cities have outlawed a number of children’s games because of safety risks. Among the games listed were freeze tag, kick the can, red rover, dodge ball and – will someone help me, please – wiffle ball.

I thought they made that plastic ball and bat so playing ball would be less dangerous. What is the world coming to? Oh, yes, and snow sledding is on its way out, too.

I can never remember getting injured playing kick the can or freeze tag. I was clotheslined a few times by the town boys playing red rover, red rover.  And I can remember taking a few hard shots playing dodge ball. But wiffle ball?

I can remember playing mumble peg when I was a boy. That’s a game that involved throwing a knife and sticking it in the ground next to your opponent’s foot. I also remember playing “chicken” with bicycles. And my brothers and I took many a lick playing backyard baseball. Reckon what game will be outlawed next?

The fact remains the world is a dangerous place filled with risks both small and great. Unless we as human beings learn to face and manage the small risks, we will never develop the skills and courage to face the big risks.

The great Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis spoke of the generations that would come after the World War II generation. He feared they would lack the moral fiber, integrity and courage to deal with the world he saw coming. He called them “men without chests.”

A few years ago, I read with great interest a magazine article that focused on the shifting values of Generation “X”, “Y” and the Millennial generation. It spoke of how these generations are more interested in playing it safe. When interviewing for jobs, they focus more on employee benefits and well-funded retirement plans rather than opportunities to grow and explore and pioneer. The writer went on to explain that these generations have lost their sense of adventure and its inherent risks.

My late grandmother, Lena Brim, owned a house in downtown Riddleton. It stands today at the corner of Main Street or Old Highway 25 and Beasley’s Bend Road.

My brothers, my sister and I spent many a Sunday afternoon playing in her front yard. We ran foot races on the sidewalk; we played in the dry creek bed, and we climbed in the trees. We especially enjoyed climbing one particular tree – a beautiful maple. It had suffered an injury early in its life, causing it to lean away from the house. The bark of the tree was split, leaving a 4-inch gap between its rolled edges. The gap ran up the length of the tree trunk until it reached the first branches. We would stand a 3-foot long, 1-by-4-inch plank in the gap.  Then we would back up, get a running start, and “run” up the truck of that tree using the edge of the plank as a toehold.

One Sunday afternoon, my brother, Tom, and I took turns climbing that tree. We would place a pin knife in our pocket and up the tree we would go. When we were high in the tree, we took the knife out of our pocket and cut a small notch in the tree trunk. Back in the pocket went the knife and down we came. Then, it was the next one’s turn. The object of the game was to cut a notch higher in the tree than the last climber. On that day, I will bet we climbed that tree a dozen times each.

Was it risky? Yes.  Could we have fallen? Yes. Was it worth the risk? Absolutely.

Little did I know that my brothers and I were honing our skills for climbing in the tier poles of tobacco barns. In the years that followed, we spent hundreds of hours high in the tier poles. No one ever fell.

In our growing-up years, while going bare-footed, we stepped on honeybees, rusty nails and broken fruit jars. We suffered cuts, concussions and broken bones. 

Life is filled with risks. When we shy away from the risks, we shy away from life. And we become protected and weak.

I fear that America is becoming a nation of “men without chests.”

Jack McCall is a motivational humorist, Southern storyteller and author. A native Middle Tennessean, he is recognized on the national stage as a certified speaking professional.

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