68: A Simple Vow

68: A Simple Vow

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

A Simple Vow

The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate.

~Douglas Engelbart

I attended the sixth grade in an archaic, rural school in southern Ohio. With a red brick exterior, wooden plank floors, and a bell on the roof, it was straight out of an old-fashioned painting.

I was the new kid, having transferred into this particular elementary school from a Catholic school that had been forced to close. Being slight in stature, I barely weighed eighty-five pounds.

One day, my teacher was lecturing from the chalkboard at the front of the classroom, when he turned around and stated, “It’s a bit stuffy in here.” Then he looked directly at me, adding, “Master Scanlan, would you open the windows?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

I arose from my desk and walked back to the first window in a series that lined the classroom’s left wall. Using an underhand grip, I grasped the two metal handles, and lifted upward.

The window didn’t budge.

Then I heard some girls giggle behind me.

So I exerted a little more effort — to the point of actually grunting.

The window still didn’t move.

Now I could feel thirty pairs of eyes burning a hole into my back.

But then my teacher intervened, stating “Oh, never mind, Master Scanlan. You can return to your seat.”

I trudged back to my desk, humiliated.

However, the teacher poured salt into the wound, adding, “Master Scanlan, a few years ago, the same thing happened to another young man.”

You could’ve heard a pin drop.

“So I asked one of the girls to open the window,” he continued, “and she did.”

“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.

The entire sixth grade erupted in laughter.

“But I will spare you the same embarrassment,” the teacher added. After which, he returned to lecturing from the chalkboard.

That night, after dinner, I ducked into Mom and Dad’s bedroom and locked the door. Then I stood in front of the huge mirror that graced their bureau. I removed my flannel shirt and stared at the body in the mirror. My chest was flat and smooth, with no pectoral muscle development. My shoulders were soft and frail.

I did a double biceps pose as if I were a body builder, examining what I perceived to be a lack of muscle in my upper arms. Then I lowered my arms and hung my head.

At that point, I made a vow to myself.

I stepped back from the bureau and found an open space in the carpet. Then I dropped my body down into a perfect push-up position.

“One... two... three,” I began.

Seconds later, I finished counting with “...eighteen... uuuugh... nineteen... grrrr... twenty.”

I plopped my body down upon the carpet. “Whew!”

I slowly rose, and then walked into the master bathroom, shaking out my arms.

There, I pulled open the shower curtain, and examined the structure before me. Mom and Dad’s shower was an add-on to their bathroom and thus not your standard shower head mounted over a tub. Instead, their shower was a solid, rigid structure actually constructed out of some type of sheet metal.

I looked up at the metal rod that ran horizontally over the entrance to the shower. Then I jumped up and grabbed the rod, and momentarily hung there. “Good,” I said, “It supports my weight.”

After which, I struggled to pull my chin above that rod, again counting “One... two... three...”

Seconds later, I finished counting, with “grrrr... eight... nine... uuuugh... ten.”

I released the rod and dropped my feet back down to the linoleum floor. My aching hands were still cupped like hooks in the same wretched position they had been in while grasping the rod. “Whew!”

Then I exited the bathroom and departed Mom and Dad’s bedroom, shaking out my arms again.

From that date forward, I did push-ups in Mom and Dad’s bedroom and pull-ups in Mom and Dad’s bathroom every night. And just think — that never would’ve happened if only someone had told me there were latches on the windows in my sixth grade classroom.

~John Scanlan

More stories from our partners