Her name was Linda Hubka. We were in 8th grade, or was it 7th? I had decided that she was the one, and I made up my mind to ask her out. I took a deep breath and let her know that I liked her. But Linda Hubka was a discerning girl, especially for that age, and was reluctant. She thought about it and then made it clear: she would not go out with me. Surprising even myself, I persisted. I insinuated. I hung around. All to no avail. Eventually I got the message. But I couldn’t unlatch my heart.
I continued to pursue. Linda Hubka continued to spurn. At last, I decided that I couldn’t let the whole affair end without showing her what she meant to me. What affair, you ask? You never even went out on a single date. Well, it was a big relationship in my head, I guess. So I determined a plan to end it with a splash…literally.
I walked up to Linda Hubka between 6th and 7th period, and told her that I know that I had been an annoyance, and that if she really wanted to be rid of me, she should come right out and tell me to go jump in a lake. Maybe that would sink in.
Now Linda Hubka was a kind-hearted soul—which was one of the reasons I was hung up on her. She paused, “If I say that to you, you might actually do it.” I waited persistently. She yielded. “Go jump in a lake,” she said.
So I did. As I said, it was between 6th and 7th period, but there was a middle-sized pond on the opposite corner from our Middletown NJ middle school. So I went across the street and jumped in the lake. I didn’t wade in serenely or do it half way. I really jumped and went under the muddy water. Then I climbed out. It was pretty cold. I think it was February or something.
When I showed up for French class, drenched and muddy, the teacher was pretty sure that I was drunk, and sent me right back out and down to the principal’s office. Before I entered the office, I turned around and saw the long trail of wet footsteps down the hallway. I never forgot that memory. I had left my mark.
It was a mercy to Linda Hubka that things never worked out with us. I was not at all ready to conduct a relationship. I could not, in any way, closely engage with another person without causing great hurt, as subsequent relationships clearly showed. I didn’t have the equipment.
But Linda Hubka gave me a great gift. There was something important happening in that jump in the lake. It was the first leap forward for me into what it was to be a man. The impulse to give all for a woman, body and soul. To surrender one’s schedule, one’s reputation—as I did in the principal’s office, even one’s reputation for her. To lay down one’s life. It was the beginning of my masculinity.
This impulse is there in boys, before it is pummeled by rejection, twisted by scorn, drained by cynicism and torn out by hurt; before it is gutted by his own idolatry and whittled by his ambition; and he gives up and settles for lust.
Can we instead cultivate that leap in the lake in them, that seed of manhood?