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Watching Bengal Bouts

Letter to the Editor | Friday, March 3, 2006

The bright flood of light cuts the world in half. The separation is physically reinforced by rope, by canvas, but more powerfully, by the seemingly inviolable line of darkness that divides the room; one half brilliant, breathing, awake – the other half passive and waiting. Nothing exists but the lighted ring, and the two lonely men who stand inside of it. They are only conscious of their bodies, of their sweat, and of the exhilarating mix of fear and excitement that arises from the anticipation of physical exhaustion, pain, and the thin line between victory and defeat. All around them, there is only a sea of black. But that sea is watching, hoping and fearing – and waiting for the bell.

I have been part of the sea of darkness. I have heard the bell ring, have watched the fighters exchange punches, and have felt the waves of excitement and despair that sweep through the blackness. One of the most striking things about boxing is that the crowd shares in the emotion of the fight; the punches make us cringe, they knot our stomachs, they rip the hearts out of our bodies. The contest captures our emotion, our energy, our imagination. We, the faceless crowd, sit transfixed by the violent dance of the ring because it is more than a contest of individual skill and willpower: it is a genuine expression of character, of the beauty of human strength and weakness.

It is an understanding of those things – of human character, strength, and weakness – that the Bengal Bouts cultivates. The students who spend several hours every day toning their bodies and sharpening their minds in the depths of the Joyce Center are learning more than the cadence of punching exercises. Continually pressed to achieve by their coaches and captains, they learn how to sacrifice themselves to something higher; they come to know the meaning of physical and mental exertion, of determination, and of dedication. And those lessons are not only physically strengthening, they are spiritually fulfilling. How else can one explain why over one-hundred and twenty Notre Dame students are irresistibly drawn to the Boxing Club year after year? Through the blood and sweat shed during their intensive training, they come to know the power of their bodies, the power of the bonds formed between brothers, and the power of their God.

Every young man who summons the strength to don the blue and gold and dares to cross that stark division between the light and darkness – the division between observer and fighter – has learned those lessons. They fight for victory, but they also fight for each other, for Notre Dame, and for all of the Bangladeshis who will feel the healing salve of their dedication. They have been ceaselessly drilled, they have pushed their limits, they have sacrificed themselves for the simple love of the sacrifice. And as they dance around the lighted ring, they represent the perfection of amateur athleticism. Watching them is beautiful, it is inspiring, it is a gift to every one of us who silently sits in the darkness, each of us holding our breath as we share their emotions.

Patrick McGillYale UniversityClass of 2006March 2