As a little boy I dreamed of being a brave knight.

To me, knights were real men. They were solid and strong, encased in shining steel and wielding swords that could wreak havoc upon a man. Nothing could harm them. They were invincible, at least the good ones were. They were noble and chivalric. They spoke poetry and rode into war singing battle songs. Little boys ran after their horses as they rode out to do battle with ferocious foes. Women swooned and batted their eyelashes. Other men respected them. Knights could do anything and do it well.

I wanted to be a knight more than anything.

When I was four I got part of it right. Little girls giggled and stuck their tongues out at me as I ran around the playground during recess trying to impress them. On more than one occasion a few of the bold girls would begin to chase me. I didn’t remember any of the knights being chased around by women in the stories, but I didn’t mind. I thought I was just an extra special knight.

When I was eight, and old enough to be in battle, I found plenty of them. I wrestled with my friends and raced down the road and began playing sports. They weren’t exactly tournaments with horses and armor and flashing swords, but they were battles. And like any good knight, I strove to win every battle I was in.

Some of those battles took place in the yard, where my best friend Sean and I marked out a diamond with old wooden boards for bases and trees for foul poles. Our swords were wooden baseball bats and a couple tennis balls which we grew to master as well as any knight knows his sword. We practiced our swings and curveballs against each other like two great foes dueling to the death. And more often than not, our baseball games came down to battles in the end. Arguments came up over whether the ball was fair or foul, or whether one reached the base before the tag or not, and neither of us would back down. Then the bat did become a sword and the bases became shields and we fought viciously, and maybe a bit cruelly, as if it was life and death.

And in a way it was. Our pride was on the line. We each wanted to be the best, to move from mere knight to the ruling baseball king. It gave us bragging rights, at least until the next day when we would go out and play again, and often in the growing tally of overall victories. It gave us confidence and made us feel proud. We were victors, strong and mighty and good.

I won more than my fair share of those games. I won when we played video games or board games. I won in school on tests, and when report cards were handed out, and in art class when we had to sculpt dinosaurs out of clay.

You see, like any knight, I enjoyed winning. It meant I was big and strong and brave. And I hoped people noticed. I hoped the girls noticed more than anyone else.

Gradually I began to do and play to win, rather than for the fun of it. Life became one big conquest. And I was always right, even when I wasn’t.

Each time I won or succeeded in something, it was like I was adding one more good thing to who I was, as if winning said something about who I was.

Yes, knights are fearsome things on the battle field, winning glory and honor. However, that is a small part of being a knight. A knight eventually comes home and takes off his armor and lives a normal life like others. What sets a true knight apart, is what is inside and how it comes out during those times. They know when to put on their armor and when words of wisdom and prudent thought would better serve them. They practice chivalry not because they should or because it looks right, but because it is the right thing to do.

I missed this part of my training. Instead I kept adding one more piece of armor, until I was so shrouded in armor that nothing could penetrate. And the problem was, it was perceived armor. Beneath it all, I was just an insecure man. If you stripped away all my victories, all the things I had accomplished that supposedly said something about who I was, then what was beneath was not very much at all. I was afraid that underneath, I wasn’t really a knight at all.

And I was deathly afraid that others would find out about it. Especially the girls.

Part II – Love Puppy
Part III – The Long Road Home

© Seth Crossman