- Relentless: Determined; never stopping any attempt to achieve your goal. Continuing in a determined way.
- Relentless: Harsh, unforgiving, and persistent.
“Where are all your other fingers?” I was on the sidelines with my parents at an Urbana Park District field watching my older brother Peter play soccer. My six-year-old younger brother Teddy was kicking a ball nearby. The question came from a boy around Teddy’s age, who I had never seen before. From his reaction to me, he had never before seen someone who looked as blatantly different as I do. I looked up at my parents, hoping they would tell the boy something…anything…in my defense. However, whether it was purposeful or unintentional, they both appeared caught up in rooting for Peter and his team.
“Where are all your other fingers?” The boy repeated, as if I hadn’t heard him. I looked at him and then down at my feet, relieved that my brown shoes may have been small and baby-looking, but at least they covered my one-toed feet. “I don’t have any other fingers.” He persisted, deciding my response was clearly insufficient. “C’mon! Something must have happened to them!” The kid was relentless in his questioning of me, yet I was just as, if not more, determined to move the conversation beyond the superficial. I hesitated, and then decided to engage in a different way. “Hey, want to play soccer over there with me and my brother?” The little boy grinned and followed me. I thought to myself with satisfaction, “Done. No fingers required.” I had achieved my goal.
“Charlie, your defensive moves are fantastic! You’re relentless!” The comment came from a friend and parent of one of Charlie’s teammates. This week I spent two very cold evenings on the sidelines
watching both Ethan and Charlie finish their soccer seasons. They both have been playing since the age of four. After the games, the teams did their standard lineup where they pass each other and offer quick handshakes as a sign of good sportsmanship. The ritual always sparks in me a memory of the early years and what felt like a relentless series of reactions to my own, and our boys’ physically different hands during the post-game handshakes. I have seen kids jump back practically in fear, confusion, and if I am being honest, possibly disgust, and then persist with questions that have made me (as a child) and our sons feel like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. However, I have also seen, both on and off the soccer field, a strong resolve by each of my sons to shrug off anything unpleasant and simply move on.
A couple of days later on Veteran’s Day in the U.S., the word ‘relentless’ came up again, this time when I caught up with my cousin Meredith, whose 14-year-old son Evan, a fantastically talented soccer player spent the greater part of the year recovering from surgery for a severe pelvic injury. When I commented to Meredith that I was pleased to see on Facebook that Evan was back playing soccer with his team, she hesitated. “Yeah, we are so happy and he’s come a long way. I’d say he’s about 80%, given his past athletic ability. The persistent pain has delayed his full recovery, but he is committed to getting back to 100%. I can tell he simply won’t give up.”
Later that same morning I profiled my Uncle David on the DHIFI Facebook page. According to a video interview we took of Dave describing his account of fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, the enemy was relentless and Dave and his comrades had no choice but to dig in just as firmly. Dave earned a medal for risking his life to save his superior officer and spent his years doing everything he could to achieve the common goal against the enemy.
This week I have been intrigued by the significance of the term, ‘relentless.’ When I looked it up it actually has two meanings, one a harsh negative, and the other a determined positive. Not surprisingly, my boys and I have experienced the relentless nature of people’s curiosity and judgments about our physical differences. Those constant pressures, though, inspire an equally relentless determination to live normal lives and to counter people’s assumptions. However, we are not the only people that live with both definitions. Harsh challenges can come to anyone from anywhere; and you persevere by becoming relentless in response.