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I love my father to pieces, but sometimes I wonder how we get along at all. We’re fundamentally very different people. Growing up, I would spend most of my free time reading novels or watching TV, while my dad enjoyed maintaining the car and doing lawn work. When he would ask me to help change oil for our old Ford, I would politely reply, “No thanks,” and return to my books. Getting sweaty and dirty working on a contraption I knew nothing about seemed like misery to me. It was wholly out of my comfort zone.
I was a lot like Yugo Hachiken, the bookish protagonist of Silver Spoon who is in his first year attending an agricultural-focused high school. Hachiken is completely out of his element at the institution, where he dirties his hands working with livestock, crops, and farming equipment from dusk ‘til dawn.
Almost everything at the school is a challenge for Hachiken, who previously responded to trials by keeping stress bottled up inside or by running away. He can do neither at Ooezo Agricultural High School—not if he wants to succeed. And though it’s rough going, Hachiken discovers something I wish I had known when I was his age–by getting out of your bubble, you’ll grow into a person you never knew you could be.
This theme is illustrated very early in the series. Shortly after his arrival at Ooezo, Hachiken begins to care for a runt piglet he encounters during a practicum. Learning that it supposedly won’t grow large enough to sell as high quality meat, he decides to prove everyone wrong and raise it himself, waking hours before dawn to feed the pig by hand and daily checking in on the animal.
Hachiken’s classmates name the piglet “Pork Bowl,” a funny moniker, but one that also makes the ultimate outcome clear: Hachiken is preparing this animal for slaughter. The better he cares for Pork Bowl, the closer he pushes the pig toward the slaughterhouse. And yet, Hachiken attacks the chore with a gusto that he’s previously only reserved for more traditional studies. Pork Bowl is a turning point in Hachiken’s life, an opportunity for him to grow in an area he didn’t think he could.
I wish I had a Pork Bowl during my adolescence, something or someone that gave me the push I dearly needed. While I charged into my studies intentionally and with vigor, I ignored other parts of my life, avoiding situations that would challenge me to grow socially, physically, and emotionally. I would rather focus only on what I was good at, the work which came most naturally to me. If an opportunity came along that might end in failure, I decided it was better that I should never try at all.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized all this running away had molded me into someone I didn’t want to be. Like standing water with no outlet, which becomes stale and full of bacteria, I’d started to rot—I was filled with selfishness, jealousy, pride, and weakness. I lacked the competencies needed to be a well-rounded individual, and I had grown unreliable. I was the kind of person that repels others, rather than draws them near.
Hachiken was once this way, too. In flashbacks, we see that he had few friends before Ooezo, and the single-mindedness with which he pursued academic achievements caused him to become a nervous wreck by the time he completed middle school. He was in a bad place, suffering and without purpose. Hachiken was that stale pond, growing sick and going nowhere.
But at Oozeo, he discovers meaning in the midst of pain. Once Pork Bowl is fattened up, the pig is taken away to be butchered without glory or fanfare or nary a goodbye. It’s an emotional moment for Hachiken, but he remains steadfast and, in fact, does something unexpected. He uses all the funds he earned by working during holiday break to buy Pork Bowl—not as a pet, but as dinner. Instead of going through some irrational plan to save the pig, Hachiken sees the livestock raising process through from beginning to end, purchasing its meat and even learning the smoking process to prepare it.
Sending Pork Bowl off to die was crushing for Hachiken, but it was an invaluable experience. This city boy had taken the responsibility for another life, woken up at inhuman hours, brutalized his hands learning to prepare meat, and pushed through insecurities and personal affections to accomplish something that the old Hachiken could never have imagined. He left his comfort zone, faced pain, and came out stronger, more responsible, and more reliable.
I eventually had to leave my comfort zone, too, but it took real life—work, relationships, and parenting—to thrust me out of it. And it was more than uncomfortable; it was sometimes unbearable to face my demons, my sins, and my inability to at times do anything well. But through this fire, I came out stronger and better. Like Hachiken, the trials matured me. And now, I look for those uncomfortable situations, the ones that test me and try me. No matter my fear, I now jump in—and I never look back.
He can also be found, however, feeding his other nerd habits, including A Song of Ice and Fire. Charles also remains hopelessly stuck in the 90's, maybe best demonstrated by his unexplainable passion for The Phantom Menace.
A historian and director at a government agency by day, Charles joins in the work of college and digital ministry is his off-time, while growing each day in the round-the-clock charge of being a husband and father.
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