Wednesday, January 6, 2016

THE RACE OF LIFE





          Just another day of participation in the rat-race of life.  The thought was in my mind, and at first, I gave it little notice.  So much had taken place of late which placed myself and all the rest of the immediate family in a state of temporary upheaval, one should expect the doldrums to set in eventually.
          I am not the kind of person who just lets a thought come and go.  I seldom feel that way about life, and when something out of the ordinary occurs, I am in the habit of dissecting it, analyzing it, trying to detect the obvious reason it came, before I will entertain the possibility of allowing it to go.
          Life can surely become a race, a contest of one sort or another, if an individual is of a competitive nature.  What is it about racing that has motivated so many writers to make reference to life that way?  I remember one great writer, St. Paul, making reference to his own life as a race.  He had reason to resort to that kind of comparison to make a particularly important point.
Even as he neared the end of his own earthly existence, he summed it all up by saying " I have ran the race".
          Recently, I have had to cope with the loss of my Father.  He was 82 years old at the time of his passing.  I wondered, if I tried to look at his life as a race, how would I describe the event to someone who had never known him?  I know!  "A super-long marathon for the physically handicapped”.  He was certainly handicapped, a cripple, but I did not see him that way.  If we ran this race of life with our bodies, then, I would have no choice but to resort to that unpleasant, final description to sum up his performance.
          The race of life is one of a great distance for the majority of participants.  Most would be doomed to drop out far too soon if they had to rely upon their physical bodies to endure the effort required.  If we have any hope of being a "Winner", we must draw upon every resource at our disposal for the strength required to carry us through.  For some, the will to survive is all they need.  It may carry them through to the end, but I doubt if they have any chance of "Winning".
          Aesop, one writer of renown, implied with his story of the Tortoise and the Hare, that slow and steady will win the race.  He made reference to the "Pace of Life".  Without "Pace", one could easily "Burn-out" and fall by the way-side.  However, I believe that the forces which power life's vehicle are renewable and inexhaustible for anyone who connects to the right "Gas tank".
          There are those who rely on "Guts" and "Heart" and "Spunk", "Intestinal Fortitude" and "Tenacity" or any of those other descriptive terms which translate to "Glorified EGO Trips".  Some of these types society will deem "Hero" or "Champion" of the People.
          The real "Winners" in this race of life have no knowledge concerning the tape at the finish line.  They entered this life "helpless", on the flat of their backs.  With the loving, care of another human being, they gain the strength to turn over and crawl on their hands and knees.  Soon, they are strong enough to stand and take a few tottering steps.  No one hits the ground running at full-stride; they are helped by others who are stronger and more experienced.  They are supported while they learn the skills of balance and mobility, until they can stand alone.  What motivates a person to break into a head-long dash for some unseen, final destination?  Selfishness and greed!. 
          When your gaze is fixed upon some distant goal, those who run with you become a blur.  You take no notice that they may be stumbling along and might need some help.  The human heart, void of love and compassion for another is truly blind.  If you can't bring yourself to slow down long enough to offer some assistance, to support someone long enough to allow them to regain their strength, to offer them a cooling drink of water or a mouthful to eat, will a Gold Medal hanging around your neck be of value to anyone but you?
          Investing the time to help someone else will give you opportunity to renew your own strength, to rest, to face the miles ahead with renewed determination.  The time you spend will not diminish your position at the end, in fact you will find that you have gained a place or two, thanks to the short rest you had.
          "Is it the journey or the destination which matters?”  Janet asked me recently, and at first I was inclined to answer the destination, but even as the words were leaving my mouth I rethought my answer and knew that the journey was most important.
The race is over when we cross the finish line.  It is too late to go back and re-run it.  Success or failure is already determined, so what takes place between the "Start" and "Finish" matters most.
          Someone said "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."  That could apply here.
          It's strange how the middle of ones life often turns out to be the decisive point.  We struggle so hard to get there, and then, turning around and looking behind us, the start line is still in view and we are distraught.  We seem to have made so little headway, and even though we can't yet catch sight of the finish line, somehow, we know that it could be just around the next bend or over the next crest.  We have reached that invisible barrier devoted runners call "The Wall".  If they don't get that mystical "Second Wind", the race is over for them.
          How does one gain the second wind of life?  Is it generated by the mind or some unknown gland which science has yet to identify?  You know that painful ketch one gets from running at times.  It can disable a runner, cause him to pull up, stagger to the side of the track, and come to a complete stop.  For some, the will to continue allows them to fight through the pain.  It could be as simple as a sudden gust of wind in their face, a refreshing period of renewal brought about by something as basic as perspiration evaporating, and in that instant, the pain is gone, forgotten, and the pace quickens as the runner is able to draw from some, until now, unknown source of strength.  Don't overlook the fact that the wind, in this case, was the beginning of the process which allowed the runner to overcome the wall.
          I saw my father cross the finish line.  When he broke through the tape, he was at full stride.  He didn't limp across and fall to the ground exhausted.  His pace was quickening as he went out of sight.     
          Now, as I approach my 56th Birthday, another milepost reached, I have concluded that endurance is the most critical element for any runner in the race of life.  This race is not a Sprint or a Dash, a middle distance race, or even a Marathon.  It is a race full of hurdles or other kinds of obstacles.  The course cannot be studied before entering so a strategy can be worked out and planned.  There are streams and rivers running through deep valleys which must be crossed as one comes to them.  There are no bridges which span them.  There are gentle slopes and steep inclines, and yes, there will be mountains to climb.

          It is not speed or length of stride which will carry you though, but strength and endurance.  (Revised, Oct. 19, 1996)


Clarence Bowles

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