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Winning the Race

Having been born with a set of legs that were not built for speed, I have never had the experience of breaking the tape at the end of a race. Even when I was the only one running, I always lost. Hell, they had already taken the tape down and gone home for the night by the time I reached the finish line. 

As I was walking my dogs in the pre-dawn morning yesterday, my pet sitter buddy, K, approached through the darkness. She said, “I don’t think the people in this neighborhood appreciate the service we provide for them by walking our dogs at this hour. By being the first ones out here, we end up breaking through all the spider webs that were spun overnight. I just walked through one with a huge spider in it — I can’t believe you couldn’t hear me screaming all the way over here!”

That’s when I realized that I DO know the feeling of breaking the finish line tape. I have hit some spider webs that were so tight, I felt as though I were running full tilt when I hit them. The ends of the strands broke and wrapped their sticky selves around me the way the pieces of ribbon flutter behind the winning runners and tease the faces of those who arrive behind them. 

I used to run for miles when I was a teenager. It filled up the empty hours out in the countryside, and without competition, I felt pretty fast. But when I had to go up against someone else, I was mortified. Some people graciously used to tell me that it looked like I had a rubber band around my ankles, or like I was pulling a cart behind me, or that I ran like Fred Flintstone when he was trying to get his car going — my feet were moving fast, but I wasn’t actually going anywhere.

It wasn’t easy, but I came to accept that my lack of speed was a detriment in many areas. I worked at getting faster, but whatever the physiological defect is in my make-up, I just couldn’t build any speed. I loved sports, but soon realized that the limitations were too great, so I began to branch out into other areas and found that I could do many other things, at my own pace.  

Last night (and again this morning on a recap), I watched Barack Obama deliver one of the most eloquent speeches I’ve ever heard. He spoke to everyone, everywhere. He didn’t make unreasonable promises, nor did he set unreachable expectations. He simply reminded us that, despite all of our differences, and BECAUSE OF all of our differences, we are a great country. 

On August 28, 1963, my dad celebrated his 40th birthday by taking a busload of high school kids from his church in upscale suburban Detroit, to Washington D.C. to participate in the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. At that time, Detroit was a volatile place. Riots were happening everywhere, and these kids from Bloomfield Hills, many of whom were the privileged children of auto company executives, were insulated, even though they lived less than 20 miles from the middle of Detroit. They needed to understand the larger issues that were happening all around them. People of all races made the trip to Washington to witness the historic event.

In his speech last night, the 45th anniversary of that speech, Barack Obama, standing before an even more diverse crowd of 80,000 people, reminded us of the message that Dr. King began all those years ago, Each of us was put into this world with a different set of circumstances, different abilities, all for the purpose of helping each other. We were not put here to finish first, to climb up over all the others in order to stand on top. Desperation can rob any person of the dignity we all need to succeed as human beings, but there is no reason, in a promised land so plentiful, that we can not all have everything we NEED, even if we can’t have everything we want. 

We must make it possible for everyone to succeed, in whatever way they choose. We have been told for so long that unless we succeed in a certain way, in a BIG way, we have failed. I have never won a foot race in my entire life and probably never will. But I have participated, tried my hardest, and found out that my gifts are useful elsewhere. They may not make me rich, but I should not have to be rich in order to feel secure.

We were told in school that it was the effort that counted, not the grade. For the sake of the wealthy in our country, there are people putting forth tremendous effort doing degrading work, receiving little in return. Yet, most of them do it with integrity, good humor, and loyalty. Not all of them want to be executives and not all of them are able to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. Like me as a runner, they understand that no amount of effort is going to change what nature has provided, and that our country needs every kind of worker there is. 

For many, the world seems full of spider webs right now, blocking their every move. It has become harder to build up the momentum we need to break through them, but every once in a while, someone like Barack Obama does it and opens up a path for the rest of us to follow, and by his example we are given courage to see these strands in our minds as those still-intact tapes at the finish line, just waiting for us to run through them.

We may not all finish first, but I hope that those who do will remember to stop and congratulate those who finished behind them simply for making the effort to run the race at all.

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