Over the years, I've grown to expect that every important lesson in life must be spawned by a huge event.
You know—the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, the Great Flood—I have this tendency to believe that any occurrence that doesn’t resemble a scene from a Cecil B. DeMille picture probably isn’t worth a second look. Maybe it's a result of growing up Catholic.
Fortunately, life has a way of reminding me how wrong this kind of thinking can be. In one weekend I received two important lessons that came out of seemingly trivial episodes.
The first one happened at the recent Senator Street block party.
I have to say that I had a blast at this thing. We had great weather, I met people who had been living on my street for years for the very first time, and I got a chance to stuff myself with all the food I know I should avoid, like hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage and pepper sandwiches, and eggplant parmigiana.
There were plenty of attractions, including a pony ride for the kids. I watched one little girl experience what I strongly suspect was her first-ever encounter with a horse. The poor child looked terrified as she gripped the reins with both hands and her face contorted with fear. I felt so badly for her.
The ride was less than half the block, but by the time she returned to the starting point, this very same girl was smiling broadly and rocking from side to side in time with the pony. You could almost swear it was a different kid—and in a way I suppose it was.
It was so touching to see this beautiful little girl lose her fear. She did something she had never done before and learned that she liked it. Who knows? She may be champion rider some day.
This was a great moment in her life, but it occurred to me later that this kind of personal discovery isn’t just for children. We all have fears we have to face and overcome; we all have our ponies to ride. So it turned out to be a pretty good moment for me, too.
The next day I went to my gym to work off all the hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage and pepper sandwiches, and eggplant parmigiana I have consumed during the block party. The instructor was in a particularly sadistic mood this day and decided to put us through some suicide sprints.
For those of you who don’t know, the aptly-named suicide sprints require you to run half the distance of the gym and race back to the starting point.
From there you run like hell for three-quarters of the distance before turning back returning once again to the starting point. Finally you race to the very end of the gym while, making these awful wheezing noises and seriously considering...suicide.
On Your Mark...
I lined up with two of my classmates in the first wave of runners and off we went with the sweat flying and the instructor roaring at us to run, run, run until we did a total of ten such sprints.
These things are murder. Not only are you running as fast as you can, but you’re turning around, dropping to one knee to touch the floor and then turning and running some more.
I always thought I was a pretty fast runner, but it wasn’t happening for me this day. Maybe I had too many sausage and egg sandwiches.
I was constantly coming in last behind my two other classmates and I heard the negative talk fire up in my brain: What’s going on here? Why can't you beat these guys? Is your age finally catching up with you?
I was letting my ego overtake the point of this exercise, which, of course, is to get a good workout. This wasn’t the Olympics.
Competing against other people like this helps you to push yourself, but it isn’t meant as a judgment of yourself as a human being. Unless I’m doing it.
I kept watching my classmates out of the corner of my eye, which just eats into your time even more. But somewhere around the fifth or sixth lap, I decided to turn in the opposite direction, so that I was looking at the wall instead of my classmates.
And suddenly I was alone.
There was no one to compete against, no one to make me worry if I was slowing down, growing old, losing my edge, or going off my rocker. It was just me running—and I took off. I tied with my classmates in the next lap and actually “won” the tenth and final set.
There was no prize for this. We still had 35 more minutes of hard work to do and nobody gave a damn who won what. But I did score a victory of sorts in that I saw how much I allow my ego to control my life, how I worry about what other people may be thinking. I put myself on a stage, but the only one in the audience is me.
So I was very fortunate. I got two lessons in as many days and I didn’t need lightning bolts or a choir of angels to get the message.
It's time for my pony ride.