Monday, September 12, 2011

How do I know when I'm finished?

"Coach, coach," he gushed excitedly. It was his first race ever and he had a bazillion questions. Standing near our team's starting box just moments away from the gun, this gangly youngster was a jumbled up mixture of nervous energy and raw enthusiasm. "Coach...Uh, what number am I and how do I know when I'm finished?"

Really? Did I just hear that right? I tried not to laugh but the corners of my mouth betrayed me. Surely, there must be some hidden meaning behind the questions that I just didn't get. But, since I am not a 6th grade boy and have no earthly idea how their minds work, I decided to answer it in the only way I knew.

"Well, your number is pinned to your shirt so don't worry about that." Then, pointing to the fifteen foot tall inflatable finish arch across the way, I continued. "Just keep running until you get to that thing. Look up. It says 'Finish' in big, white letters. When you pass under it, that's when you know when you can stop."

I guess my answer was okay. He sprinted at the flash of the gun, followed the crowded field of runners, dashed down the final straightaway lined with cheering fans, and passed under that big, black and bodacious finish banner. He had figured it out.

Photo by Regan Brooks
I have to admit, I've enjoyed some light-hearted moments thinking about this exchange. But his pondering about finishing may not be as simple as it seems. Sure, a finish arch or tape stretched across a piece of real estate may signal the end of an event. But I find few things in life so clear.

The "end" is seldom really the end. For example, while a final exam marks the end of a course, it also signals the beginning of the next step toward a degree. And though a diploma ends the quest for the degree, it acts as the flash of the starter's pistol marking the start of an adult's life.

I find myself constantly searching for a finish line, gasping for breath and wanting it all to stop. Life gets so hectic, so chaotic, so filled with "gotta do this and gotta do thats." If only the finish line were closer, more attainable, more definable. If only I didn't feel so utterly spent when I got there, exhausted and depleted. I sometimes decry the journey to that allusive line, sweating, hurting, and suffering along the way. I get introspective and miserable, my head hangs low. Woe is me.

I must be a slow learner. I've been in this state before. I know all the wisdom about persevering, relentless forward motion, and "it doesn't always get worse" philosophies. But I still forget along the way. I forget to look up at the next finish line and step across it when I arrive. I forget that the finish line brings with it a chance to catch your breath and replenish. I forget that the pain of the race diminishes as soon as the final step is taken. I forget that the race, the struggle, really tells me that I am alive and well despite how I feel in the moment. I forget that I run for a "Well done" from my Coach.

But back to his race. Just before this kid got to that line, he stopped and looked up. "Run through it, keep going. You aren't finished yet," cried my assistant coach. With a huge smile plastered on his innocent face, my runner plunged ahead as his finish time was recorded. He found the first of many finishes.

Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. (Matthew 25:23)


Rick Gray said...

Just love this post. Yes, it is funny, but you point out so many things we fail to think about. One of the things I thought about was back to my days of being a newbie ultrarunner. Life was simple and less stressfull. Now I think I know too much. I think too much. Maybe was best to not know what was around the next bend.

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Ignorance can be bliss...

Follow the yellow lines

Jack in his younger days "Well, you know I can't live here by myself. I'm moving in with you." I guess he was serious....