Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Running Behind

The conversation turned, as it sometimes does, to who was the fastest. Other times it was strongest. Or smartest. It was the kind of conversations that I have become very familiar with as I listen to fifth grade boys wait outside their elementary school for their parents. Most of the time I don't enter into the fray, preferring to remain silent and indifferent. I stare off into the middle distance, pretending to look for the next car to show up, taking half of the discussion away and ending it. For another day, at least.
Today I wasn't getting that relief. There were a dozen kids stacked up on the steps in front of the school and the braggadocio continued for all the eternity that twenty minutes can sometimes seem. And then some. Finally, I could no longer remain the passive observer. "How about a race?" It seemed like a logical progression of events: make claim, test claim, resolve claim. We should know in a few moments which of them was the fastest and which one wasn't. They quickly chose the half block of sidewalk in front of the school for the test track, and as the excitement among the rest of my young charges grew to fever pitch, I counted down, "On your marks, get set, go!"
It wasn't that much of a contest, really. The quieter and more confident of the pair surged to an early lead and didn't look back. Not that I had a rooting interest, but if I were going to reward for put up or shut up, he would have won my prize. The slower of the two had the good sense to make his way back to the steps without much complaint. We had all seen how it went down, and there wouldn't be any excuses. He lost the race, fair and square.
The fast one took a moment to bask in the glow of his peers' adulation. Then he turned to me and asked the inevitable, "Do you wanna race, Mister Caven?"
"That's okay. I'm kind of busy right now, watching kids and all."
"Aw, c;mon," he wasn't going to let it go that easily. One victory had fed his ego and he was now hungry for more.
I pondered my options. I could run the half block and hope to win, avoiding the derision of my young charges on the steps and the stories it would generate for weeks afterward if I should lose. If I were to outrun a ten-year-old, what sort of satisfaction would I gain? It would be a quiet last few minutes before everyone went home since order had been restored, but would it be worth it? I chose a differnt tack. "You know, I think you probably could beat me in a sprint. I'm old, you know."
That got a self-satisfied smile from the speedster.
"But I seem to recall that most of the time when we're running our laps at PE, I finish ahead of you."
He gave that a thought. "Well," he reasoned, "that's because you've got more endurance."
And that was enough for me. I had won already. Not only was he ceding me the victory over distance, but he was also making me proud and happy by remembering the word I had taught him, weeks before when we had been discussing running a mile. The wisdom was catching up with him. That's when his mother pulled up, and he jumped into the car.

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