Run for any length of time, and you realize that it imparts life lessons as it molds calves and increases oxygen capacity. You get out what you put in…life lesson. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…life lesson. Fast and steady wins the race…life lesson. What? You’ve never heard of that one?
And then there’s this: avoid judging others. So often, the quick, snappy judgements we’re so prone to level at someone else are misinformed. Opportunities for friendships can pass because we stubbornly adhere to an untrue, unjust assumption.
I’m thinking back to high school. There was a boy who was a fairly decent 800m runner. He was a year older than me and went to a high school about the size of mine. I only saw him compete a few times a year—at his home track meet, the Regional track and cross country meets (when he competed against our boys’ team)and occasionally at an off-season event. My sophomore year, I saw him run at an indoor invitational. He was in the slow heat of the boys’ 800, which he won handily. I watched in disbelief as this arrogant so-and-so completed a victory lap from winning the slow heat. “What a jerk!” I thought. “What a stupid jerk! Doesn’t he know that Justin is in the next heat?” Justin is a fantastically gifted runner from rural Kansas. There were whispers that he might be “the one” to take down Jim Ryun’s long-standing high school mile record. (He didn’t, but he had an incredible high school career regardless.) Had the boy of our story been in Justin’s heat, he would have certainly been the smokee rather than the smoker…and here he was, strutting around the track. That told me everything I thought I needed to know about the guy, and I added him immediately to my “do not like” list.
Fast forward to outdoor track season. We’re at the home track meet of the fella in question, and my freshman brother is racing him in the 800m. As they round the curve for the second time, my brother goes to pass him on the inside, and Stupid Jerk shoves him off the track. Lil’ brudder stumbles but thankfully doesn’t go down. I don’t remember who won that race, but I remember seeing red. Now I had another reason to hate that guy! So much for runners being a nice bunch, huh?
I could have gone the rest of my days hating that boy, but two years later we were running on the same college team. You know what I discovered? He’s actually a nice guy with a quirky sense of humor nearly identical to mine. It was impossible to harbor a grudge in the face of it. One time, we kidnapped a pillow from another teammate and held it for ransom. I’m talking polaroid photos, ransom letters that I smuggled into her locker demanding boxes of donuts and Canadian money in exchange for the safe return of her beloved pillow, and all! It was elaborate. He and his wife became great friends of ours, and one of the saddest things about graduating was when they, us, and another couple all moved in separate directions.
I eventually told him about that long-ago track meet, and he laughed. “All I could think of was, here’s this punk kid trying to pass me on the inside…on my own track! I taught him a little lesson in running etiquette.” Oh…right! Passing on the inside (particularly on a curve) is a track faux pas. If you’re going to humiliate someone by beating them, the generally accepted rule is to at least run further while you’re doing it. Of course, if they leave an opening you can feel free to take it…but you shouldn’t try to make room or run on the inside line. Funny how when it’s your little brother being shoved around, you forget about such things.
I try to remember that story in my non-running life. When someone cuts in front of me in the grocery line, my automatic response is to restart the “what a jerk!” monologue. But what do I actually know about their day, or their lives? Who am I to make an instant judgment based on a mere instant of interaction? As I’m far more likely to be wrong than right, I try to give others the benefit of the doubt…and the benefit of an unjudging heart.