Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Journey

modified from the original written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 02-14-07:

We begin the race thinking we know who we are and what is it we want. A certain time, a certain pace, a certain way, a certain direction. Set effort, set heart rate, set transition, set start, set finish. We imagine ourselves according to a picture in our minds, visualize ourselves in ways we believe we want to be.

And to this end, we start with what we think we need. The right equipment, the right nutrition, the right training, the right people. And when the sound of the starting gun goes off, we go, thinking we are prepared for whatever the race may bring.

But the race has a way of never being what we expect.

Somewhere on the way, as we journey on the path, we find that things begin to happen. The equipment we thought would work doesn't. The nutrition we thought would help fails. The training we thought would have us ready turns out to be wrong. The people we thought would be good for us aren't. Everything we thought was right is not.

And we find we aren't prepared for what the race will bring. Bad conditions. Bad roads. Bad decisions. Big mistakes. Big accidents. Even injuries. Sometimes pain and suffering. Enough to shake us, enough to make us lose our way. Enough to scar us forever.

So we are left alone, with nothing other than ourselves, to continue on as best we can, doing whatever we can, by any means available, hoping to somehow make our way onwards through everything the race continues to bring to us.

In so doing, the race begins to change us. Imperceptibly at first, then more and more with each passing mile and building moment, until everything we are and who we are fluxes and evolves as easily and quickly and significantly as the conditions of the course whipping itself beneath and against and above and around our limbs and hearts and minds.

And when we finally reach the finish, we stop and rest, to find that we are not the same person we were when we started the race. We are different. Irrevocably changed by everything that has happened.

And what we needed then we don't need now, and what we wanted then we don't want now. Because whatever it was that we thought we knew were, we know we are not that now.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.
--Mary Oliver, The Journey

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