Friday, October 01, 2010


on the eve before my first Ironman, i was a near-total wreck. like so many others, i came into race day in a state of nerves that expanded exponentially with every passing moment in a mixture comprised of equal parts uncertainty leading anxiety driving fear causing neurosis producing dread becoming awe approaching paralysis in the face of something on a scale so vast, so great, so massive as to be utterly incomprehensible. my only singular thought on race day morning was: who am i to even dare? who am i to even try? who am i to even be?

it was not a good state of mind to be in for an Ironman.

seeing the look in my eyes that explained it all, my coach at the time paused and pulled me aside just before i entered the transition area, faced me square across the shoulders and said:

"i know what you're thinking. we've all been there. everyone goes through it. everyone. all the time. but know this: to do an Ironman, you have to believe. you have to believe you can do this. you have to believe that no matter what, you have what it takes to get you through this. now you don't have to believe in destiny, you don't have to believe in people, you don't have to believe in God, you just have to believe in yourself."

what he said, of course, applies to many things other than just Ironman. but i think Ironman stands as a ready metaphor for any challenge we may encounter involving magnitudes in spectacle, consequence, and meaning beyond our ken.

these kinds of challenges involve moments of supreme uncertainty, tied as they are to a personal awakening to the limitations of our mortality and a realization of just how insignificant we are before all that is unknown in the infinite spaces of eternity.

in these moments, we go beyond what is known. we go beyond fact. we go beyond the bases of reason. we enter a realm where there is only belief.

the problem for us, however, is about belief in what.

because belief in destiny can be unrequited. destiny is fickle, destiny is not kind. events that seemed destined end up evaporating in futility. things that seemed destined end up being taken away. lives that seemed destined end up being denied. destiny cannot be understood.

people are no better. if the history of our species has proven anything, it is that people are helpless to their humanity, fragile and frail and prone to the forces of our existence, both of our own making and of our own circumstance. the workings of others cannot be known.

as for God...or gods...let's not get started. for some it helps, for some it does not. it's purely subjective, supremely personal. take from it what you will. but the supernatural, the sacred, the divine, by definition cannot be substantiated.

which leaves you. you. mortal. limited. finite. but because you are mortal, limited, finite, it means that by definition you can be substantiated, you can be known, you can be understood. the only thing you really know. the only thing you really comprehend. and as a result, the one thing--of all things--that you really control. and thus, the one thing--of all things--that in the face of the unknown can move and proceed and continue and journey and go

past the uncertainty and anxiety and fear and neurosis and dread and awe and paralysis

of the moment so vast so great so massive so incomprehensible

and dare

and try

and be


you don't have to believe in anything, you just have to believe in yourself.

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