It’s not too late to be what you might have been

One of the insidious diseases that strikes at middle age, and trust me at 54 I am solidly into middle age, is one’s memory fading. I’m not talking about a serious medical condition, I’m talking about the blurring of what was with what might have been with what really is. 

It’s not so much that the older I get, the better I used to be, but that the older I get, the MORE I think I COULD have been. What I used to think of as merely broken dreams turn out to be the vestiges of lives unlived, plans unmade, and a personal history unwritten. 

Maybe I’m the only person who ever dreamed of being a professional baseball player, or race car driver, or world-famous musician, but I doubt it. The innocent play of little boys becomes the dreams of young men. The plastic soldiers placed carefully in the dirt are the training sessions for the battles we wage in life. The smell of model cement, the gluing of pieces of planes and cars are the beginnings of holding a fragmented life together.

I was never a little girl, except for one disastrous Halloween, but I’m sure that they, too, rehearse for a life that they never live. Young men and women alike search for the tools they need to build their futures.

Sadly, in the process of growing up, we learn mostly about what we are not. We learn that we are not the talented, gifted, brilliant children that the bumper stickers brag about. We were not the honor students, the high achievers, the ones singled out for special recognition. We were, essentially, just who we are. 

Standing around my part of the pack at any running event I am surrounded by extraordinary, ordinary people. Nearly all of us back where I line up are the kind of folks that can live their entire lives in total obscurity. We get up, we do our jobs, and we love our families. We ask for no more than our share and take no more than we think we deserve.

Through running, though, we have access to the leftovers of our childhood dreams. Running allows us to go back to a time when everything seemed possible, when believing that something could be done was reason enough to try. Running releases the childlike naivety that doesn’t understand or care what the obstacles are. Our courage is born out of our belief that we can be, or do, anything. 

It’s not too late to be what you might have been, if you are willing to accept that what you thought you could be was never going to happen. Those childhood dreams rarely factored in the time and tenacity it takes to reach your goals. The magic that made being a child so much fun has to give way to the acceptance that your strengths and weaknesses will be as much a part of your success as your enthusiasm.

For many of us, it’s the simple act of beginning to live out the dream that sets in motion a flow of feelings that have been locked away for years. It isn’t so much the goal that motivates us, but the action of moving toward that goal. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, it’s knowing that even if we are stumbling, we are stumbling in the right direction. 

What some critics of the back of the pack misunderstand is that we aren’t asking for, or expecting, the same rewards from the sport as those nearer the front. We aren’t asking for age-group awards to go 50 deep, or for Boston qualifying times to be doubled. We like getting a big honking medal, make no mistake, but we aren’t as interested in the extrinsic recognition of our achievement as the intrinsic satisfaction that is solely our own. 

This may come as a shock to some, but I never thought I was going to be very good at running. I wanted to be better than I was, but I never had illusions of grandeur. After 30 years of practicing trombone every day, I knew that excellence is earned, not granted. Most of us, back where I am, have no delusions about our abilities. Part of the joy back where I am is that we are doing so much with so little. We have no fears that we are giving away the gift. 

We are living out a dream. From 5K to marathon we are living in a world that we have created out of broken spirits and tattered hopes. I suppose if you’ve never failed miserably it’s hard to imagine what a small victory feels like. But, if life has you singing the old blues lyric: “Been down so long that bottom looks like up”, then maybe you can understand why the front of the back seems so far away.

For me the consuming dream as a child was being an athlete. That dream is alive and well in me today. I may have started a little late, but I’m going to not about to give up the dream now.

Waddle On, friends.

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