The Best Mile
How many miles have you traveled? How many miles did you travel yesterday? Are some of the miles you traveled better than others? With all of the technology in the Western world, most of us travel distances without considering the distance. Most of us have come to think of trips in terms of time, rather than a measure of the space between two points.
Recently my son asked me how far it was to the beach. When I responded that it was a little under 400 miles, he immediately protested and said, “no, how long will it take”. When I fly to a destination, there is never an app from an airline that tells me how far I have traveled, but there is always a “time in flight”. Perhaps this is because we would all realize we flew 1000 miles to get to a hub before connecting to a flight that took us to our destination that was 300 miles from our original departure. Most likely, it is because airlines understand, no one cares about distance, but they are obsessed with time. Our brains are hardwired for time, but distance is for most, only a number to be converted into minutes or hours.
Most of the free time I had while attending high school was spent playing basketball. Sometimes in the rain. Sometimes in dangerous heat. Sometimes after clearing snow and ice off the driveway outside my home. I played basketball with preachers, strangers, friends, drug dealers, alone, or even with imagined opponents. I set up chairs and did drills, I exercised under the backboard, I listened to music, I invited others over or I went where there was a pick up game.
The first three years of high school, I tried out for the high school team. The first three years of high school, I was cut from the high school team. In the fall of my senior year, I made the team. I never played as a starter, and I was at best, second string. My biggest contributions to the team were sweeping the gymnasium floor before each practice and teaching my teammates to say “fudge ripple” rather than dog cuss whatever frustrated them at the time. My best memory in all of the basketball I have played, is of one hot afternoon, after school, during conditioning, and it has little to do with basketball.
During conditioning, distance means more than in everyday life. It means more because it can be a marker for the measurement of time. Our goal was to run a mile in under seven minutes. The stakes were high, as this day was my last chance to run a mile in under seven minutes. Finish in under seven minutes? Be a part of the team. Finish in over seven minutes? Be cut for the fourth time in a series of attempts and failures at making the team. Each lap was a 1/4 mile. There was a crowd because we had to take up some of the practice time for the track team to either pass or fail this test.
After each lap leading up to the big day, for weeks, Coach Carringer would yell off the time as we passed. I was never on pace, but always gave it my best effort. On this particular day, after the first lap, it looked like I had a shot. The reading after the second lap was good. When I passed before my final lap, it was nothing more than a crap shoot. There was something in me that believed I could make it and there was also the overwhelming feeling that I needed to prepare myself to tell my family and those that were rooting for me that I did not make the team.
As I came around the first semi-circle of the final lap, having never felt so alone and with all manner of thoughts running through my head, I heard a voice say, “Come on Kevin, you can do this”. Then another voice said, “Pace yourself, you are making good time”. There was no one running with me on that mile. Until then. Two of my friends from school, who were waiting for these trials to be over so they could return to track practice, had come out of the stands, and were now running beside me. They were faster than me. They were in better shape. But they were only running next to me. Encouraging me.
I did finish the mile in under seven minutes. I did make the basketball team. My travels in life have taken me to other continents, different oceans, and cities that I would never have dreamed of seeing when I was planning a life as a student. I have been fortunate to sail, walk, fly, run, and ride several miles in my life. This mile was my best mile. And though I have not thanked those two young high school students specifically, and though I do not see them much these days, I still hear their voices when things require a little more struggle to get through. I try to be those voices for others when they are running whatever mile has been placed before them to run.
It is fitting that these two “girls” have taken positions in the education system. Though I will not name them here, I will say they are women with good hearts. They are women who concern themselves with the success of others as much as they concern themselves with their own success. More than I see them on social media, I see others using social media commenting on how wonderful they are. They had their own reasons for running with me on the last leg of that scrutinized mile. The impact of the decision they made is the shaping of my life into whatever it has become and the shaping of any of the lives I have been able to touch.
That mile had so little to do with time. That mile had so little to do with whether I would be able to wear a basketball jersey that year. That mile was my best mile. Not because it got me to where I wanted to be in the time I needed to get there, but because it taught me how good it feels to have someone by your side, speaking words of encouragement, along the way.
Life is funny. Our mind cannot comprehend that we need to be at the same time encouraged and also encouraging. We tend to want to “kick the dog” if we have had a bad day, and we tend to want to help others if all is going well. Moments are just that. Moments. We should expect respect, consideration, and encouragement from others. What makes us masters of our own lives is when we give these things to one, regardless of whether we received it from another.
Blogs are funny. Though I say these things are so, I struggle with them as much as anyone else. Perhaps knowing I have a problem is enough to be a catalyst for change. Perhaps forgiveness is all that I can ask, from others and myself, before trying to do these things again. That day, in 1986, on a track that I have run and walked many times since, on a journey that has lasted 50 years, has shaped my desire to help others. What was your best mile?