Running: A solo act
Can I stop now?
No, Navya! You have trained for this. Come on, only 200 metres till the lap ends.
But then, there are 3 more laps to go.
Are you saying that you are a loser? That you are not motivated to run with your classmates? See, the friend you started with hasn’t stopped yet, so why should you?
Think of how good the wind feels and how calm the school has gotten.
You have to do better than the last time.
And the test is only weeks away. We stop now, we’ll never start with the same speed. Must not give up. Must. Not. Stop.
I am like most people: remarkably ordinary in most things, rather good at some. But I had never been a complete and utter failure until I encountered the Physical aspect of education in Singapore. With expectations that involved running, jumping, pull-ups, sit–ups, sprinting, stretching, and so much more, I had never felt more distanced from the comfortable side lines (where the shades were) that I used to haunt in my previous school while my more athletic classmates played basketball or some sort.
I would be the first to admit that I am not really your sporty type. And that it had never really been a problem in my life till this juncture. For- who can deny the obvious disadvantage of athletics in the rat race and, hence, Indian society? Who does not the sense the perverse enjoyment in someone’s claim of avoiding ‘distractions’ like sports, or the hidden boast of the ‘merely’ intellectual? Both- the glory and joy were stripped off of me to leave a girl who was just someone who couldn’t run 2.4 kilometres in seventeen minutes, which was what I was to do to pass the physical test (along with doing a myriad of other painful, painful things), but in considerable less if I were to gain any sort of respectability.
I think this would be the space where it becomes obligatory that I mention how we need to incorporate a better physical education regime in our system and, as a community, give respect, love and admiration to our athletes. Consider it done, sincerely. But the story I’m telling you here has two different take-aways: How to cope with failing.
You might have been that one kid who never wants to be called upon in a class because he knows that the teacher only wants to set an ‘example’ for bad kids, and would never dare to think that your answer might actually be right. You might have been the wallflower who has to think things thrice before speaking: once for content, then for grammar, and then for social aptitude- and would still imagine the dark mirth in the listener’s eyes. You might have been that little cupcake-figured girl who could not run 2.4 kilometres in seventeen minutes, and could only lift her eyes in jealousy, when faced with footballers who seemed to achieve enlightenment while lifting weights. Or, you might simply not recognize the above three. Because either you have failed, or you have not.
But when you do, there would be disappointment. Closely followed by a kick in self-esteem, security, confidence and all those good things. While I was lucky to not face any taunts and teases, the disappointment and the lack of expectations were bad enough for me. And no one is a worse critic of themselves than someone who is inexperienced in failing. I wanted to change the situation, turn it around- and don’t all the songs say that you can get your dreams if you just work hard enough?
You can’t. As the days passed, the minutes it took me to run the miles decreased from twenty-five…to twenty…nineteen….came deliciously close to seventeen. But never did it come close to fourteen or so I saw the ‘good’ people manage. Laps that I ran to chase my goals taught me more than endurance. It taught me that I wasn’t a very good runner. And, most importantly, it taught me that it was okay. Our faults and weaknesses are merely crevices that highlight our strengths and carvings. And only together do they form the complete ‘us’. Failing, surprisingly, offered the purest chance for me to love my accomplishments, and not to wave away victories with a hand that spoke of taking winning for granted.
Trailing behind them also became a good spot to observe people. There are people who run faster than you. Others, slower than you. Some would start slow, but become maniacs when they see others leaping ahead. Others would do exact opposite. Some run fast and leave you behind. Some run fast, grab your hand, and drag you along with them. All of them need to be observed, to be learned from.
So what happened on the test day? Well, when I crossed the finish line (panting, heaving) the teacher yelled “Twenty Seconds”. It was the hairline time that was either remaining or the time I missed the target by. I would give the reader leave to choose between optimism and pessimism, because I don’t remember. At all.
What I remember was the times I felt I would fail, and all the times I had not. I remember the variety of people, and how our positions are relative in different walks of life. How sometimes I breeze ahead, while those who helped me in running, pant and heave. And all I want to say is this:
When you fail, take everything. Every advice, every ounce of help, every single other thing. Take without shame, or inferiority, or guilt. Take selfishly, and completely. Hoard everything. Keep it next to the equally treasured box labelled ‘compliments’.
Because you cannot really give, unless you have truly taken.
“Getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air” – Sarah Kay