I was a fool for encouragement. I stood by the fence and cheered my head of for all the kids.
Especially the ones in the middle of the pack and even more for the ones at the end.
I recognized the look on some of those little faces - because I've felt that same feeling of hating what I was doing, not enjoying being so slow, but trying to just get to that dang finish line. I cheered my head off for those kids.
But what has stayed with me and what has brought me to tears every time I tell the story is one little boy from another school.
He was smaller than everyone. He appeared to have some sort of mild developmental delay - you could see it in his gait, in how he held his head.
He ran the 800 (2 times around the track) and he came in last - well behind the pack. But he never gave up. He kept going. Plugging along.
He ran a leg of a relay race.
I happened to be at the fence right where his hand off partner was. This little boy comes plugging down the last 60 yards. The next runner is waiting patiently. Waiting.
The little boy gets to his hand off teammate.... he hands him the stick.... and he starts saying....
I'm Sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry.
My heart broke open. A giant lump in my throat.
I cleared that lump and cheered loudly for him.
What broke my heart was that he knew that his very best effort wasn't good enough. He knew that he wasn't as fast or as coordinated as his teammates. He knew that he was holding back his team.
When there is an individual event, finishing last is just on your own shoulders. You can take prid ein knowing you did your best, you crossed the finish line.
But to try your best, work your hardest, and still not feel like you're enough for everyone else.
No one should ever feel like they have to apologize for who they are.
We've all felt that, though, haven't we? We see our shortcomings and we know how they impact others and we feel less than, we feel like we have no value, we degrade ourselves pretty harshly sometimes.
And that's exactly why it's so important to be kind and loving to everyone you meet.
Whether it's a shortcoming we can see or it's a difficult situation in someone's life or it's an internal struggle.... we all have things happening that need kindness from others. That need gentleness. That need love. Some are grieving, some battle mental illness, some are struggling in their parriages, some are watching their children fail, some hate themselves, some feel worthless, some are addicted, some are poor. We are all living with hurts - and the kindness of those around us is what can keep us going.
When you get to the finish line or when you get to your relay teammate, don't apologize. Do the best you can on the journey. If we're living in a world where kindness is the expected response, that last place finish or slow relay hand off would be celebrated and not ever cause for apologies.
Be kind. Encourage others. Cheer for everyone you meet. Share laughter and smile and joy. Dance like a fool. Hug people. Hold hands. Make the world a loving place. Make the finish line a place of celebration.