“……..living to some purpose”
[This story first appeared in 2005 in a website I had with my daughter. As we begin a new year – 2017 – looking back self-critically continues a habit of mine. With that a piece is offered which includes description of one of the most inspiring sporting events of all time: the running of The Preakness Stakes horse race in 2005. It mirrors life.]
After about five decades of living an internal timer goes off, and you awake to pick through your life trying to extract things that you have done that really matter. (Any act of stupidity is put to one side, with the admonition: don’t do that again.)
Or maybe you haven’t yet really accomplished anything at all?
Each of us answers that question in our own way.
Until you reach the last third of your life, you can be excused not having had the time, inclination or luxury to assess your life’s accomplishments. Most of us, if that fleeting thought came at all, just pushed the evaluation aside at some earlier point in our lives, into a box called future or later.
But later can become never if we are not careful. The hinges on the door to that box can rust shut.
We fell into a life and for the most part we let fate take us wherever it would. We did our best as a child, parent and spouse, and whatever occupation or profession paid the bills. But there was that one thing, that flame that desire, that something we always wanted to do, the person we always wanted to be, that kept hanging there, haunting us like a diploma with only our name on it.
Maybe in those earlier days we were embarrassed by it, and thought it a kid’s fantasy. We kept it to ourselves. But dreams are the seeds of accomplishment, of great things. And an accumulation of something as arbitrary as years should not be a reason to let them die.
Thomas Paine, writer and philosopher, in 1789 put it another way. He aspired to be “…..living to some purpose.” In his case, that didn’t begin until he was thirty-eight, when he took a boat ride from Britain to their colony in America.
But he never let his early life’s failures, which included bankruptcy and personal tragedy – his first wife died in childbirth – quash his need to ultimately do something constructive, purposeful. Through Common Sense and his other writings he was an indispensable force in helping give birth to a new nation, The United States of America.
In more contemporary times last summer, and in a different arena – professional sports – baseball player Mark McGwire was interviewed on ESPN. He offered the opinion that, “You’re put on this earth for a certain reason. You have to find out what that reason is.”
Wouldn’t it be easy if birth alone solved the riddle of what our purpose is? There are a few people – principally child prodigies – and others who just know their calling, but that leaves the rest of us to flounder.
I’ve always had a passion for horses, Thoroughbred horses, and came to realize why: they are put on this earth to be one of creations most graceful and intense single-purpose creatures. Everything they are, their whole being is put into two minutes of heart-pounding effort.
In an era of frequently mindless pray-to-the-god of multi-tasking for us humans, I admit being envious of those animals.
But just look at what they can teach us about a purposeful life.
A few weeks ago at The Preakness – the second of three races comprising the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing – a colt named Afleet Alex was one of fourteen in the field. As fan’s shrieked wildly watching the final, dirt-splattering turn, Afleet Alex was snaking his way through the pack. Just as he was about to dart through an opening, a competitor, Speedy T, inexplicably leaned into the path, pushing Afleet Alex, making him stumble almost to his knees.
To his knees.
A collective gasp went up from the Pimlico, Maryland, crowd, and probably from everyone else around the world watching or listening to it.
For an instant, the race stopped.
Would the horse and jockey collapse onto the track at thirty miles an hour, to be trampled by a stampede of rival fifteen-hundred pound beasts and their hundred-odd pound riders of steel?
Not this day.
Afleet Alex managed to keep himself upright, his jockey for that split-second hanging on only for self-preservation. They forged ahead straightening themselves up as would a champion prize fighter who has just taken the best that his opponent can give, and comes at his foe with a steeled intensity that petrifies the competitor.
In case you didn’t see it, Afleet Alex won the race.
It’s an inspiration for each of our lives.
What one talent, what one skill is lurking right under the surface in each of us that for years we have pushed aside, or worse, don’t even know exists because we ultimately embraced complacency as life’s goal.
I for one don’t want Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda on my tombstone.
How about you?
[Note: Through the magic of the internet you can see the race, all 6:46 of it, including top-notch commentary, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfFzODoD7YY . It still gives me goosebumps.]