THE RACE WE RUN IS NOT ABOUT THE FINISH LINE
When Chris, my younger brother, was 5 years old, he wanted to enter a 30-yard dash at “Fun Day,” a City of Dallas summer youth program. It was a project that was designed to give kids alternatives to hanging out on street corners during summer vacation. Chris, who insisted everyone in our family call him “Superman,” had always been fascinated by running, jumping and, yes, flying.
Each time we went to the park he would stand along the sidelines, hypnotized as he watched the older kids race. And although he didn’t really understand the concept of running a race — or so I thought — he somehow knew that the atmosphere of competing and doing your best provided one of the greatest feelings in the world.
For three weeks, he had run over to me, panting and out of breath, with the same question: “Can I run today?”
For three weeks, my answer had remained the same: “We’ll see.” That tired, worn-out phrase my parents used on me whenever they didn’t know exactly how to say no with good reason.
On this particular day I caught a glimpse of the sparkle in Chris’ eyes. He wanted, no, needed, to run in a race, so I agreed to give him his shot.
As one event finished and they geared up for the next one, I learned that the other two kids in Chris’ race were 7 and 9 years old. I had wondered why they looked so much bigger and more developed than my gangly 5-year-old shrimp of a brother who’d just lost one of his front teeth.
Oh, no, I thought. He’s gonna get creamed. He’ll hate me for letting him sign up!
I jogged over to the starting point, thinking I should pull Superman from the race. Maybe encourage him to run with kids his own age. But something in the child-of-steel’s spirit told me age was nothing but a number in his mind.
The official called for the runners to take their marks, and I told Chris I would be waiting for him at the finish line and that I’d be proud of him no matter what happened. I laid a big, sloppy kiss on him and sent him to the starting blocks, certain I was making a big mistake.
The race began, and Chris took off as if he’d been shot from a cannon. And just as I’d imagined, the two older kids — one to his left, the other to his right — were leaving him in the dust. All of the spectators were going crazy, cheering for all three kids. I jumped up and down, waving my hands, wearing a smile as wide as Texas.
Chris kept his eyes on me and continued to run his little heart out. Finally, he crossed the finish line, leaping into my arms.
“Way to go, Chris,” I said, holding back a fountain of tears. “You were sooo good, baby! You ran so hard! I’m proud of you.”
He hugged my neck so tight I was sure it would snap. With his sweaty face buried in my neck, he kiss-ed me, pulled away and asked excitedly, “Did I win?”
Surely, he thought he must have won as hard as I was smiling. I laughed but never thought twice about my answer to his question. Instead, I continued to flash my megawatt smile, took one look at the gleam in his eyes and the joy spilling out of his chest, and said: “You sure did, baby. You sure did.”