The Hollowness of Victory and the Agony of Da Feet

Rene PetersonA couple of weeks back, I wrote about coming in second in my age group in a 5K. The guy who beat me by enough time to eat a banana and drink a bottle of water and then make a pit stop before seeing me straggle up to the finish line was Rene Peterson, a man who, it turns out, lives less than a mile from me. If you’ll recall this fellow “runs” with his arms, propelling a hand bike through the course. We’d been in at least three races together over the last year or so.

On the Saturday before Memorial Day, I actually got to meet Rene and his constant companion, a tiny service dog named Lady, as we ran in a 5K around the Independence Square. With only 100 people running, this was a lot more friendly race than the huge one we’d shared in early May.

Right out of the start, Rene took advantage of a long hill headed north toward the Harry S. Truman Library. By the time I could see the library, Rene had already turned around and was headed up Delaware toward Harry’s home. He was flying. Of course, every downhill must be matched with an uphill. I didn’t see him, but I know he felt the grade as we headed back to the south.

Passing over the ridge on which the Independence Square is built, we had another long, gradual downhill, which promised another long, gradual uphill. It was on that uphill that I caught up with Rene and passed him. I realized that he very much prospers on a flatter course.

The race took us back to the square, in the shadow of the old courthouse, before turning west on Maple toward the finish. I could see the finish just a block away when Rene pushed past me. I probably could have sprinted it out harder and at least made him struggle to beat me, but, honestly, I was pretty well gassed by this point.

When the final results were tallied, he had beaten me by one-tenth of a second. One-tenth! In an odd quirk, I came in tenth overall in this race (out of 106) but only fourth in my age group. Once again–for the third time this spring–I failed to achieve the time goal I had set for myself, although I had a better time than in the previous race.

If there is a point to all of this, it lies in the vanity of all human desires. Does my fourth-place finish in a small race mean more or less than my second-place finish in a huge race?  Do either of those matter more than the overall time that I had? In the end, none of this means much at all.

What matters, what means something, is that we run the race at all, that we give our best efforts and that we offer them to Jesus. Next time, provided the course has some hills, I’ll take Rene and I’ll cross the finish line in 23:30, my elusive goal. Or maybe I won’t. In this pursuit like all of life’s pursuits, it’s all too easy to become consumed by our vain desires. I reminded myself of that fact as I drove home that morning.

But one-tenth of a second? That’s hard to take.

Crashing the Helicopter Parents–Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

Do not be overrighteous,

    neither be overwise—
    why destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overwicked,
    and do not be a fool—
    why die before your time?
18 It is good to grasp the one
    and not let go of the other.
    Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.
—Ecclesiastes 7:16-18
Bubble wrap parent
The most careful parent on the planet hovers over the child like a helicopter, spawning the term “helicopter parent.” This parent invests in every piece of protective gear for junior, effectively wrapping her in bubble wrap for every activity. This parent carefully rations the child’s television usage and ensures that the little one does not sit too close to any device that might emit harmful and as-yet-unidentified radiation. Don’t even ask about vaccination, because this parent won’t take any chances, lest an MMR booster kick junior over into the autism spectrum. Smoke alarm batteries are changed religiously when daylight savings time begins, and background checks run on each and every adult who crosses junior’s path. This is a careful parent.
How surprising then when that child became the victim of a freak, unpredictable accident.
When Solomon speaks of someone being “overrighteous” or “overwise,” I think he might be speaking of the helicopter parent. The overrighteous person is obsessed with doing the right thing in absolutely every situation. The overwise person thinks things through perhaps a bit too much and believes himself possessed of all the right answers.
Solomon doesn’t suggest ignoring the right thing. He doesn’t think that the helicopter parent ought to land, hand the kids a box of razor blades, and tell them to play on the Interstate. Instead, he’s pointing out the uncertainty of human life and the inability of individuals to control that life.
Happily as stewards of our own bodies and as guardians of the growing bodies of our children, we don’t have to be perfect. We—or our children—can eat a little bit of junk food, engage in a  bit of dangerous play, and expose ourselves to a moderate amount of contagion without utterly ruining our lives.
Both obsession and neglect destroy life, in Solomon’s view. In between those extremes lies a wide swath of acceptable and healthy behavior in which we can be happy and make the best of things.
We’re all going to die, he continues to remind us. We might as well enjoy matters and please God until then.