At New Market Elementary School in Sophia, NC, Field Day was much anticipated.   Each grade level competed within itself in all kinds of physical activities:  relays, jumping rope, obstacle courses made out of hay bales, etc.    More important than the blue, red and white ribbons that were handed out to the victors (though these were all VERY important, too) all sorts of castes, hierarchies and social strata that would dictate our lives for the next year would be firmly decided that day in the schoolyard.

Each classroom in a particular grade-level, would supply 3 girls and 3 boys to compete in each competition (kind of like the Hunger Games but less nihilistic).  If more than 4 kids wanted to compete in a certain event, the class would have to hold some sort of preliminary.

By the 2nd grade, my reputation as a Type A/teacher’s pet/future Valedictorian was already established.  My athletic abilities–generally masked by a body frame that was politely referred to as “husky” in those days—had never really been questioned or even entertained by my peers.

For whatever reason, the pinnacle event on Field Day was the 50 yard dash.  I don’t know what made me raise my hand that day when Ms. Pugh asked which boys wanted to represent the class in the race, but I did, and that put the number of volunteers at 5.  This necessitated a “run-off”.

It was a rainy Spring day but nonetheless, Ms. Pugh sent the five us out to the field behind the school.  All of our classmates lined up at the row of windows that looked down on the grass.  I bent forward with my hand resting on my knee ready to push my chubby self forward with a little extra thrust.  I vaguely remember looking over my right shoulder as the teacher opened up the window and shouted

On your mark!  Get set!  Go!

And we were off.

Racing toward the chain link fence that bordered one end of the school property, I’m certain that if I went back now the distance would seem so short, but then it seemed like a long, long way. Arms and legs pumping furiously, we remained fairly closely packed.  As the fence came ever closer, one could inhale the scent of adrenaline with each exhausted deep breath in.

Just as I was thinking that in a matter of seconds it would all be over, my foot slipped on the wet grass.  Propelled by the forward-moving momentum of my belly, I skidded forward faster than the speed of light.  My arms and hands reached out instinctively to brace myself for a fall, but that chain link grid must have been precisely placed there by an angel.

And by a twist of gravity and fate, I was the first boy to touch the fence.

As we all turned back to face the school, I could see classmates jumping up and down (even at that age people like to root for the underdog).  I could feel the heat on my cheeks as they blushed with that odd childhood mix of pride and shame.

On Field Day, I represented my class well.  I came home with a white third-place ribbon in my hand, a head full of dreams, and a chest so swollen from pride that I wore stretchy t-shirts for days afterward.

After all of these years and all of the subsequent milestones I still remember this singular achievement.

The memory came running back to me the other day when I heard someone say:

We all live in the dash.

What do you mean?,  I asked.

In my mind, all that I could conjure was how quickly those 50 yards seemed to pass beneath my feet so many years ago.  To an 8 year old, all of the exhilarating joys and dismal tragedies of life can indeed be found in a 50 yard foot race and its finish line.

No matter who you are or what mark you make on history, ultimately your name is going to be followed by the year you were born and the year you died—nothing separating them but a dash.  So everything you do in life fits into that little piece of punctuation between two dates.

Though one could protest this trivialization of life, it is at least partly true.  Think about all of the amazing men and women of history who accomplished extraordinary things, sometimes even feats that changed the course of human civilization.  Then think about how much the average person on the street could tell you about any of them.

So often the largest obstacles we face in life are those posed by the value we place on how others will judge us.

But if life really can be summed up as a line between two dates, perhaps we are better off making the decisions that bring us personal satisfaction and forgetting about the opinions of others as easily as they will forget about us.

Seize each moment.

When someone asks, raise your hand.

When given the opportunity to run, run.

 

 

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  • By: Mary Feltman

    Wow, Brent…very profound and very true. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow…not even the next moment in this ever-passing world; we only have the gift of “here and now”‘ which is maybe why it’s called “the present”. We should live and love and make our mark in the hearts of those precious to us. Thank you for that reminder!

  • By: ConnieW.

    Not exactly on subject here, but I would LOOOOOOOOVE to see lots of pictures of you and Josh when you were kids. Hope to see some on the site soon! I have a picture of you in my mind as a child, Brent. Your big brown eyes were probably the biggest thing about you. Beautiful soulful eyes!

  • By: Sandy

    What a wonderful message for all of us! So glad I found this today. I am going to generalize a bit here… I think men in the business world struggle with the thought that their achievements define them more than women do. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I see this so strongly in my husband. When I was in the business world I baffled my managers when we sat down for the bi-annual or annual “goal setting meeting”. When asked what my goals were for the upcoming quarter/year, etc. I would reply “to enjoy life”. I was in sales and almost always in the “top 3″, so they never were concerned, but I would have had that answer no matter where I was. And if I wasn’t enjoying life, I’d move on. While I truly loved winning contests (I’m very competitive), I never felt it defined me. I wish that for all people, especially in the business world, but also no matter where you are in life.

    Wow… this blog post seemed to have touched a cord in my life. I think it’s because my retired husband is struggling with this, while I am taking time to enjoy new opportunities. Thanks for your words.

    • By: Dr. Brent

      Thanks, Sandy. There’s no better compliment than to have inspired someone!

  • By: John

    Dr. Brent, I just found out about Beekman 1802 today and will find out more info on your site. The title of ‘New Market School’ caught my attention, since I went there for a year and raced in the field day races and won a couple blue ribbons. I think I even had Ms. Pugh for my teacher. What year,(if I may ask) was that when you raced? Great story and you definitely write from the heart.

  • By: Lindsay

    This was exactly what I needed this morning Dr. Brent! It really turned my whole day around. Thank you!!!

    • By: Dr. Brent

      Glad to be of help, Lindsey. Get your second wind and keep running

  • By: Barbara Torris

    You have hit the nail on the head. As a former teacher I love the self-image you carried away from this experience. I have seen so many that didn't go that way. I loved this.

    Barbara

  • By: JoAnn near Seattle

    You are an excellent storyteller, Brent! If you wrote a book of stories, I'd buy it, read it, read it again, and give it to my friends. Thank you!!

  • By: Tamsen

    I used to love field day. Still have one of the 3 legged race blue ribbons. What a nice way to start my day with those memories. And – I was on the fence about volunteering to help at my niece's field day this year and now I have my answer!

  • By: Jay

    ….just wondering if your series will ever come back on TV ?

    ……….Jay & Michele

  • By: Kelly

    Ah thank you Dr. Brent. This is so beautiful and so true.

  • By: natalie

    You must have had a particularly reflective day when you composed this. I love it. I have read it multiple times, seems to have a very calming effect. I will share it with my students.

    Dr. Brent, you are wonderful, JKP and Polka Spot are very lucky to have you!

  • By: Brian Butler

    Great story Dr. Brent. We need more people like yourself to help motivate the younger generations. Teach them it is alright to get up and run the race. Teach them it is alright that you didnt come in first, but you did your best. I do not know what the future holds, but I do know the younger generation will be running it.

  • By: Nancy DiPace Pfau

    This is so delightful, brings back lots of memories! My somewhat non-athletic grandson, aged 11, just competed in his school's field day and won a ribbon in the long jump — I must share this story with him!

    • By: Dr. Brent

      Congratulations to him, Nancy. Just think what hurdles he'll be able to jump over in the future because of this experience

  • By: jules

    Wow….I agree …..decide to make a diffence so your dash in life is the best dash that is can be…because people remember the feeling you leave them with….so be positve and feel good about your choices

  • By: suzanne spina

    That's why I named my Dachshund after him. He (the dog) is full of unspoken quotes to me. He looks at me thinking, "um no, you silly human." ANR beautifully written passage.

  • By: suzanne spina

    It must be something in the air. I posted on my blog this morning at about 7am the famously and somewhat funny quote from Wilde, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken". I have been doing a lot of thinking lately myself about self actualization. Don't know why particularly, I just am. This was a great post to read. Oh and BTW I was an ace sprinter in elementary school too. I could outrun the boys so was particularly proud of myself…:-D

  • By: Katie Finamore

    Thank you for this much needed inspiration! We need to always remember how short our time here is…and make the most of it!

  • By: Kerry Robinson

    What a great story and such inspirational words,Dr. Brent. JKP had better watch out…once again this blog post shows he's not the only world-class writer in the family! :) kerry

  • By: Cathy

    This is really profound, and very powerful. Thank you, Dr. Brent.

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