The [Person] in the Arena

21 April 2014

 “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt

 I dedicate this post to a friend, who bravely stepped into the arena on Marathon Monday, competed mightily, and completed her goal: she finished her first marathon.  I was disappointed that I missed her—I watched for almost four hours in Natick—but the crush of humanity, more than 26,000 official runners, made it difficult to pick her out. I so wanted to see her, for I have such a vivid memory of her cheering me 13 years ago when I ran my first one. Her victory reminds me that it is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, of where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to all those who are actually in the arena, striving valiantly.  Congratulations, to my friend, and to all those who competed in and strove to complete the Boston Marathon: each one provided for all of us an example of commitment and excellence. 

 And it does take commitment to complete the marathon—or anything worth having.  I remember training 13 years ago, working hard both out of fear of failure and pride in taking on such a herculean task.  I feared the ridicule of those who smugly thought that I could not do it—might they be correct?—and I enjoyed the strength, courage, and resiliency it took to rise at four for a morning run; to walk out the door into the storm to run 15 miles at 10 degrees and to return with icicles on my eyelashes; to carve out time on a trip out west to run while chaperoning children from my school; to continue running as pains pinched parts of my person.  As the run grew closer, phantom pains discouraged me, but I persevered, because I made a commitment to myself, to the children of the Commonwealth who needed the money I was raising (How else could I have “qualified” for the world’s most prestigious marathon?), and to the critics who would point out how I might stumble, how I might have done better.  As so many hip hop artists “spit,” the fervor and the energy from the hate spewed from doubters actually motivates and fuels the rise of the hip hop artist: it is that questioning that provides the strength to reach for the golden ring.  Oftentimes, we need the critic to criticize, the doubter to doubt, the pessimist to perseverate, the misanthrope to misinterpret.

 Prospero, in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, watches his daughter quickly fall in love with the first man she sees, and he thinks, “But this swift business / I must uneasy make, lest too light winning / Make the prize light.”  Nothing worth having can be easily won, or the easy winning of it will make light the prize, so we should not be surprised that anything worth having will take all that we have to secure it.  And as we fight for it, we must not be discouraged by the words of the cynics, the scoffers, the doubting Thomas’, who with zetetic zeal seek to sow seeds of doubt in us.  Don’t let them win.  Step into that arena and compete.    

 “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  Let’s all, in spite of Carraway’s poignant words, continue to strive valiantly forward, continue to dare greatly, continue to disassociate ourselves from the cold, timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 



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