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Personal Best

Swim meet, wintry November morning… My daughter and I dutifully bundle up and are out the door and on the road by 7 am. One and a half hours down the prairie highway… The pool is packed, the swim teams assemble with all their coloured caps and logo’d hoodies and impressive looking warm up gear… The top 40 pop music leaks drearily out of the speakers… The parents yawn and clutch their coffees and stare at their phones, waiting, waiting for the first race…

And the names are all there on the program, everyone neatly organized into heats of seven or eight according to their personal best times…

And the race is about to start, and “take your marks,” and “they’re off,” and the parents all leap up from their seats and yell at the kids who can’t hear a word coming out of their mouths… “Go, go, harder, harder, faster, faster, puuusshhhh!!”

And the times go up on the big scoreboard… First, second, third… seventh.

And the parents all scour their time sheets or the “Meet Mobile” app on their phone, desperate to discover, how many seconds, how much time did she take off? Did she set a new personal best? YES! 2.2 seconds lower, 3.7… She killed it!!  Hmm, only 0.6 off her personal best… Hey, well, as long as it’s going down, right? At least she beat the girl in lane 4… She never beats that girl…

And now that you mention it, those girls she racing against are pretty fast, probably even a little older than her… In her age category, she’s right where she should be… Yes, right where she should be… As long as the time is coming off…

But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes there is no personal best, sometimes the seconds go in the other direction. And the parents “hmmm” and “well” and “I wonder why” and they stare, puzzled, at their time sheets, at the apps on their phones.  Was she too wound up? Had she not eaten right? Was she nervous, bored, frustrated, intimidated, tired? Why, oh, why didn’t the seconds come off?!

And I suppose this is what it comes to, isn’t it? Life is a race and we’re scrambling to shave off the seconds, impress the coach, please our parents, prove ourselves worthy, secure our place… We have to be better, faster, stronger… the seconds must come off, because that’s what seconds are supposed to do, that’s the way things are supposed to go, and we can’t get left behind.   We are struggling and straining and stretching for a target that never holds still, that remains elusive…

Must attain a personal best.  Must demonstrate that we are where we “should be.”

I frantically watch my daughter for the first three races today. I jump and yell and scratch my head and puzzle over times and stare at the sheet and try to will the seconds to go in the right direction… Yes, I am that agonized, annoying parent.

But before the fourth race, I look over at her warming up for her race, leisurely gliding through the water. She is alone in a warm up lane off to the side of the main pool. There is no anxiety, no struggle, no thought of “personal bests.” She is just enjoying the water.  I watch her and I smile. I marvel at the human body and the things it can do, how the water shines off her long brown arms and legs, how it can twist and turn and change directions, at the smooth, even strokes that pull her along… I watch her giggle and smile at her teammate when she gets to the other end. I love that smile—that smile that lights up a room, a pool, a life…

I look back at the scoreboard, the time sheet, the app on my phone. I look at all the numbers and decimal points and + and – signs. I frown at how easily we—how easily I—resort to these paltry, inadequate measurements of value, how we are so eager to rank and categorize and pronounce upon the winners and the losers…. And how this never, ever stops for many of us… And how we stagger under this weight of pressure and expectation throughout our lives… And how we carelessly transfer burdens that we have proven unfit to carry to the backs of the young…

The last race is about to start.  I fold the time sheet and put it away. I delete the app from my phone. I look back at my daughter standing in the starting blocks, hoping I’ll catch her gaze.  And that she’ll smile.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. mike #

    Love it! …great message

    November 16, 2014
  2. mmartha #

    Very helpful to look seriously at the way we’re living and counting. My son says everyone wants to make brownie points in relationships, activities, and to be one-up, -ahead, or -beyond in everything. FB may show and encourage this concept, I don’t know. Of course, we need to make investments in our lives.
    Very good.

    November 17, 2014

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