Elementary school. Later years. 5th, 6th grade maybe. Some lady. Not our regular teacher. Talking about Native American children.
"...and when you line them up for a race and tell them to run as fast as they can, just like you run races on your own playground, they get confused,"
Our young faces. Eyebrows showing our confusion. Raised. Furrowed. Raised. Furrowed. What's confusing about running as fast as you can to win?
"...they don't understand winning unless it is about everyone crossing the finish line together. They only run as fast as the slowest runner. They run in a group. They cross the finish line together. That is victory."
From that day forward my best friend Kelly and I ran side by side with Bobby.
Bobby from the Special Education class.
Bobby was huge. And wore corduroys and dapper v-neck sweaters every day in the winter. And he threw up a lot. I don't know why. And his feet were giant. Strangely giant at the ends of his fat ankles. And he had a spectacular afro. Perfect in its height, shape and color. Medium-sized, perfectly round, jet black fro on top of his fat, happy face.
Kelly and I ran on either side of Bobby all over the playground. Wherever he wanted to go. He was a total slow poke. Sometimes we would have conversations about things completely unrelated to Bobby as we trotted along beside him. He would be sweating, panting and smiling from ear to ear. Bobby didn't care what we talked about. He was in his bliss. Even more so when Kelly and I became so familiar with him that we recognized the guttural sound he would start making just before he was going to barf. We would run him to a trash can or to the edge of the playground so he could puke, then run him around the playground again.
I loved Bobby. Throughout my lifetime I've loved the memory of Kelly, Bobby and I more than most memories I have. Sometimes it simply pops up out of nowhere and I feel amazingly happy right in the pit of my stomach. Other times it's almost as if I dig around for it under a pile of good and not-so-good memories so I can hug it, tender and close, and thank it for giving me such goodness and purity all these years. Thank it for letting me see the serious and loving look on Kelly's face, and the beautiful determination on Bobby's. Thank it for showing me the joy of knowing victory at the pace of another human being.
So many times I've leaned into a starting line, tense and blood thirsty like an animal as I feel something akin to talons or claws thrusting their way out of the ends of my fingers and into the ventricles of my heart so I can spring forth and fly to the finish line first.
It's not been so bad really - winning as much as I can. Taking the victory lap of being recognized for being first or most or best can be nice. It has put money into my pocket, culminated into parties being thrown to celebrate me, had me being told 'congratulations!' and 'way to go!' and 'you're awesome!'. I can't say I feel a desire to degrade or dismiss any of those experiences.
But the truth of me knows all of those winnings together will never amount to the memory of Bobby. The memory of running side-by-side with him and Kelly. The result of that woman sharing about the Native American children and their version of victory.
For all I know, that woman was full of shit and Native American children run to win as individuals just as much as any other kids.
Does that really matter now? No. What matters is that I am, without doubt, desirous of running shoulder to shoulder with as many human beings as I can before I go down for the dirt nap. To speed up or just trot along side so I can see as many people as I can in their own bliss; their own perfect-for-them pace. To live the victory of 'together' and 'us' and 'we' as much as I can.
Oh sure, I run at my own pace in life all the time too. My own pace. My blissful, delicious, delightful pace in life. But what I always find, and why I want to see as much of others in their own bliss as I can, is that there is always someone speeding up or slowing down for me so they can love the bliss that is mine.
V. Victory. A regret? Only when I forget the true meaning of it.