Life is made up of a series of finish lines. We set goals, launch projects, face down deadlines and compete in games of all kinds with others and even ourselves. How we go about approaching the end determines the quality of our game and says a lot about us.
In this post, I want to examine how individuals and groups in real-life situations handled their approach to the finish line. I will explore how our view of those people affected our lives and what takeaway we are given from their examples. The race is on, so strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.
The Sporting Life
Obviously, we’re working from a metaphor here, but that doesn’t mean I need to exclude the most blatant connection to finish lines. Observing sports gives us the perfect reference to build our metaphorical examples. Some of the most dramatic moments in life occur when athletes battle it out for the medal or trophy.
In what has been termed the greatest foot race of all time, Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco ran the 1500 meter event in the 2004 Olympics. One of track’s fastest runners ever, he had won world championships without ever being able to win gold in the Olympics. By 2004, he was no longer a favorite and had been ill leading up to the Games. Early on, he was relegated to the back of the pack. Taking advantage of the pace, he worked his way to the front. Eventually, he and the favorite Bernard Lagat of Kenya had pulled away from the other runners. El Guerrouj slowly accelerated throughout the contest, but Lagat was known for his late kick that would overtake his opponents. He used it this day to pass El Guerrouj, but the Moroccan would not be denied and again accelerated until he outdueled Lagat for the narrow victory. Crossing the finish line in first was a story of speed, endurance and courage. His story was inspiring to say the least.
Even as this is being written, there is an epic pennant race going on in baseball. To be exact, it’s a division race between two old-time rivals–the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers are the reigning world champions and started the season as the clear favorites to win the World Series again. The Giants were expected to finish no better than a distant third in the National League West. An assemblage of mostly average and aging star players, the Giants somehow started playing above all expectations and took over the lead back in May. They’ve held onto first place most of the time since then, but the Dodgers have been in hot pursuit all along. Now, with five games left in the season, the Giants hold a slim two-game edge. The outcome of this race will likely not be decided until the last day or two of the season. I am equally impressed with both of these teams, who through bouts with injuries and Covid-19, have maintained their will to win and their determination to outlast the other while both keep the pressure on their rivals.
I didn’t want to go in the direction I’m about to take this. I’d rather stay away from politics, but if I’m looking for examples on how not to finish, this one can’t be ignored. I’m referring to the 2020 Presidential election. A sitting President started sowing seeds of discontent as he saw his “reign” coming to an end. His longstanding and consistent low approval ratings clearly showed the the majority of Americans would not like to have him get a second term. He said to anyone who would listen that if he didn’t win the election, it would be because it was rigged. As we know, he lost the election and despite his desperate efforts to overturn the election results, there was no evidence of fraud. As the wanna-be President reached his finish line, he did so in apparent denial with a complete absence of grace.
The final finish line in our lives comes with death. There have been many heroes who have given their lives for others. Although there have been many in the history of humanity, they are relatively rare. One remarkable example involves John Robert Fox, an American Lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was in Sommocolonia, Italy as German forces tried to gain control of the village with a powerful attack that required the American unit to retreat. Fox was an artillery spotter. His job duties included sending radio reports to that would tell them where to deliver their payloads against enemy troops. He was hiding in a village house as the Nazis chased the Americans retreating from the village. Fox radioed his unit to give them coordinates on the Germans–the village where he was located. Despite the concern of the artillery unit for his safety, he told them to open fire because the enemy would overwhelm the village otherwise. The artillery attack enabled the American soldiers to successfully retreat, which led to their retaking of Sommocolonia soon after. His sacrifice for the greater good was an honorable end to the life of a brave man.
A wonderful book titled The Dash included the title poem by Linda Ellis. I present it here to sum up what’s important in the race to the finish line.
“I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.
To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.”