Yesterday, I failed. And I didn’t even fail in a dramatic way, the way that poor athlete lost control of his body at an Ironman several years ago. No. I failed in the way that makes the other cyclists in the line a little bit slower. I failed in the way that makes people constantly ask if I’m okay. I failed in the way that made me curse my stupid knee, in the way that made my quadriceps feel like they were ripping from my knee ligaments, and in the way that I hated myself for what I was doing to my body and what would surely happen if I took a break. Hello, fatty. Hello, acne. Hello, high school, all over again.
This was the kind of failure that I felt deep down, beneath my muscles. I felt it in my nerves, with every turn of the left pedal, like a railroad spike bearing into my knee. Wait, was that physical or mental? Either way, I was crying, trying to pass my sobs off as pants, even though I felt fine, cardio-wise. I was glad to be sweating and wearing a helmet and sunglasses and to be riding in a line so that the others couldn’t really see.
By the way, I know this is dramatic. I actually have waited a few months to post this, and I’m hoping that maybe it will help those who’ve felt discouraged know that they’re not alone, even in the most dramatic and isolating moments of despair, which I hear happens to everyone.
It started with me keeping up, mostly. Starts were tough. And then, well, everyone was going 20, and I was leading for a while at 19.6, 20, 21.2, great. And then I hit the back of the group and almost lost them. I was stuck at 18.5 and 19 while they zoomed forward. This happens, yes. It happens to everyone sometimes. I don’t like to call out, though. I don’t like to show weakness. They knew, though. These women know me. They asked how I was feeling, and they didn’t believe me when I said, “Just fine!” Maybe that’s a good thing; maybe it’s a sign that I normally do better, and I should take it positively.
I brought their 20 down to 18. I thought about pulling over at a 7-11 to call my boyfriend and ask him to pick me up.
I made it home. The ride’s leader stayed back with me, as she’s very nice and supportive, and I kept turning my legs in the lower gears. I was moving, I just wasn’t making the strides with each pedal stroke that anyone else was. My knee was being torn apart, but I made it home. However, I couldn’t get in. The door was locked, and my boyfriend wasn’t visible through any windows. I know this because I walked all around the condo in my bare feet, stepping into the cool, squishy grass and dirt and banging hard on windows and doors. I was about to go to a neighbor’s in my layers of sweat, grime, and spandex to try to give him a call (I hadn’t brought my phone because I had been afraid it would rain). Right then, as I sat on the stairs to think and pout, I saw him walk around the corner, talking to someone on his cell phone. I flagged him town and broke into tears again.
He was helpful. While I showered, he prepared the ice packs and dishtowels. He looked up physicians that were under my health plan. He listened. He ordered pasta for dinner, and I offered to pay.
I used to be a perfectionist. Maybe that’s the sort of thing one doesn’t ever grow out of. I’d like to think I’ve grown more lax in my ways since fourth grade, that I understand the world won’t end if I miss a workout and that sometimes, in college, time spent skipping class can be more valuable than time spent in class. Yesterday, though, it hit me full-force. I was back in soccer practice in fifth grade, being made to kick the ball against the wall over and over again while others ran drills.
Here’s where it all leads: as I got out of the shower after that ride, I thought, “Why subject ourselves to this?” Why subject children to this, as I was in fifth grade? Why tell kids that sports are good for them when, at any level, failure is not only a possibility, but it’s a guarantee. In order to feel the thrill of winning, one must feel the agony of defeat.
I grew up in the age when everyone was considered special. Gold stars, all around! I am now a higher-ed teacher, and I keep coming across articles about students who have been inflated with levels of self-confidence close to bursting. Only in this case, self-confidence can quickly go from happy helium to dangerous hydrogen, at risk of burning up. I have no doubt that each student is special in his or her own way, the way that each of their teachers is special and the way that I am special for running my five miles or whatever.
However, at the end of the day, what’s on the page is on the page. You rode at 20 mph with the rest of the group, or you didn’t. You wrote complete sentences, without fragments and run-ons, or you didn’t. At the end of the day, good intentions aren’t good enough, and that’s the hard truth.
And kids need to know this. Some days, they’re going to be at the top of the world. Other days, they are going to feel like shit, physically and emotionally. Is it a good thing? No, of course not. Is it easy to feel myself, let alone watch in others? No. But out of ashes rises the phoenix.
I used to have a yoga instructor who often said, “This is perfect.” No matter what happened–if the floor started coming apart or all I had witch which to pay was quarters, it was perfect because it was meant to be, for some reason or another. Does everything happen for a reason? As someone who has experienced infant death and grown up around mentally challenged children, I think not. However, some things are perfect. Some things are meant to be, for good or for bad. These are the endings to stories that are inevitable rather than predictable. These are the skies filled with lightning, the hurricanes that lock us inside. This is my knee pain, horrible yet necessary to tell me to slow down. This is me, perfect.