One summer when our oldest daughter, Emily, was beginning to run track, she signed up to run her first 5k with her younger sister during the July 4th holiday.
Unfortunately, our younger daughter ended up unable to run it with her. When I drove Emily to the race downtown to run her race alone, I could tell she was a little overwhelmed with the crowds, the music, and the loudspeakers. This was her first 5K and she looked at me at nervously.
“How about I run it with you?” I asked.
“Can you do that? You’re not registered.”
“We paid for your sister’s registration,” I explained. “And I have her race number. I’ll use it.”
I was already in my running shoes, so I locked all our stuff in the car trunk. I kept my phone in one hand, and held the car key in the other for safekeeping. Soon we were lined up with hundreds, the gun sounded, and we were jostling along city streets, keeping pace with one another.
I’m pretty sure she kept a slower pace for me, but the fun part was being together, enjoying the thrill of doing something challenging, running with crowds, and celebrating when we finally crossed the finish line.
After picking up our medals, drinking some bottles of water, and cooling down, I suddenly realized that I didn’t have my key in my hand! I must have put it in my pocket. I checked but couldn’t find it. Instead, I felt a small hole where it must have slipped through. Either that or I had dropped it. We began retracing our routes through the crowds and stopped at the lost-and-found counter. No luck. Okay, I thought. I’ll text my ever-enduring wife to drive down in the family van with a spare key.
After I sent her a message, she replied that she’d head our way soon. Then she texted again: “My keys are locked in van. Seriously.” To make matters worse, she said it would take at least an hour for road-side-assistance to show up to help her unlock her car doors!
Like the morning coolness that was evaporating in the warming sun, the buzz and excitement of our morning had quickly faded. We found a shady curb by a downtown storefront, leaned against a fence railing and waited.
I’m usually a talkative person even in bad moments, but this was one of those times where we ran out of things to talk about. I just sat in awkward silence wondering why I had ever volunteered to run this race, dreaming of air-conditioning, and aching for my morning cup of coffee.
The gloom was complete two hours later when we were finally reunited with a spare key. Neither my wife nor my daughter even teased me. I think we had resigned ourselves to reality that this was a time we’d someday laugh about, but it wasn’t happening for a while. I suggested Starbucks, but my wife was ready for home, so Emily and I drove to the nearest location in my car.
As we made our way into the store, she jokingly said, “It would be really funny if you find that key in the hem of your shorts or somewhere.”
“Yeah, right,” I said, reaching down to feel the hem just for fun. And guess what? The hole in my shorts fed into the hem, and the key had worked its way all the way to back of my leg. It had been there the whole time! I pulled it out, and we stared at each other in disbelief, and then we laughed and laughed.
“No, way!” she screamed and grabbed her phone to tell her mom all about it.
Before long, we were enjoying our favorite drinks in a shady place outside the shop, watching a small flock of finches darting near a fountain. We looked at our silly medals again and chitchatted about the morning. The flock of finches began jostling and flitting our direction, slowly landing in a semi-circle around Emily’s chair. I think they expected her to share her drink. She sighed and took her phone out for photos of them.
“Like you’re a little princess, and they’re gathering around you,” I reflected.
“Yeah,” she laughed.
She took a few more photos. “You know what?” she said, looking up. “That race was so fun, I think I’m addicted. When can we do it again?”
Maybe it was the coffee kicking in. But right then, I knew that even with all the mishaps, it had been worth it. When you travel those rough paths with someone you treasure, even the awkward or more painful moments can be more easily endured.
Who is on your Team?
As you think about the end of your school year, have you thought about how those on your team are often the reason why running your race is so worth it? Like me, I’m sure your team includes, teachers, staff, counselors, and administration team members. I’m thankful to be on a team where we trust one another even in the hard times. I’m thankful for teachers who sacrifice every day to serve students. I’m thankful for my superintendent who supports us and makes student-centered decisions.
I’m also thankful for the students—-many of whom I will miss now that they have graduated. And as I’ve made it to my office over the past couple of weeks, it is not only quieter because students are on vacation, but also my mornings are different because we just graduated a young man who met me at the door every morning. For the sake of privacy, I’ll call him Stephen. Stephen is autistic, and he had a fixation with anything military. Each morning he would greet me while wearing an authentic Army helmet from World War II. Over the years, he had collected so many Army memorabilia, that he looked more like my bodyguard than a student.
Although it was difficult to be around crowds and adapt to the routines of school, Stephen had learned how to accept schedules, and he had practiced social cues, which were not always natural for him. Over time, he had learned to ask me how my day was going before beginning to tell me a new story about his latest interest.
One day he told me that his favorite car in the world was a DeLorean DMC-12 like the one in the movie, Back to the Future. A few weeks later, I was at a friend’s party, and I won a model set of the car as a door prize. When I brought it to school the next morning, I gave it to Stephen. At first he looked at it with amazement. Then he sidled up next to me. He was taller than I am but he leaned his head over and gave me a side hug. “This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,” he said.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Sometimes school leadership can be an overwhelming race of emotions. Whether you’re putting out fires of student conflict, trying to find solutions to personnel issues, or answering questions from concerned parents, the tasks can sometimes leave you exhausted. When I think about students like Stephen, I remember why I choose to be an educator.
I could have easily chosen to be a bystander in my daughter’s race, but I would have missed out on some amazing memories with her even in spite of the frustrations. Such are the rhythms of life. Whether it’s at work, school, or in life–-whatever journeys you are enduring or enjoying–-when you choose to run the race anyway, it’s the ones who travel along with you that make it worth running.
Now It’s Your Turn
How can you stay engaged in race of school leadership even as you wrap up a school year and plan for the next? Take time to reach out and show gratitude to those on your team who make it worth it to run this crazy, awesome race together.
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