“You’re going to get to race your own car” is probably one of the most exciting phrases to an eight year old child. When my dad told me I was going to have the opportunity to drive a coaster car, thoughts of winning the race instantly emerged in my brain. I imagined checkered flags whizzing past the six-foot long wooden car as I drove victoriously over the finish line. More importantly, I could picture the trouble I would have picking up the heavy marble-based trophy which would probably be twice my size.
As I descended back to reality, my dad went on to tell me that we had three months to build the car ourselves. That weekend my dad and I went over to my uncle’s garage where an arsenal of plywood awaited us. I surreptitiously took out my coloring book and crayons as my dad labored over the blueprints explaining how we were going to construct the car. Each weekend I accompanied by dad to the garage, and each time I would sit there daydreaming about soaring down the track past my competitors.
When race day finally arrived, I eagerly sat inside the coaster car as names were drawn to determine the order. Unexpectedly, my name was the first to be chosen from the lottery. I listened for the second name to be called. “Canty” said the announcer. In disbelief, I turned to my sister who sat in the wooden car that my uncle had built the year before. To my surprise I would be racing head-to-head with my own sister.
My sister’s car looked almost identical in size and shape to mine on the ramp. When the announcer yelled “Go!” our cars headed down the hill at the same rate. The entire ride down I kept my eyes on the finish line in anticipation of the celebration that awaited me. Suddenly, when the hill bottomed out, the shiny red edge of my sister’s car became visible in my peripheral vision. The checkered flags waved in front of my car and the announcer revealed that my sister had won the race. As a result of my lottery number and the loss in the first heat, I placed dead last in the race.
Looking back on this childhood event, I remember being flooded with the feeling of disappointment when my vision of victory did not measure up to the outcome. I know that every child experiences this at one time or another because society reverberates that winning is everything. This presents a problem because there can only be one winner. What about the rest of us?
I believe that I will not always have the fastest car. Instead, I believe the process of building relationships and acquiring new knowledge has shaped my character more than the final grade in a course or the number of trophies on the wall. I will not always be the first to cross the finish line, and I have learned to accept this.
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