Coming in last

Blessed are those who come in last.

Thoughts inspired by watching a middle school cross-country running meet.

The gun goes off, the crowd of stationary runners becomes molten, they disappear into the woods. After endless minutes, one lead runner emerges from the trees to begin the final lap to the finish line. Then a second, a third, then clumps of runners.

Well after the lead runners have cooled down and are, perhaps, already thinking of next week’s race, the stragglers emerge from the woods. Not lithe, often walking, they are encouraged by parents and team mates to run the remaining distance. Exhausted, nonetheless they muster the will to pick up the pace. Many minutes after the race started, as most runners and their parents have dissipated, as the race organizers prepare for the next age group, they cross the finish line.

Blessed are those who come in last.

They surely are not motivated by winning. Whatever it is — bettering themselves, perseverance, internal resolve, courage in the face of negative feedback — is inspirational. May they carry that with them throughout their lives. And may the rest of us, who carefully judge our odds to avoid “losing,” reconsider. Character is not borne just from being first.

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Burning BushAfter several days of dreary gray clouds, mist, and rain, clearing skies to the west allowed the golden rays of the setting sun to briefly ignite the leaves of a Burning Bush by the side of the driveway.

All around, the green leaves of summer are surrendering to the inexorable and vibrant hues of fall: yellow, red, burnt orange.

We should pause to savor this glorious display of nature. Don’t let it be a dull background to the routine of our days.

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Amidst this fall’s turning leaves, the presidential candidates are crisscrossing New Hampshire. This once-every-four-year process will culminate with the election of the 44th President of the United States. He or she will assume the office almost 220 years after George Washington, our first President, was sworn in on April 30, 1789.

220 years of orderly and peaceful succession. Even during the tumultuous days before Richard Nixon’s resignation or following the contested election of 2000, I had little doubt that order would prevail, based upon our democratic principles. Given our stability, it’s all too easy to become complacent and assume our experience of the past 220 years is the norm.

Contrast this with so much of the world today: the brutal repression of the Buddhist monks by the government in Myanmar (Burma), Vladimar Putin’s Byzantine maneuvers to retain power in Russia, the equally convoluted dance between President Pervez Musharraf and former premier Benazir Bhutto to construct a power-sharing arrangement for a new civilian government in Pakistan, the continuing instabilities in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, North Korea…

I am grateful to live in this country, with a stable government, where I am free to write of my displeasure to the President or to Congress, where I can march with a protest sign outside of the White House, where I need not be afraid of being carried off in the night and never seen again. I am grateful for the genius of those who codified the principles that underlie our government. We are truly blessed.

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