Eyes Off the Prize

Kayla Ephros, “Poem 5”

IT REALLY IS ABOUT THE PROCESS. ISN’T IT?! I was just texting with my artist-daughter, talking about shows, presentations, and publications. How we (meaning, society) get so wound up about these result-oriented moments. And it reminded me of what my gym teacher, Mrs. Krauder, taught us in 3rd grade when we were playing Bombardment — which is apparently no longer allowed in school gyms across America: You are never winning, only leading; never losing, only trailing. I mean that really stuck with me (obviously, since 3rd grade was a very long time ago). It seems like Mrs. Krauder was talking about process there. So then my question is, when we are writing or painting or teaching or learning or competing, “When can we say we are we done?”

Steve Harvey and a whole bunch of other Christians like to say, “He ain’t through with me yet.” It attempts to explain why we consider ourselves followers and emulators of an exceptionally good person yet are far from that ourselves. It’s a process, we’re saying. A procedure. We have been proceeding on a long (read infinite) path in order to walk through life a certain kind of way. We are in a procession. And really anyone who considers that there is a power or entity or such outside this world believes they are living a process, being in the moment, acknowledging the here and the now. Right? Yet — we are still so excited about getting the flowers. You’ve done it! Congratulations! You won! Nothing wrong with all this, in and of itself. But I’m just thinking that these rituals and traditions may stop us short of our path’s direction. Or, maybe just throw us into confusion as to where we meant to go in the first place.

I have a book coming out. Right now I am working on final edits. The editor has made very reasonable suggestions and observations that will in all likelihood make this book better. And I worked very hard to get someone to publish this book, to have a book to even publish. When I first heard the news last December that I was being offered a book contract, well, I sure felt like I had won. All those years, all that time at my desk, the research… Turns out I’m still only leading. Because there is so much work to do just to garner this prize. And I realize, as I revise every day, that I could change the sentence I just changed another five times at least. So each sentence, revised five times, multiplied by three hundred pages. Well, you can do the math, but it sounds infinite to me.

When my daughter first started having gallery shows, I was giddy. Finally, people would see how amazing her art was, how she expresses ideas and feelings in a way no one else does — and how her work can resonate so much with so very many people. (Take a gander for yourself). She, on the other hand, was never quite as excited as I was about the show. (Of course, is anyone ever as excited for anything as the mom of the kid doing the thing)?! Now, it’s not to say that my daughter didn’t work very hard to get these shows, to have representation by a gallery and all those things, but the show itself wasn’t her goal I don’t think. Only now am I starting to understand that. Her art is her path, and it does look infinite from where I stand. The shows are like little rest stops along the way, and I do not think these events will ever throw my daughter off her own track. Certainly we want our work out there; we writers and artists and musicians and all desire to communicate with people through that work. But does the publication/show/concert signal some kind of finish line? Maybe not.

I’m starting to think of all these events as simply small achievements along a big procession, mile markers where you grab a Dixie cup of water out of a volunteer’s hand as you continue on your marathon. But I am also thinking that sometimes we spend so much energy and resource on these mile markers that we might diminish our strength and commitment to the long run. Imagine, for example, if our political leaders all kept their eyes on that road ahead, the long haul, the big picture. That thing. Not the I’m up in the polls; I was on some jenky TV news show; I got to fly in a private jet. Imagine, if after all those years since they first launched their career as a civil servant (yeah, that’s what they’re supposed to be) they are still laboring towards their initial goals of human dignity and equity. (I mean for those whose goals were ever that anyway). Cough cough, Bernie Sanders.

I am really writing this to myself. Even though I have known intellectually — through sport and faith, among other things — that winning isn’t everything, I think I am only now figuring out that there just might not be such a thing as winning at all. Or maybe we have won just by being here, and all the rest is just that proverbial frosting (not icing, ick) on the cake (carrot, please). It really is about the journey, isn’t it? In fact, what else could it even be about? See, I’m going to finish revising this book, and it will probably get published as planned. And I will be thrilled that the stories I share in it will have made their way into the light of a more public space. But that all is really just a nice drink of water along the way. I am not going to forget to admire the scenery and enjoy the proceedings along this path called life. Maybe that would make me a winner already.

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