The Victory Lap

When all of this went down, a dear friend who is going through a similar situation gave me a warning: “Be ready, people will say stupid things to you.” I understood what he was getting at, but I didn’t truly understand until this week. I was engaged in a text conversation about my situation with someone close to me. They let fly with this little jewel: “It’s like getting a bad haircut, except it's in a nightmare and you can’t wake up.” Why, yes. Yes. That’s exactly what it’s like. Stage four cancer that you’re not supposed to survive is like getting a bad haircut. Moving swiftly on…

Am I bitter? In a word, yes. A decade ago when triathlon was my passion, I had to travel all over creation to find races. The closest official Ironman? The urbane and cosmopolitan Panama City Beach. Fast forward to 2015- CHATTANOOGA HAS ITS OWN OFFICIAL IRONMAN EVENT! (two, in fact). How damned lucky are these current Chattanoogan triathletes? Let me stop before I enter crotchety old man territory (when I was your age, I had to race uphill, both ways, in the snow…) This weekend, our fair city hosted a half-Ironman event. If you thought that I would let the occasion pass without mention of my previous exploits in triathlon and Ironman, you are obviously mistaken.

I'll mercifully spare you the re-telling of my full Ironman story. But in training for that race, I did a half IM in Clermont, Florida – a race nicknamed “The Intimidator”. Toughest race I ever had. If you're racing in a place where the hills have nicknames, you're in trouble. The memorable story of the race, however, was the finish line. Just after crossing, I grabbed a water, got a hug from a D, and turned around to quite a surprise. There he stood, my boyhood idol, Dominique Wilkins. What a coincidence that at the completion of what was probably my greatest athletic achievement to that point, my hero was at the finish line waiting for me. Cosmic coincidence.

2001, the first time I met Mr. Wilkins.
As the race was winding down yesterday, I had the great pleasure of addressing the current Leadership Tennessee class. The class is made up of VIPs from across our great state, and we were hosting one of their five class retreats. Before I spoke about the role of place in the rebirth of our city, I opened with a story about the place in which we were assembled.

Renaissance Commons in Bluffview is a very special place for me despite the fact that I had only been in that room once before. Sixteen years ago to the month, I was there for a cocktail reception. Having just moved to the city, I was participating in Chattanooga Insight- a Chamber-sponsored program for recent transplants. I showed up not knowing a soul, grabbed my nametag and surveyed the room. I immediately noticed a stunning young lady across the room and made a mental note to introduce myself at some point. But first things first, I made my way to the bar. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the young lady was headed that way as well. This being an open bar I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to offer to buy her a drink. We neared the bar and just before I could open my mouth, she turned on her heels, a ray of sunlight beamed through the cut glass window catching the corner of her green eyes, and she asked if she could buy me a drink. Little did she know that sixteen years later she would still be buying drinks for me. I was literally delivering Sunday’s presentation from the exact spot that I met my wife years before. Returning to that place at this point in my life was another cosmic coincidence.

Where the magic happened.
I appreciated the opportunity to bring things full circle. In fact, it feels like these “cosmic coincidences” are increasingly occurring. I find myself asking, are these indeed merely coincidences, or part of a higher and grander scheme? Am I being the given the opportunity for a victory lap?

I’m fascinated by the way in which humans use their ability to discern pattern to make sense of their experience. Depending on one’s perspective, we see either coincidence or magic. Some see a confluence of events as part of the grand scheme of the universe. Those with imagination can weave fantastic stories from the seemingly unrelated or innocuous (see Dan Brown’s career). But is it more true to say that “the universe is a magical place”, or “with a little imagination the universe is a magical place”? If you go in search of the magic are you not more likely to find it?

The "victory lap" is a beautiful notion. Who wouldn’t want a few months before their passing to revisit special friends and special places? Who wouldn’t relish that time to put their affairs in order? Who wouldn’t want one last spin around the track. Who wouldn’t want to take a victory lap before checking out?

Of course, the challenge is to not to be seduced by a beautiful notion. The victory lap theory is obviously based on the premise of an imminent demise.  That’s a premise that I’m not willing to accept just yet. In any event, the question is moot. Should the timing of my demise, be it this year or this decade, really influence anything? Whether it’s coincidence or by grand scheme, are these experiences any more or less special?

Whoa boy. I have inadvertently waded deeply into existential waters, and I’m clearly in over my head (I am far more comfy in the shallow end of the philosopher pool). I’ll try to get back on firmer footing next week. Until then, ya'll be good.

No comments:

Post a Comment