My mind clears in one of two places: in bed in the wee hours when I’m not really asleep or awake, or while I’m walking/jogging. While on my favorite jogging path this morning, a thought came to me after I passed a large group of cross-country middle and high school students. If I had a chance to speak to them, what would I tell them?
Why I run
I’d start by connecting with their story. I started jogging about 15 years ago when I connected with a group of adults who played Ultimate Frisbee on Saturday mornings year-round in Saginaw, Michigan. Before I began, I had no idea how much running is involved in Ultimate. I nearly puked.
To keep up with those guys, I needed to get in shape. There’s a recreation center a mile from our house with a walking track, so for the next four months I spent a lot of time there, building up some endurance.
I was never a great Ultimate player, nor was I ever the one with the strongest lungs. Far from it, in fact. But Saturday mornings were fun. The exercise was worth it, and I still keep in touch with a few of those guys even though we haven’t lived in Saginaw for eight years.
I found other benefits to jogging. It’s a great stress reliever. About that time, the job I held for 24 years was eliminated. Without hard exercise, I might not have survived that time period.
And I discovered I enjoy being outside, year-round. I enjoy working up a good sweat in summer (which happened this morning), and in the winter, cold air on my cheeks is invigorating. Give me four seasons, and I’ll spend them all outside.
What we control
Then, my mind wandered to another question. If I could give those students a word of wisdom, what would I say?
Here’s the thought that came to me:
The only things you can control are your body, mind, soul and spirit. That’s it. You can influence other people, and we do, but control? Only ourselves.
Get some physical exercise all your life long, not just now on the cross-country team. It will help you feel good about yourself, and it’s a great stress reliever. It will help keep you healthy.
Mental health is a major issue these days, as I’m sure you’re aware. We all know people who are suffering from mental health issues, and others who have overcome them, right? Read books. Learn things. Take care of your mind.
Your soul, your emotions, needs your attention too. Do things you enjoy, things that help you relax. There are times to get serious and buckle down, but we need to breathe as well.
And don’t forget your spiritual life. We all have one, you know. This world is not about you. There’s a Creator who designed and built this world, and who designed and built you. The evidence for this is overwhelming. Just open your eyes and look.
What we don’t control
Recent events prove this, too. Some people don’t want to wear a mask, saying that COVID-19 doesn’t affect them. They miss the point. It’s not about them. It’s about protecting other people.
The systemic racism we continue to learn about after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis also proves that the world does not revolve around you. Other people have experiences that you and I know nothing about. If anything good has come from that horrible death, it’s this: We are learning how to listen to each other. To understand each other in ways we didn’t before.
It’s not about you.
I’ve heard personal stories from black friends, outstanding citizens who I’d trust my life with, who have experienced racism in recent months – before this issue became a national story. I thought we were beyond systemic racism. We’re not.
There’s a bigger picture here that many Americans don’t want to see, but you need to see it. It’s not about you. It’s about us, about us learning how to get along with each other. Respect each other.
Systemic racism rears its ugly head in our public education system. My sister and I grew up in a household where we were expected to attend college. My wife and I raised our three sons the same way – a college degree was an expectation, and we took steps to ensure that they got good grades and had other opportunities that paved the way for a good college life.
Many minorities don’t have all that. Perhaps the best teachers stay in the suburbs, where my family has always lived. Suburban communities can afford good schools, which many inner cities cannot. The state offers minimum state funding to all districts to try to ensure a good education for all, but it doesn’t play out that way, does it?
My wife works at our local community college. We’ve learned that that is an excellent option for many of you. You can live at home and take courses for far less cost than a four-year university will charge you. And there’s an excellent vocational school in the county as well, if you’d like to learn a trade. These are all great options.
But then, even if a black student earns a good degree or trade certificate, he or she might have a hard time finding a good job. There’s an article in today’s local paper that says while white college graduates are getting good jobs, the unemployment rate for black college graduates is actually rising. Why, why is that?
So you see, young people, the world does not revolve around you. The color of your skin makes a difference in your opportunities, as does your health. And other things.
If you’d like a homework assignment, I’ve got one for you. I said earlier that the only thing you can control is yourself – your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. That is absolutely true. Then, I just said that the world does not revolve around you. It was here before you were born, and it will be here after you are gone.
So, how do you reconcile those two thoughts? You control yourself. The world does not revolve around you.
If you can figure that out, you’ll go a long way in this world. I wish many adults would wrestle with this question as well. This country would be a lot more hospitable if we could figure this out.
Best of everything to you. Good luck on your season.