I hate that picture. Or, I should say, I hated it. It is now one of my most prized possessions. The framed moment was the first thing I grabbed when my father’s life suddenly ended back in September of 1987.
I now look lovingly at it as it sits atop my desk. I still can’t say I like the picture. I was an ugly, furious fourteen-year-old, desperately in need of braces. But, dad loved it. It hung proudly in his dental office. And, now, I treasure it too.
“Let’s just go downtown and check it out,” my dad said casually, on a hot Labor Day 1979. All the while I now know, he was plotting.
I begrudgingly laced-up my running shoes. I was not going to run Nashville’s premier 10-mile road race. At that point, I had never run more than eight miles without stopping. Sure, I would jog lightly the one-mile fun run. For fun. But, I was not racing in an event I was not prepared for and had no desire to do.
Well, you know what happened. I did run the long race. I convinced myself to yield to my father’s stubbornness by announcing that I would start and go as far as I could. As far as I wanted to. My father agreed on the outside, but I’m certain he was laughing on the inside. He knew me better than I knew myself.
I recall humming along the early miles. Not a problem for the runner I was at the time. My legs and lungs worked together like a well-oiled machine.
It was mile seven that stands out. A stranger from the crowd broke my runner’s trance.
“Keep going,” he screamed. “You are way ahead of all the other women.”
I had no idea. Leave it to me to bury my head. Do what I need to do. And be clueless as to where I stand.
Of course, I finished the ten-mile race. Without walking once. And, just as the unknown bystander claimed, I won a prize as the first female in my age group.
But, I was not happy. Not only was I physically exhausted, but Dad had won, not me. And for a fourteen-year-old, that was a major defeat.
As Dad grinned at the finish line, beaming with my victory (and his), a patient of his came along and shot the picture. Me in my unsightly defeat, Dad in his glory.
I went on to have the best year of my running career.
So many takeaways from this disagreeable photo capturing candidly such a poignant memory:
That you never know what you have till it’s gone.
That sometimes, someone knows you better than you know yourself.
That you don’t know what you can do till you are pushed.
That teenagers are not as smart as they think they are and will never appreciate parents till later.
That life is always a mixed bag – joy and pain share space in all our significant moments. That within the ugly lies the beauty.
Although I would trade the picture for my father in a heartbeat, I’m grateful for the framed moment that stares at me daily. A picture really does speak a thousand words.
For the rise of your life …