The notion has been roaming through my thoughts for the past few weeks - what does it mean to win?
I started with a phrase - Winning Hearts and Minds. From a conversation about Apocalypse Now, half listening to the men in my life dissecting the film, I wandered through history to the underlying thesis of the war - to win the hearts and minds of the populace. If they could be convinced that Ho Chi Minh had nothing on Uncle Sam, the battle would be won.
Using napalm and supporting corrupt officials didn't help our cause, of course, but I was going elsewhere. Does changing someone's beliefs count as a win? By whose lights are beliefs right or wrong? Because you are the other, with skin tinted differently, are you always in the wrong? Was it necessary for the people to look at the world through an American lens in order for us to win?
And why did we need to win? The Domino Theory (if Vietnam falls to Communism, the rest of Asia will not be not far behind), perhaps? Because we'd never lost a war? Because our soldiers had fallen and their sacrifices shouldn't be in vain? The backstory to our involvement in the conflict may never be resolved; the notion of winning lies crumpled on the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon, pictured in the faces of the Vietnamese we left behind.
They had hitched their wagons to those they perceived as winners. Being left behind was their reward.
I remember the vindication I felt when the war was finally over. We'd done it. The passion of America's youth had changed the course of history. We'd stopped a war. I thought we had won - the we being those who agreed with me. Our country had certainly abandoned, if not lost, the war. The Vietnamese were left with a damaged countryside and a communist regime; not what America considered a winning scenario.
But I thought that I had won.
Perspective, it seems, makes a difference.
Before being perforated, I never would have tolerated finishing last in a race. ... or in anything else, for that matter. Showing up was not enough. I had to try to win. I compared myself to the first across the finish line, and I measured my competence accordingly. In the first 10K I ran, back in 1979, I decided that winning would be completing the course in under an hour. I was two minutes over that time. Though proud of the accomplishment, I felt that I had failed myself.
Failed myself. Let myself down. Not measured up to my own expectations. It was a hard pill to swallow, even as I accepted congratulations for finishing the wet and muddy course. I never ran another race for time again.
When Brenda Starr and I crossed the finish line at the Pecan Run last Fall, many minutes after the everyone else had packed up and gone home, my reaction was at the other extreme. We had done it! We hadn't sat down or given up or taken a lengthy break. We'd put one gimpy foot in front of the other and, with the encouragement of friends and family, we were done. It was a modest goal, but an achievable one. We were ecstatic.
Some piece of me still longed for the exhilaration of passing a slower participant. Some piece of me wanted to fly by, smiling inside, knowing that someone was less than I was.
That's where I get caught up in winning. Someone has to lose. In my youth, this was less of a problem. I was more self-absorbed, looking for ways to propel myself forward. Now, as age and bullets and grandchild have combined to create a more mellow version of me, I'm less concerned with coming out on top. I'm looking to win my own heart and mind, to make my own contribution the best it can be, even if it did take us an hour to walk 2.3 miles last Saturday.
We finished. We didn't stop. We were smiling. And no one had to lose or sacrifice for us to feel as pleased with ourselves as we were. I had adjusted my expectations. I had satisfied myself. We certainly didn't win the race in a conventional sense, but we won the race we were running.
I've converted my heart and mind.
Thanks to Rain Truax for the post (here) which prompted this.