A Lesson|From the Rez

     It was 99 degrees as I hit the road, streets empty and still. No one stood in the quavering heat; no one lay in a back yard or weeded a garden. No dogs, no cats, no humans, no birds, no clouds.
     It was the last day of August and if I rode 10 miles it’d give me 400 miles for the month. So I hit the road in the heat, because of something that happened to me a quarter of a century ago. It’s an interesting story.
     I was coaching track on an Indian reservation, 60 miles from town, 75 miles from the town the other way. I’d been there for six years.
     One of my runners told me his story. He’d dropped out of high school in town, and had gone to live on a pot plantation. I’ll call him Benny.
     Benny could knock off a half mile in 2:05 without really training for it, and though that’s not a world-class time, it’s pretty fast, as you’ll know if you’ve ever tried it.
     “I was living in a little shack,” Benny said. “There was pot in the rafters, pot in buckets under the bed, pot in the kitchen, pot in the yard.”
     He could smoke all he wanted and he got paid money, too. But the thrill wore off.
     “I was sitting there one day, smoking pot, surrounded by pot, and I said to myself, ‘How am I going to get out of here?’ So I said, ‘I’m going to run my way out.”
     That’s what he did. He got into shape, moved back to the rez and re-enrolled in high school. He was knocking off miles in 4:35 and half miles in a little over 2 minutes flat. And we hadn’t even started speed work yet.
     Benny was a smart kid – smart at studies, smart about running, just smart. His only problem at the moment was whether to qualify for state in the half-mile and the mile or the mile and the 2-mile.
     Then the high school athletic director told me to see him in his office.
     Benny’s old coach had called from town. Benny was ineligible. The last grades he’d got before he dropped out a year ago were four Fs.
     There was no trickery involved. We’d never checked to see if he was eligible. I couldn’t imagine Benny getting an F in anything.
     It was the day before a big meet. I sent the team home and told them to run 3 miles easy. I told Benny to come see me at my apartment in the teacher housing.
     He came over and I told him he couldn’t run on the team anymore. He had to give back all the medals he’d won. He couldn’t run in districts or state.
     “Oh, wow,” he said. “I have to take a walk and think about this.”
     He left my house and walked out onto the desert. I felt really bad.
     Benny knocked on the door about 5 minutes later and came in and sat down.
     “OK, here’s what I’ve got to do,” he said. “I’ve got to get a couple of long-range goals, a couple of medium-range goals, and a couple of short-term goals.”
     I sat there stunned as this 17-year-old kid told me what sort of goals he needed.
     “My God,” I thought, “this kid is more mature than I am.”
     Like most kids I taught on the rez, Benny didn’t have much money or stuff, and he didn’t talk much unless he knew what he was talking about, so when he did talk he was worth listening to.
     Benny was right. We can’t be happy – well, maybe you could, but I can’t – without some sort of goals, no matter how little or how silly they may be. So on the last day of August, 99 degrees, I rode my bicycle for 10 miles because it would knock off a little goal that I didn’t even have until I saw I could do it. It made me feel good for a little while.
     The reason I bring this up is that there’s so much unhappiness in our country today. People are angry and resentful. They are spewing bile and venom, whining, mewling and puking in public everywhere you turn.
     A lot of these people – the ones we hear from too often – are not even out of work. They’re rich and famous and powerful. They don’t have problems. They’re just miserable people spreading their misery around. They whine and mewl and puke and kvetch about “tyranny” and “socialism” and “family” and “God.”
     They should grow up. Take a walk. Set some goals for themselves beyond being crybabies. And if they don’t know what they are talking about they should shut up.

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