By the Light of Usain Bolt
Two stories have been working on me since last summer which seem to have to do with how to dust yourself off when your gods — or when you — fall. One of the stories continues to be an internal struggle no matter how many times I try to finish it. The other was a story for my daughter on the occasion of her 13th birthday. That story will remain internal because it was my gift to her.
But since it’s been 9 months, I decided to transform it into a third, new story, and liberate it today. Perhaps it will bring some light.
One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. – Friedrich Nietzsche
I was born a hero. I was an invincible superstar in my very early years. I kept the secret to myself that I had special powers, but I also felt that eventually I would be able to use the powers throughout the world for good.
I don’t quite remember how or when it happened, but when I was still quite young — maybe five years old — one day, just like that, all my super powers vanished. I never understood why, but that marked the beginning of my journey to understand that I was not, actually, a hero.
One day, probably around the age my daughter is now, I stood in front of a doctor, feeling vulnerable and awkward in my body as most all teenagers do. The doctor regarded me, turned me around, and said to my mother more than to me: Do you see that tilt?
I was crooked. I had a leg length imbalance of nearly ½”. It turned out that even when I thought I was, I was never born perfect, nor a superstar. I was given one ugly white rubber lift and told to wear it for the rest of my life, particuarly in the already-hard-enough middle school gym, which I felt everyone would see and which I, of course, refused.
Eventually more and more days and things would collect to prove me to be different, obvious, and all-too-often, broken.
Like many, it has taken me most (ok maybe all — and beyond) of my life to feel OK being seen and seeable and comfortable in being the best person I can be, not in spite of but because of feeling so obviously cracked in so many ways more than one. It’s still a struggle, but I know the best days are those in which I emerge from my self-imposed exile into the warmth of being seen.
Neither as a superhero nor as broken, but exactly as I am. Maybe that is a super power.
The fastest man alive ran his last race in August 2017. During this time, I learned that Usain Bolt, too, was born with a leg length imbalance and a resulting curvature of the spine. Did Usain Bolt have a defect he had to overcome in order to be the fastest human alive?
Or did he become the fastest human alive exactly because he embraced and optimized the very things that made him different?
But if I keep my core and back strong, the scoliosis doesn’t really bother me. I don’t think limits. — Usain Bolt
Beyond the metaphor I’m so overly flogging, in Usain Bolt is the challenge of framing something differently. This reframing is something I work on all the time. Now I am in the best shape of my life, even after fifty years old. I am as strong or stronger than ever. I wear a small lift in one running shoe and I can run miles that I never could before and have run my first foot race. I go to the gym and stay strong and learn with trainers who don’t believe I’ve run my last foot race.
If I could say something as a parent to my daughter to try to make sense, I might say that I think I understand if she fears the physical, mental, or metaphorical ways I seem broken. I have learned how strong I am, and that it is my privilege and joy to constantly work to make myself even stronger. And these things about me that feel so fragile are ultimately the best things about me that help inspire me to be my strongest self.
Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. — Leonard Cohen
More importantly, though my daughter is brilliantly perfect to me, no doubt she (along with her friends and certainly every other human) will feel these cracks too, and it is hard to have to let that happen. I hope she will know that she doesn’t have to feel these alone, and that she eventually will know that the things that make her the most different can be the hardest, but the best, things to be. But this fortune is not mine to tell. Her story will be her own story.
What does it mean to be your own hero? This and so much more.
Usain Bolt fell in agony while he ran his last race. It was his last imperfectly perfect finish, whereupon Tom Fordyce of the BBC said:
Sometimes perfection itself can become hard to understand when it seems to come so easy. In defeat, we can look back at all the glories of the past nine years and see that none were preordained and all claimed through an unprecedented blend of latent talent and unremitting hard work.
In the glow at the beach at the edge of the world in the setting sun, the child turns to her mom and says “Do it again mama!” In that moment her mama is too aware that she, not a superhero, is actually unable to make the sun rise and set.
But her daughter knows better. What she sees is the beauty of the light shining in streaks through the sky, never the same one day after the next — never mattering win or lose. And in the magic of the rising sun there is all the power anyone needs for another chance, another day, in the company of a long line of forever evolving, beautiful strange humans.
All endings are imperfect.
Run your own race anyway.
Your weirdness is your superpower. — Tim Schafer, CEO, Double Fine Productions, at Girls Make Games Demo Day 2017