Why We Should All Tilt at Windmills

Recently, I’ve been running with a Liberian teenager named Sam. We both run down Tubman Boulevard, the main road in Monrovia, most evenings. After a few times essentially pacing each other anonymously, we began chatting and running together. Sam is in training for the Liberia Marathon. Unfortunately, the marathon will not be taking place this year due to a lack of funding. I have not had the heart to tell him yet.

Sam is still in his late teens, so it’s been interesting running with him. Though he is quite fast, he has not built up his endurance base yet. This is why almost all of the world’s best 5k runners have been older than 25, and many of the best ultra runners have been in their 30s and 40s. We end up going fast for a couple miles and then taking a walking break. It’s certainly not what I’m used to, but I have been getting in a lot more speed work than usual.

What’s odd is that I’ve learned quite a bit of wisdom from someone no older than twenty. Sam runs every day through mud and shit. One day, while running, he told me that you should never to listen to the lazy people criticizing you. In reality, they’re envious that you have ambition in the first place.

As trite as it sounds, what Sam says is correct. Yet, we often forget it. To quote Theodore Roosevelt, “it is not the critic that counts… but the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by seat and dust and blood.”

When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of horror and exploitation flicks. Saw, Hostel, Audition, Cannibal Holocaust.. you name it, I saw it. I even had misguided and overambitious dreams to be a horror filmmaker. I was trying to re-explore this area of my youth at the end of last summer by watching Eli Roth flicks and any other horror films I could get my hands on. I ended up watching a relatively new, well-reviewed horror film called It Follows. The plot is simple enough. A teenage girl has sex after a concert and finds that the boy she slept with has passed some sort of presence on to her, which will follow her until it kills her. If she sleeps with someone else, the presence passes on to him. If the person is killed, the presence moves backwards until it reaches the first person.

At first, I thought of the film’s plot as a sanctimonious allegory about venereal disease. But then I thought about it differently. Perhaps the film is about how loving another person allows us to forget about death, if only for an instant. But still, death [it] follows.

Death will get us all in the end. But that doesn’t mean our lives are without meaning. Anything we can apply ourselves to, from grand struggles against totalitarianism to sex to snowboarding to meditation, allows us to put some space between ourselves and oblivion. Pursuing challenges is another means towards this end. It doesn’t really matter which goal you venture towards as long as you do something.

We’ve all been sold this idea of striving for a comfortable life. I do not think that comfort makes us happy. We all want security, but there has to be something more to life than that.

Sam seems to know this better than most. Even if he never achieves his running goals, the simple pursuit of them gives his life meaning. Like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, Sam knows to follow his bliss and pursue his idiosyncratic goals to the end. It’s the journey that matters since all you can do, alluding to Herzog, is to live your dash. Even if your ambitions turn out to be too idealistic or even quixotic (see what I did there) you will be glad to have followed your intuitions and struggled to reach your goals. Most of all, Sam has reminded me of something I often forget, that to give anything less than your best, in anything in life, is pure chicken shit.

As an alcoholic and misogynistic poet from Los Angeles once said, “Find what you love and let it kill you.”