Dear Michael and Caroline,
But public humiliation has its value. It can be harnessed as incentive. Around that time, as I approached 18, I became serious about basketball.
And years later, as I stayed in shape, still running from time to time, I took to timing myself in the mile. On that Saturday afternoon in November of 1969, I had completed the mile in 5:56 minutes. For a while now I would go over to the running track at Forest Hills High School and time myself in the mile.
I wanted to go faster than 5:56, to run faster, as a man well into my 40s, than my skinny, 17-year-old, humiliated self had run. I felt certain I could do it, certain, too, that if I could, it might erase the hurt. Basketball had kept me quick on my feet, and I had developed respectable stamina, and I also had a more competitive spirit now. Besides, 5:56 was so mediocre a time that any number of highly fit men of my age could beat it.
The best I could manage was 6:21.
I tried sporadically in the years since, never doing much better than 6:35 or 6:40. I felt good about trying, but still disappointed in the results.
I needed to redeem myself, to wash away the shame of my defeat. I needed to prove that I could run faster in my 50s than I had as a teenager, an accomplishment far greater than winning a high school track meet. I had to keep striving to do better so I could feel like a winner, so I could prove something to myself.
So now let me tell you this. My legs still have plenty of miles left.
P.S. – What’s your worst teenage humiliation? Have you ever told your kids about it?