I made a new personal record last week by running a total of 50k over five days. The average time it takes for someone like me (woman, aged 41-50, beginner) to run a full marathon is about 5 hours. From five days to five hours, it surely is a long way to go. To make my life easier, I have registered for the half-marathon event at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon this year, to take place on October 15. Perhaps a full marathon next fall.
As an athletic child competing in school, district, and city-wide running events, I received a lot of popular attention in my elementary school. Not so with Aaron. Though he used to love skating, soccer and especially badminton, Leukaemia and more than two years of chemo treatment stole so much strength from his body that after he went back to school in Grade 6, he was constantly worried about being the last one picked in gym class. Nonetheless, he never stopped trying to get better. In the same spirit that motivated him to run for Student Council at the start of Grade 6, and to self-nominate for the valedictorian and emcee roles at the time of graduation, he trained hard to qualify for the long-jump event at the school’s sports day. In every self-training session after dinner, he would ask me to video his long-jump practice so he could analyze and improve his movement. None of his efforts produced any formally recognized result. If he was disappointed, he did not talk much about it. In Grade 2 or 3, he glued a painstakingly crafted paper flower on a Mother’s Day card. He’s not satisfied with its look so he added a note in small font, “At least I tried,” pointing to the flower with a little arrow. He might have told himself just that to make sense of all the disappointing events in his later life, including when modern medicine failed him.
In the first days of his admittance into hospital last November, Aaron was profoundly disappointed by having to give up on school (again), chess tournaments, and everything else associated with a normal childhood. As it dawned upon him that he might not get to live, what he endured mentally I dare not imagine. But he kept on trying in the hope of getting back to his life. In chess, he was a terrifying opponent in the endgame; in life, he was not to concede defeat without putting up the bravest fight possible. He endured every tube inserted into his body, every procedure, every restless night, every temptation to gulp down water to quench the agonizing dryness in his mouth (he was on NPO or "Nothing By Mouth" order, meaning no food or water intake), and on top of all these, every approaching footstep of Death that was to take away everything he had and had loved. As the list of things over which he lost control continued to grow, he fought for a “normal” life by brushing teeth in the morning, wearing contact lenses, exercising a bit, playing Scrabble, joking with Anthony, watching crime documentaries with the three of us, and even signing up for Starbucks Rewards on my behalf so I could start earning points. Aaron had chosen to face adversities with dignity and courage. He lived a perfect life not because his life was perfect, but because he could confidently say, “at least I tried.”
Our outcome-oriented society tends to reward people with the most impressive resumes. Efforts per se do not count much unless they lead to recognizable results. Efforts that do not pay back in concrete terms are often ignored. Often, but not always. In school, so many teachers recognized his efforts. For example, Mr. Skicos, his gym teacher, noticed that though on some days Aaron was not at his best, “he gave it all he could, never backing down.” I will not repeat what Aaron’s friends, doctors, nurses, and family members said of him to make the point that a person’s impact on others may have nothing to do with the person’s tangible accomplishment. When Aaron expressed his worry about being forgotten by the world, I wish I had answered him in clearer terms that he would remain an inspiration for us all because he taught us what it meant to keep on trying and never give up.
I may or may not be able to run a full marathon, as so much depends on my knee health (fingers crossed). The outcome is not as important as the best efforts I put in, as I learned from Aaron. He never became an athlete, but he will be a great coach. With Aaron, I will surely run a better race, in marathon and in life.