The right pace

"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." Henry David Thoreau. These familiar words fly out at you from the poster on your wall. Or from the pages of your own copy of "Walden."

clearly, Thoreau is not advising us to sit downm and become philosophers. Philosophize on the move! Whether we march or run, we won't all be hearing the same music. Reared on the doctrine of winning, many of us have not been quick to see that to compete with miles is not to compete with people. Yes, Thoreau's point continues to have burning relevance. Must we all insist on listening to the same drummer?

One needs to beware of the success which springs from the fear of failure. Or again, to be sure to ask "Does achieving my goal mean that youm have got to fail?" What lengths some of us go to in order not to be "left behind!"

The pace must be our own. As Melvin Maddocks reminds us, the mature runner "rejoices in journeys rather than destinations. He strains toward no finish line. He does not compete." Jimmy Carter's blooper in that 6-mile "race" in September was in listening to the same drummer everyone else was hearing. In building his miles over the past year, running quietly, developing strength and endurance -- like his country's 25 million other runners, the American President had been fulfilling his objective unhurriedly, joyfully. This is something I'm sure he will go back to doing, "stepping to the music that hem hears."

In nature, there is no coming first or last. We all recall the time we strolled down some country lane and noticed every hawthorn tree in full bloom -- except one. Then, days later, we walked the same way again: our path was strewn with fallen petals, the trees were in their new green coats -- all except that single latecomer rebuking us with her solitary white glory! True growth is not the mandate of human opinion -- or, for that matter, majority votes. Throughout all seasons, humanity's sap is never still.

Sometimes, I visit Toronto's central YMCA to join the midday runners on the indoor track and find myself part of a footnote on democracy. Office girls, wives, students, young executives, retired executives, lawyers, doctors, senior citizens, and relatively new Canadians like myself -- everybody is there. Running. Each of us moving congenially at his own pace -- together an unlikely potpourri of verve, grace, angularity, sweat, and smiles. And no one is "in desperate haste to succeed."

When will we all wake up to recognize rivalry as an anachronism?

The leaves begin to fall. Irresistibly. Unhurriedly. The streets ring with boys' shouts. But there is no urgency in the running of children's feet.

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