Tales From the Oregon Trail – Crying Edition

“Why’s that girl crying? That’s not the way you want to be when you’re about to race!”

To be honest, I understood exactly why the young lady two lanes down from me was crying. She was merely expressing the emotion I’ve been picking up from many of the kids at this event. The air here is so ripe with tears, I can almost feel them collect on my skin like morning dew. Don’t the tears have to spill out somewhere? Today they were spilling through the eyes of a Southern Californian who had the audacity to wear her emotions a little too close to her tech suit.

Like I said, I understood exactly why she was crying. I just didn’t understand why the swim parent beside me, my assigned partner in the duty of timing races, was so incredulous. I said (though I know she didn’t hear me), “I’d probably be crying too if it was me.”

Two hundred meters. That was the task before the crying swimmer. Maybe she was tired, and she knew two hundred meters was too much for her to handle. I watched first a coach, then an official go to her, ask her if she was all right, if she wanted to scratch the race, and twice I watched her shake her head no. Of course she wasn’t going to scratch the race. She worked so hard to get here. Her parents are probably here, came all the way up from sunny Southern Cal to watch their dear daughter compete against the best. How could she scratch her race when so many of her teammates back home would do anything just to be here? Oh, such a ponderous weight to carry!

We did this to her. This is what I kept thinking as I heard her sobs spill uncontrollably from quivering lips, sobs that continued as she shakily mounted the starting block, sobs that cracked the pre-start silence like a metal blade against the shell of an egg. She dove in. No false start. But she did lose her goggles upon impact. Two hundred meters at a dead sprint is hard enough; it’s even more difficult when your eyeballs are exposed to chlorine for two plus minutes. Then again, the pool water was probably indiscernible from her tears. I wonder now if she didn’t raise the level of the pool with those tears that continued as she swam down and back, down and back.

She was still crying as she heaved herself from the water, and no teammates greeted her at the finish, no friends there to console her. Not even the tired exhortation of Good Job! She cried her way back to her tent, where I suppose she sat alone and cried some more; after all, she still has two more days of this to look forward to.

We did this to her. All of us.

The bashing of millennials and post-millennials is only slightly less fashionable than bashing Trump these days. It feels good to bash, because when you’re bashing someone else, it’s impossible to see all the things wrong with you.

Millennials are lazy; they don’t want to work! BASH!

Millennials are entitled; they want everything handed to them! BASH!

Millennials are indecisive! BASH!

Millennials don’t know how to have normal conversations! BASH!

Millennials can’t handle pressure! BASH!

There’s a game I play every single day. I assume many of you play the exact same one. The game goes like this: I get up early in the morning, intend to take a little time for myself––reflect, savor some coffee, maybe write an inspired word or two––before the game begins to possess my body and rushes me away like a piece of driftwood in the current of a raging river. The game takes and takes me along until my eyes grow too weak to continue playing, and I’m forced to nap a few hours so I can awake and continue playing the game. The game pays me. It pays me with numbers that go into an imaginary wallet that a bank holds for me, and with these numbers I can afford to pay for the car I drive and the house a live in and the television I watch, and the tablet I’m composing this story on. These things––all these things the numbers pay for––are props within the same game I play in order to make the numbers to pay for the things that are part of the game to make the numbers…It’s a lot of pressure, competing in this never-ending game; sometimes the pressure makes me want to cry.

Here’s what I believe: Millennials and those behind them, some of them at least, have started to figure out that this game of ours is really stupid, and they don’t want to play it. Some folks my age have realized this too, but we’re either too addicted to the game to stop, or we’re too stupid and unimaginative to think of something better. I hope more and more young people decide not to play my game.

I hope the crying swimmer keeps crying. I hope her tears inspire her to think of a better way than what we’ve shown her.

My Sam behind the block (not crying 🙂

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