Monday, August 13, 2012

Also-rans – that’s us

We have come to the close of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, and it had its great moments of sporting history, as was expected.  It was often a grand stage on which was displayed the height of human achievement and the beauty of the human physique.  Lithe and agile, strong and insanely fast, swift and incredibly powerful – just some of the many adjectives that have been accurately used to describe the ways in which human beings strove to become more than they could.  As was expected, there were some who seemed to have ego-inflation issues, but that would be the matter of another blog entry.

There were approximately 10,960 athletes competing for the 602 sporting medals in all the different events.  Obviously, this means that only a very few, very able and very fit had their chance to have a medal hung on their necks, watching with great pride the hoisting of their nation’s flag.  Fewer would hear their country’s national anthem being played.  What would that mean for the thousands of other non-medal winners who would never have that experience of victory and triumph?  What goes on in the hearts and minds of the other ‘also-rans’? 

Hold the thought.

I was having a chat with an old teacher of mine sometime back, and she shared with me something that I had always heard as a common remark made by teachers.  “Of all the students that we have taught in our career, we teachers often only remember two kinds of students – those who were extremely diligent, attentive and obedient, and those who were just the opposite – the naughty, the mischievous and those who would often get into all sorts of trouble”. 

This gives us some hope, doesn’t it?  It means that our former teachers who taught us many of life’s important lessons do not only remember the prize winners.  Surely, it is good to be remembered for being high achievers and top scorers.  We see lots of accolades being heaped upon winners and recipients of scholarships of all kinds in the press, often with a nice picture of the scholar to show the world who it is who is going to which top academic institution to pursue further studies in some specialized field.  But that remark from old teachers also means that seared into the memory of the human mind are also the images of those who were on the other extreme.  What makes it all the more special is when those at the other end of the spectrum experience a turnaround or conversion later on in life, and these stories of their ‘wayward’ past only serve to emphasize the contrast of life-choices, situations and attitudes in life.  A scholar achieving greatness in life is to be expected.  A failure and trouble-maker in school overcoming obstacles in life to experience success and greatness later is inspirational.

To be sure, most of our lives are neither of these extremes.  Success and glory somehow belong to the few and far between.  To borrow a phrase from sporting parlance, most of us belong to the ‘also-ran’ category.  Nobody really remembers the also-rans.  Very few people recall the names of those other runners in the 100m final.  What about those who lagged behind in the heats leading up to the final?  On the other extreme end, neither can most of us identify fully with the recalcitrant, trouble-making and naughty in school.  Most of us fall in the ‘in-between’ category, and are not often remembered either fondly or infamously by our teachers and charges. 

Yet, our faith tells us a different story altogether.  God knows every ‘also-ran’ in life’s long race.  He assures us that ‘even the hairs of your head are all counted’ (Matt.10:30).  That’s a metaphorical way of assuring us that none of us is a disposable unit, or unimportant in God’s eyes and in God’s plan. 

A caveat is perhaps required here.  I do not advocate nor promote the attitude of being an under-achiever in life.  I fully believe that there is a lot of potential in the human mind and the human spirit that is endowed with the seed of God’s image.  Our lives bring glory to God when this seed is sown, nurtured and helped to grow to attain its maximum potential.  But if we only think of success in worldly terms, when we fall into the trap of the numbers game and only think of medals and attaining fame and honour and credit, we may end up greatly disappointed. 

Spiritual greatness is also a paradox.  Spiritual maturity assures us that it is indeed alright and perfectly acceptable to be one of life’s many ‘also-rans’, and that we don’t have to always be the greatest to experience greatness.  


  1. Dear Father,

    Thanks for that inspirational post. By virtue of the fact that I'm still alive and miserably at work this Monday morning, I am a 'forced to run'. I think that life is a marathon and not as a sprint, and there are ups and downs at different points in our life. We pace ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and even our frenemies and enemies, but it really does help sometimes to be paced esp by spiritual pacers (like you) to help ensure we're running in the right direction and doing right by ourselves and our loved ones.

    God bless!

  2. Dear Fr. Luke,
    By far, the people who have inspired me - those who have my respect and admiration, have invariably been the "little people" of this world. The also-rans, as you put it. These are the ones who live a life of quiet simplicity; humble with no great achievements to speak of (or even if they have they don't advertise the fact). These are the ones who no one notices, and they are quite content for it to be that way. One particular “also-ran” I know personally has been through so much hardship but you’d never know it: she always has a warm smile and, come to think of it, I’ve never heard a word of complaint spill from her lips. These are my heroes; the people I look up to. I see them as especially blessed by God. The little people. The nobodies.
    Peace and Joy (In Christ),
    Robbie J

  3. It is indeed interesting to see that both you and Timothy Radcliffe seems to be in agreement about this paradox about spiritual greatness or as he termed it the paradoxes of sanctity. For he said that the paradox is that whilst you accept that you don’t know who you are , yet you take the path to become the person that God meant you to be –( as the vocation of every baptized person is to be a saint) So, even knowing that one is not going to be the champion, one also takes part in the race and like you said “it is indeed alright and perfectly acceptable to be one of life’s many ‘also-rans’ ”

    Being a saint (according to him) is - trying to become someone whom God made him to be – he does not run away from the terror of being a person, of becoming someone in particular - for there is vulnerability in being someone in particular. So though there is tension in not knowing who we are, there is also a sense of liberation in accepting this – therein lies the paradox! Thus, as one of life’s also-rans, we become ourselves “not by knowing who we are but by knowing who we are not!”
    God bless you, Fr