The cheers of children sounded behind me like the calls of wild apes. My breaths were coming in jagged heaves, and my body was running on energy that ceased to exist until this very moment. I was way ahead of the rest of my competition, my feet barely skimming the ground like a gazelle running from a lion. Only, I wasn’t running for my life, I was running for the glory; trying to reach the stretched cheeks and hollers of joy and excitement that stood awaiting me at the finish line. I was almost there. I could almost feel the pats on my back and the hugs of glee. I grinned, until I realized I was falling.
Those who know me, are not just knowledgable of my competitive nature and ambitious spirit, but also of my lack of coordination. Making me the last person to go for the finish of a relay race might not have been the most dependable idea.
I collided— knees first— onto the blacktop, the rest of my body following suit as the force of my speed dragged me across the harsh concrete. Everything stung greatly, and my palms held embedded chunks of asphalt and red burns.
For a few seconds, everything slowed. I could see kids from the other teams catching up to where I lay, ready to pass me at any second. I looked up, noticing a teacher and some of my teammates about to come and get me; to rescue me as if I were some helpless being. The rest of them wore looks so discouraging, I wanted to cry at their disbelief. They didn’t believe they could win anymore. They didn’t believe I could win.
I blinked. That’s right. I didn’t like the feeling of being helpless. I couldn’t stand the thought of someone having to pick me up because I was unable. I had to get up. I had to prove to these people that I could do it. I could be more than what they thought of me.
And so I got up, and I sprinted to that finish line without thinking of what harm I was bearing to my body. I just didn’t think. Instead, I focused on how I felt— no, not the pain, or the cool touch of blood dribbling down my legs— but how it felt to just get up and keep going despite the fact that it was my body that had dragged me down in the first place.
Cheers erupted like fireworks on the Fourth. Hands greeted my back, exhilaration shook my arms, and the thrill of victory rang in my ears. I had been hunched over, my hands against my thighs, panting. The cool air eased my sweaty figure, and I stood erect. Mrs. Miller, a stout woman with cropped caramel-hued hair approached me with a nod, and I followed as she led me to the nurse’s office, while everyone’s hurrah’s faded into the background. I remained quiet, for she was rather intimidating and, well, not known to be the nicest teacher in my elementary school.
She eventually broke the silence, “I’ve never seen anyone get back up like that.”
My head snapped in her direction, my eyes widening in surprise.
She smiled down at me, her pale green eyes flickering with a proud light, “You’re not just a team player, you’re brave too.”
When I entered the small but sanitary space of the office, she told the nurse of what I’d done. The nurse smiled and gave her compliments as she cleaned and bandaged both of my legs, which had received some deep scrapes and were only just lessening with blood. They both beamed at me, despite the wounds inflicted upon me or my judgement to continue on amidst the pain.
That was one of the first instances I felt pride for being who I am.
You see, I’ve fallen more times than I can count since then. And when I get back up— and I do get up— I do it myself. By myself. For myself. Because I can’t think of any other way of living. You can’t allow others to carry you, because there’s going to come a time when they can’t help you. They won’t be able to assist in standing you up, when it’s your legs that carry the weight of who you are. One must learn to pick themselves up, before venturing on to find someone that can help ease the pressure of what they’ve always carried.
People have seen me fall and have done nothing to heal the wounds created from the rough terrain meeting my skin. I’ve had to pick myself up for a team. I’ve had to pick myself up to care for that which I love. But mostly, I’ve had to pick myself up for me; because it’s my body, and the abrasions don’t hurt as much when you know you can rise and heal them yourself.
It’s not that, as people, we don’t need anyone else to help us. It’s that, as individuals, we need to be able to carry the weight of ourselves, so that if we are abandoned, alone, or others are unable, we can do it for ourselves, by ourselves.
The tumbles since then have never gotten easier, but I know what I can endure if I put my mind to it. I tripped, over ten years ago, on a blacktop with eyes of hopelessness daring me to rise. And as I think back to that day, I hold no doubt that I cared very little for what those kids actually thought of me. But it was what I thought of myself in those few seconds, that altered how I think of myself for a lifetime.
-Kiran Bains Sahota