No one likes to encounter it. Personally, I like to admit it even less than I like encountering it. There is something about admitting that I've lost or failed that grates on every single nerve in my body and soul. Admitting that I wasn't good enough is a hard thing to do. It hurts my self-esteem, my confidence, and my pride (which is, perhaps, not always a bad thing). But, I'm not sure it's possible to get through life without encountering a defeat or two or hundred. It's part of life. They say it's the hard things that build our character and help us become bigger, stronger people.
Last year, two of my daughters were in track for school. The eldest of my two participants wasn't the fastest person in track. Just entering her preteen years, she was very cognizant and self-conscious of this fact. We'd already had a couple meets that she placed near the end to tears of embarrassment. There was much talk of just doing her best and trying hard, all the good maternal peptalks you're supposed to have.
It was the 75-meter dash. The other 4th graders were all lined up. I was at the finish line, waiting with an appropriately-proud smile. The gun sounded and the children were off. I don't know the cause. Was her shoe too big? Did she forget to tie it? Whatever the case, about halfway down the length of the track, her shoe came off and she fell. That spring inside my heart tightened as she watched the crowd of racers speed off down the track without her, knowing full well that there was no way she could catch them.
She did something I didn't expect. She stood up. She slipped her shoe back on. She ran the rest of the race. She KNEW there was no way she would win. She knew she would encounter defeat, but she got up and she finished the race.
I learned something that day. I learned that defeat isn't really defeat if we refuse to let it defeat us. She didn't win the race that day. But she didn't let that defeat KEEP her down. She got up. She finished the race. I like to think that, even if my girl didn't win what she had intended and hoped to win, she found something more important to take from that day than a ribbon.
She didn't get up and finish the race. Her coach led her off the track and into my arms, and we sat on a curb while she nursed her tears ("I'm okay, Mom.... I'm just disappointed I couldn't finish") and her older sister finished the events she was signed up for. Lots of Alicia's friends hovered around us, wanting to make sure she was okay, as they waited for their races as well. I don't remember which ones they were, but I will always remember one little girl. She came over and sat next to Alicia. After a few minutes, she put something into Alicia's hands and said, "Here... I want you to have one of mine."
It was one of the ribbons she had won during the day, and I was really glad I was wearing sunglasses that day. It's sort of embarrassing to cry in front of 10-year-olds. But, I couldn't help it. It was such a sweet thing to do, and it was my second lesson on defeat for the day. Conquering defeat doesn't mean that we have to conquer it on our own. I'm a constant "I can do it myself"-er, so this was a big thing for me to see. Sometimes, people come alongside us. For a time, they are our rocks, they are our strengths. They lend us their courage and their kindness so that we can summon the strength to look Defeat in the face and say "Today is not your day."
We will encounter defeat, each one of us. But encountering it doesn't mean that we have to let it win. Get back up. Gather those that love you around and draw from their love and courage until you can stand upright, look squarely in the eyes of Defeat, and live to fight another day.
Encountering defeat and BEING defeated are not the same thing. The former we can hardly avoid, but the latter is something we can fight.