47: Feathers on My Wings

47: Feathers on My Wings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Feathers on My Wings

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

~Emily Dickinson

All the girls in our school were waiting to run, and for the most part they all looked miserable. Still, no one could have been more frustrated than me. See, I decided I’d do whatever it took to earn the President’s Patch for Physical Fitness. Of course, that was before I knew I was a crummy runner.

Before we began the running part of the test, my gym teacher grinned when she watched me do more push-ups, pull-ups, and situps than anyone twice my height and weight. See, even though I was little, the requirements stated I had to play with the big boys... uh, big girls. But I overcame that problem. Plus, I had freakishly strong arms, which meant I did great in arm strength tests. But running — well, not so much. There was a reason I wasn’t a great runner. I had been in an accident.

When I was little, I was outside playing with the neighbor’s kids. There was a whoosh of movement, and the others dashed away. I stared at them and didn’t see a black car loom over me. It knocked me to the ground, squishing my legs under a giant tire. Children screamed and the driver panicked.

He jerked his car into drive, and ran over my legs a second time. My body twirled under the car. The crunch of gravel was loud — but not louder than my mother. Her scream joined the kids’ yells and confused the driver. He was certain he was still on top of me.

I could hear the gears shift. Just as the car rocked into reverse, something fell to the ground next to the car. It was my mom. In a firm voice, she ordered me not to sit up. We waited.

The third grinding run over my legs left me quivering on the ground, unable to speak. I was in shock.

Now, standing waiting to run, I was again in shock. The day before, I ran in the sprint race for the physical fitness test, and it ended up feeling like a horror movie. Before that race, I had forgotten I even had damaged legs. So when the whistle blew, I charged forward with the others, fully expecting to win.

Too quickly, I was near the end of the pack. I looked down at my legs and screamed at them to move. But something between my brain and legs was disconnected. It was devastating.

And then there was the look on my teacher’s face. She was confused. She looked at her chart and said I could eliminate two things and still get the patch. I’d already failed the high jump, so this was number two. However, the final test was another race. This time it was a mile-long run. I felt sick.

Because my parents didn’t want me to focus on what I couldn’t do, we rarely talked about my legs. They’re parents, so what do you expect? However, that day when my dad saw me scowling and chewing on my braids, he decided to refocus me. He pointed through the window at a bird’s nest and asked, “Why aren’t the baby birds flying?”

I said, “Because they don’t have feathers.”

He nodded. “Still, do you see how they stretch and pump their wings as they try to fly? They mimic their mother and work their muscles until they get feathers on their wings. Your wings are different, so it may take a while until you fly. Until then, you need to keep flapping.”

The next day, while waiting to run, I thought of what my dad said. But I wanted that patch right now, and this hurt.

I needed to be close to my older sister so I searched the crowd for her. When I got close, she knew I was totally miserable because I hung my head. She squeezed my hand. One of her friends piped up, saying that we needed to stretch. She apparently was a runner. All I could think of were baby birds stretching to fly, so I stretched. It was awful. I watched the others go nearly to the ground as they relaxed into their stretches. Not me, I barely looked like I was leaning down. Scar tissue was to blame.

Next, she told us to breathe through our noses and out through our mouths. Then, she said the most remarkable thing: “We should jog — not run.”

I perked up. Could I keep up with a jog? Nonchalantly, I wiggled through the crowd to the front of the pack. I knew I would need every inch.

The whistle blew and we were off. It was horrible. In a dead run, almost all the kids passed me. Clearly, no one but me got the memo about jogging.

But then, something amazing happened. I passed a girl — then two others — and then a whole clump of kids. It was weird. Most were clutching their sides in pain. Those hares that had run super fast past me were left in my tortoise dust.

Steadily, I moved forward. When I got close to my sister, I stared. Her pasty white skin startled me. She had allergies and I was worried. I told her to breathe through her nose and out her mouth. There was a part of me that wanted to stop, but my legs had a mind of their own. I chugged on.

With each person I passed, I became even more confused. How could everyone be dropping like flies, and I wasn’t even breathing hard?

I glanced back, and nearly stumbled. Yep, my legs were still my legs — totally clumsy and uncooperative. I forced myself to focus on the skill of running.

Ahead of me was the leader of the pack, my sister’s friend, the runner. She pumped her arms close to her side. So, like the baby birds mimicking their mother, I pumped mine close to my side. I inched closer.

She turned and saw me. The day before, she must have noticed my shocking failure in the short run, so no doubt she was surprised that I was the one right behind her. Still, she grinned and yelled for me to hurry and run with her. No competition here, she just loved to run.

With head down and quick pumps, I joined her. We were on the home stretch.

I’ll never know for sure, but I think she slowed just enough to let me cross the finish line first. My gym teacher grabbed me in a bear hug. “You did it, you did it.”

There was a big hullabaloo when she told everyone I had won the race. Girls cheered and patted my back. My biggest cheerleaders were my sister and her friend the runner.

Yep, I had earned the patch, but it was strange. Getting it was great, but learning never to quit was huge. Maybe even better was realizing there were lots of people ready to help a klutz like me.

After the award ceremony, someone asked how I could be so slow one day, and so fast the next. I grinned and said, “Because I’ve got different kinds of feathers on my wings.”

~Sandy Lackey Wright

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