An Undiscovered Masterpiece

An Undiscovered Masterpiece

From A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul

An Undiscovered Masterpiece

Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge

A few years ago, my friend Sue had some fairly serious health problems. She had been an invalid as a child and still suffered from a birth defect that had left a hole in one of the chambers of her heart. The births of her five children, beginning with a difficult C-section, had also taken their toll. She had suffered surgery after surgery and had also put on weight for several years. Diets had not helped her. She suffered almost constantly from undiagnosed pain. Her husband, Dennis, had learned to accept her limitations. He constantly hoped her health would improve, but he did not really believe it ever would.

One day they sat down as a family and drew up a “wish list” of the things they wanted most out of life. One of Sue’s items was to run in a marathon. Given her history and physical limitations, Dennis thought her goal was completely unrealistic, but Sue became committed to it.

She began by running very slowly in the subdivision where they lived. Every day she ran just a little farther than she had the day before—just one driveway more. “When will I ever be able to run a mile?” Sue asked one day. Soon she was running three. Then five. I’ll let Dennis tell the rest of the story in his own words:

I remember Sue telling me something she had learned: “The subconscious and the nervous system cannot tell the difference between real and vividly imagined situations.” We can change ourselves for the better and cause ourselves to subconsciously pursue our most precious desires with almost total success, if we crystallize the images clearly enough in our minds. I knew Sue believed it—she had registered to run in the St. George Marathon in southern Utah.

“Can the mind believe an image that will lead to self-destruction?” I asked myself as I drove the mountainous road from Cedar City to St. George, Utah. I parked our van near the finish line and waited for Sue to come in. The rain was steady and the wind was cold. The marathon had started over five hours ago. Several cold and injured runners had been transported past me, and I began to panic. The image of Sue alone and cold, off the road somewhere, made me sick with worry. The fast and strong competitors had finished long ago, and runners were becoming more and more sparse. Now I could not see anyone in either direction.

Almost all of the cars along the marathon route had left, and some normal traffic was beginning. I was able to drive directly up the race route. There were still no runners in view after driving almost two miles. Then I went around a bend in the road and spotted a small group running up ahead. As I approached, I could see Sue in the company of three others. They were smiling and talking as they ran. They were on the opposite side of the road as I pulled off and called between the now-steady traffic, “Are you okay?”

“Oh, yes!” Sue said, panting only mildly. Her new friends smiled at me.

“How far to the finish line?” one of them asked.

“Only a couple of miles,” I said.

A couple of miles? I thought. Am I crazy? I noticed that two of the runners were limping. I could hear their feet sloshing in wet sneakers. I wanted to say to them that they had run a good race and offer them a ride in, but I could see the resolve in their eyes. I turned the van around and followed from a distance, watching for one or all of them to fall. They had been running for over five and a half hours! I sped around them and up to within a mile of the finish and waited.

As Sue came into view again, I could see her begin to struggle. Her pace slowed and she grimaced. She looked at her legs in horror as if they did not want to work any longer. Somehow, she kept moving, almost staggering.

The small group was becoming more spread out. Only a woman in her twenties was near Sue. It was obvious that they had become friends during the race. I was caught up in the scene and began running along with them. After a hundred yards or so I tried to speak, to offer some great words of wisdom and motivation, but my words and my breath failed.

The finish line came into sight. I was grateful it had not been completely dismantled, because I felt that the real winners were just now coming in. One of the runners, a slim teenager, stopped running, sat down, and started to cry. I watched as some people, probably his family, came and carried him to their car. I could also see that Sue was in agony—but she had dreamed about this day for two years and she would not be denied. She knew she would finish, and this knowledge allowed her to confidently—even happily—pick up her pace the last hundred yards to the finish line.

Few people were left to congratulate my wife and marathon runner extraordinaire. She had run a smart race, stopping to stretch regularly, drinking plenty of water at the various water stops, and pacing herself well. She had been the leader of a small group of less-experienced runners. She had inspired and encouraged most of them home with her words of confidence and assurance. They openly praised and embraced her as we rejoiced in the park.

“She made us believe we could do it,” her new friend stated.

“She described so vividly how it would be to finish that I knew I could do it,” another said.

The rain had quit, and we walked and talked in the park. I looked at Sue. She was carrying herself differently. Her head was more erect. Her shoulders were squared. Her walk, even though she was limping, had a new confidence. Her voice held a new, quiet dignity. It was not as if she had become someone new; it was more as if she had discovered a real self she had not known before. The painting was not yet dry, but I knew she was an undiscovered masterpiece with a million things left to learn about herself. She truly liked her newly discovered self. So did I.

Charles A. Coonradt

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