EARN MY WIN

If you should rise from Nowhere up to Somewhere,
From being No one up to being Someone,
Be sure to keep repeating to yourself
You owe it to an arbitrary god
Whose mercy to you rather than to others
Won’t bear to critical examination.
(Robert Frost, FEAR OF GOD)

EARN MY WIN
I
The Argument

My small car won the wood-shop race in 8th grade
It wasn’t a fair win
A screw on the track popped out the other car
It wasn’t a fair loss
So I didn’t take the win; I called for another run

I wanted to earn my win

In the subsequent runs, I ended up last
But it wasn’t a fair loss

How about I explain what happened in language that isn’t poetry?  Jeff Aubaugh pestered me to catch my car at the end of the track and I let him.  But on my winning run, he had wandered away and my car skittered against the wall, breaking the fender.  So the bare axle was exposed and my car kept sticking in the wooden walls of the track.  Everybody challenged my car, one by one, and I kept losing and came in last.  But this poem isn’t about my wooden car, or Jeff Aubaugh.

Next class, the boys told the girls that I came in last
It wasn’t a fair humiliation

II
The Evidence

Once, I interviewed for a job they wanted me to have
But it wasn’t a fair win for me
Others interviewed for the job they wouldn’t get
But it wasn’t a fair loss for them

I took the win, fair or not;–the job

It broke my friend’s heart when he peeked at his admission file and found out
His minority status superseded his mediocre standing among the applicants
Now, a grad student with me and his broken heart

He took the win
I earned it, deserved it
I got it by merit

I got published a few times
I merited those publications
They were fair wins
I got published a few other times
I don’t know if they handed me the publications
They may not have been fair wins
My professor got his book published
On the press of the university where he also graduated
A friend thought my professor handed out A’s
Only to graduates from his Alma Mater
Which I am and I got an A

III
The Conclusion

No one wants a hand-out
We want to earn our win
No one wants to take that all we didn’t ask for
A lot of it I didn’t ask for
Neither deserve some of what’s come my way
Certainly didn’t earn
The young couple who worked at Subway
And accepted me, a broken doctoral student, as a friend
When bipolar disorder shattered my confidence,
My professional collegiality, ties to colleagues, professors
No, I did not deserve their love, the young couple
Nor earn the air I breathe
Deserve the beat my heart gives me
Deserve heaven and earth
Merit heaven

Carol

Earn grace
Gracias, we hate to say
Gracia, hate to receive
Receive grace

Receive anything at all

Receive
Grace
Gracias
Grace upon Grace
Gracious
Gratitude

And it’s not all mine
All of my own making

Winning, Success, and Fairness

When The University of Virginia beat Auburn to advance to the NCAA finals, there was some controversy about a missed double-dribble call against Virginia.  The winning shots were scored by Kyle Guy due to a penalty.  Virginia was ecstatic at advancing to the finals.  Naturally, the TV interviewed Kyle Guy, because he saved the day for Virginia by making three foul shots to bring U VA into the lead with 6.1 seconds left on the clock.  I was struck with Guy’s comments.  He said something like, “I don’t know about the controversial call; this feels great, I can’t say how fantastic this feels.”  Guy’s team won, and, despite controversy, they won.  End of story.

A part of me says, “But was it fair?”  Regarding the whole question of fairness, in my own life, I am still resentful about an incident that happened to me in 8th grade.  In auto shop, we all made model cars out of wood.  There were two categories of model cars–wooden wheels and rubber wheels.  My car had rubber wheels and when we raced our cars down an inclined track, my car beat all the other cars.  I came in first.  Then we raced the winner of the rubber wheels (me) against the winner of the wooden wheels.  As our cars raced down the track, the wooden-wheel car jumped out of the track because a screw was sticking up.  I won it all.  But it wasn’t fair, so I said we should do the race again.  Trouble is, the guy who was supposed to catch my car at the end of the track had left, my car slammed against the wall, and the guard that protected the axle broke off leaving the axle exposed.  The shop teacher thought me incredible arrogant and allowed everyone in the class to challenge my win.  With my car’s axle exposed, my car kept getting stuck on the track.  The result was I came in last.  When we went to our next class, the girls asked who won.  They told them the guy who now won.  When they asked how I did, the guys said I came in last–with no clarification.

I don’t write this to vent a resentment from 8th grade.  Rather, this is a reflection on winning, success, and fairness.  The University of Virginia won against Auburn.  That was the result of the game.  About the missed double-dribble call–how many other calls were missed on either side that, to be fair, would need to be added to the results?  God would know how many missed calls there were in the whole game.  No human could, most likely.  We mortals make the best calls we can, we will never be perfect, and the final call stands.

This expands into other areas.  It looks like affirmative action makes some minorities succeed due to their minority status.  This may not seem fair.  But it counts.  Before affirmative action, minorities were consciously discriminated against and marginalized.  That certainly wasn’t fair.  So if success or winning is due to controversy, affirmative action, or efforts to level the playing field, it counts.  Fairness is an extremely vague measure.  It is naive to think that merit and competence will win out.  “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”  Laws like affirmative action, which seek to return fairness into an unjust system, are necessary, as are the results of affirmative action.  Fairness is at best an ideal.  If we find success amid controversy, if we find success due to favoritism, if we fail due to laws like affirmative action, it’s all part of the mix.  Accept success with grace.  Accept failure with forbearance.  While the world may not be fair, determining what exactly is fair is far beyond any human’s calculation.