Coming in Second
Last week, I went camping overnight in the mountains of upstate New York. As I was relaxing on the beach of a beautiful mountain lake, watching happy campers boating and swimming, I spied a group of five young children playing a game on the beach. They were racing from the lifeguard’s chair to a picnic table. The first time they ran the race, the oldest kid, a boy of around eight years old, hit the goal first. But when he declared victory one of his friends, a somewhat bossy little girl, responded with: “You were first, but the one who gets here second wins!”
It was fascinating to watch what happened next. The kids all walked back to the starting point and the little girl, the obvious leader, said “One, two, three… go!” But nobody went. There were a couple of false starts, a few little movements, but nobody moved more than two feet from the starting point. It didn’t take these little kids much time at all to realize that they were in a catch-22—that if the goal is to come in second, there’s not much point in running at all.
According to authentic Kabbalah, the true purpose of life on earth, the purpose of both our physical and spiritual lives, is to transform darkness into light. We are here to transform this physical, sometimes dark and evil world into a dwelling place for G‑d; a home for the Divine. Simply speaking, this mission is enormously rewarding but not easy—especially in this final period of transition before the ultimate Redemption. Your mission can never be accomplished if you aim to come in second. You have to play full out.
“You were first, but the one who gets here second wins!”
Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not necessarily about how fast you run, and it’s certainly not all about beating other people. Everybody can win this race, because in truth we’re all racing together against the darkness, against our lower selves, against the inexorable movement of time.
You don’t have to be ahead of anyone else—but if you want to accomplish your mission and fulfill the purpose for which you’re here, you have to be fully in the game.
Once, many years ago, a young boy and his father had the honor of a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe asked the little boy what he liked to do, and the boy replied to the Rebbe that he enjoyed baseball. He told the Rebbe that his father had recently taken him to a Yankees’ game—but that when it looked like the Yankees were losing they, being Yankees’ fans, left to go home.
The Rebbe asked the boy if the team went home as well. Of course not, the little boy replied. He explained to the Rebbe that the team couldn’t quit in the middle, because when you’re actually part of the game, you can’t give up—much less quit and go home—until the very end.
The Rebbe smiled at the little boy. “In the game of life,” he explained “we’re supposed to be players—but many people choose to be observers, to just sit in the stands. But you,” he said to the child, “Be a player.”
So here’s a meditation for you:
Aiming to Sitting in the stands may be safer, but a whole lot less happens there. come in second won’t get you to second—it will keep you in the stands and out of the game. If you want to really live your life, the only way is to aim for first. Take a minute right now and ask yourself for real: what would change in your life if you did exactly that? Is there something you’ve been putting off that you’d do? Something you’ve been avoiding that you’d face? Somewhere you’ve been straddling the fence where you’d commit?
Sitting in the stands may be safer, but a whole lot less happens there. So for this week: try living fully, playing all out, instead.
By Shifra Hendrie