The Race Goes to the Swiftest

The Iowa Review - - NEWS - Barry lopez

In the be­gin­ning they told us ad­ver­sity would make us strong. It made sense to us, like ex­er­cise in the gym­na­sium. Hard work made you strong. Ev­ery­one knew this. So we suf­fered ad­ver­sity, know­ing a bet­ter time was com­ing, and that we would be able to en­joy it more when it came be­cause we had been strong. We hadn’t cow­ered or quit. Our lives were dif­fi­cult at the start, but we did not fal­ter. We had the minds of men on tightropes. The winds blew hard, com­ing from one di­rec­tion one day and from an­other the next. But the rope led to a mag­nif­i­cent des­ti­na­tion, of that we were sure. So as the winds blew, hard one mo­ment then softly the next, we pressed ahead, mostly tak­ing shorter steps, a trem­bling ad­vance, like men with rick­ets. In the dis­tance be­yond, we could hear mu­sic and laughter. Per­haps they had heard of our or­deal, had in­vited guests to cel­e­brate our for­ti­tude, our early ad­vance. Or per­haps no one had heard of us, and what we were hear­ing was a cel­e­bra­tion for some­one else. Per­haps our be­liefs were naive, our ef­forts mean­ing­less, our peril re­ally of no con­cern to any­one but our­selves. Such thoughts in­vaded the mind of each man, and got in fur­ther with some than with oth­ers. Soon these thoughts be­came dis­turb­ing. We had to try to man­age each other’s de­spair, also the oc­ca­sional fu­ri­ous out­burst. A sense of re­volt rose up in some, a heart­felt de­sire to force a trans­par­ent ac­count­ing of our sit­u­a­tion. What would our ef­forts gain us, ex­actly?, some of us wanted to ask. Was there a plan we could re­view, some­one who could ex­plain a timetable, give us the straight­for­ward what-for-what? We de­bated whom to con­tact, how to get word out about our wors­en­ing men­tal con­di­tion, though there was no doubt that most of us were strong and de­ter­mined men. We were do­ing our part, even though some had mis­giv­ings. We sent a man out to make con­tact with the direc­tors. He didn’t re­turn. One day a mes­sage came. Be pa­tient, it said. A de­scrip­tion of the heaven we were meant for was in­cluded, a truly beau­ti­ful land­scape of tran­quil­ity and ful­fill­ment. The au­thor told us he was sym­pa­thetic to our plight and its unan­tic­i­pated du­ra­tion. He said oth­ers were suf­fer­ing to a greater de­gree, be­cause they were not strong. Our time was com­ing, he said, and he was do­ing all he could to make the path eas­ier. Our food,

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