Failure is a fleeting memory in the throes of success
He and his friends could see the torment of another child and could reach out to him despite their own anguish. Isn't that a greater victory than winning a mere race?
From the day my (then) seven-year-old son was selected as part the relay team for the annual sports day meet, he could not focus on anything else. He sought tips from all and sundry, practised frequently, had imaginary races which he acted out, discussed half-baked strategies with the team, had arguments on who should run first . the race so completely consumed him that nothing else seemed to be of any significance.
As D-day drew near, he decided that this was going to be the most important race of his life! We tried to tell him to take it easy, it doesn't matter whether he wins it or not. And he should give his best shot and enjoy the race. There will be many more races coming his way. If he couldn't ace this, go for the next.
But our words wouldn't soothe his jagged nerves!
Finally, the big day dawned and I took a day off to be with him for the 'crucial' race of his life. I could see his tiny frame tense with anticipation and as his mother I so badly wanted to protect him from any possible disappointments or heartbreaks.
I hoped he remembered our long discussions on why it's not very important to win but to play fair and how sport helps us to bond and inculcate team spirit.
The whistle to start the race went off and I watched with a pounding heart as the first runner in the team took a considerable lead and handed over the relay baton to my son.
The little fellow flew on the track with all the strength and courage he could muster and he did a perfect job of handing over the baton to the next member. By now his team had an almost unbeatable lead and I started rejoicing.
As the baton was being handed over to the last runner there was a slip up and it was dropped. There was a collective 'oh' from the stands and I watched in horror as the last runner on the team tried to pick up the baton and make a run for it.
It was too late as the other teams had surged towards the finishing line taking full advantage of the lease of life that had been given to them unexpectedly.
My son's team finished last despite the phenomenal lead, days of preparation and mammoth efforts. My heart broke into a million pieces as I looked at his tear-streaked face.
I saw him and his team moving towards the child who had dropped the baton and who was now a picture of sheer misery with overflowing eyes and quivering lips.
My heart skipped a beat as they gathered around him. They hugged him. Tears flowed freely and washed away the sorrow of losing. Soon there was a round of backslapping, pushing around in typical boys' style as they moved back to their designated spots in the stands.
Not one member had ridiculed or belittled the little fellow who had floundered. The team spirit that bonded them was incredible.
It was one of life's bitter lessons that these young men, all of seven, learnt that day. Although we plan or prepare to the fullest, life will not always live up to our expectations. So cry over it and move on.
I realised that no matter how many races my son goes on to win or lose, this particular one will remain etched in my memory. He and his friends could see the torment of another child and could reach out to him despite their own anguish. Isn't that a greater victory than winning a mere race?
Fast forward a few years, I am watching the live telecast of Chandrayaan 2 with my son. As Vikram Lander veers away from its path and a pall of gloom descends at India's space agency, my son looks at me sadly. As he notices the disappointment on my face, he forgets his own misery and wraps his arms around me.
He wants to make things right for me somehow despite being miserable himself. He was so looking forward to this moment but life has taught him well.
We sat there, united in our sorrow but with hearts filled with pride. We thought of the many people sharing the same feelings that night. Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) had brought the daunting 'rocket science' into our living rooms. It sowed the seeds of ambition and powerful dreams in young minds that night. It had cleared the way for many to reach for the stars.
We learnt to accept failure as a miniscule setback on our way to something bigger and breathtaking. Most of all, it taught us that failure packages many small and big successes within.
Annie Mathew is an educator and writer based in Dubai