Updated: December 9, 2013 10:34AM
There is something about seeing my daughter run that makes me cry.
Whether she is trekking up a hill in cross-country, or trudging over another mile amid the cold and other elements — through the rain. Or whether she is running across an emerald field, there is something that makes me cry. Something special.
She was born with jaundice. Hours later she lay in an incubator under blue bilirubin lights. I remember sitting on the side of the hospital bed, keeping close watch. I remember calling the nurse to her side when it appeared the lights were too warm.
I remember how as a little girl she suffered severe eczema and the visits my wife and I made to the doctor to try and help her overcome. Eczema and jaundice turned out to be no match for Imani. Then came the diagnosis in the fifth grade of a “learning disability” — nonverbal learning disorder.
We assured her that she didn’t have a disability but a challenge. That challenges in life are meant to be overcome. That being different and learning differently was not something she should be ashamed of. That she would have to work harder, perhaps longer, but that she would succeed if she made one promise: to not quit.
We told her we loved her. That we would help her. Stand with her. Cheer for her.
Then came the words of others — harmful, hurtful, bruising. The doubters.
And yet, Imani continued to smile, sometimes through her tears, sometimes after them. In a way, I guess, she has always managed to just keep running. Maybe the act of running is our way of fighting back, a tangible symbol of Imani’s decision to be an overcomer rather than give in to the diagnoses, psychoses, prognoses and other challenges that suffocate many dreams.
Watching Imani run over the last four years — over track fields and cross-country courses — has reminded me how important it is for children to dream. Of the importance of children — and even adults — to learn to not listen to the “hate” of dream slayers and killjoys, sometimes family.
I was reminded of the cruelty of others. Reminded that sticks and stones may break your bones but words can scar the psyche and soul: “Retarded.” “Stupid. “Dummy.” “Weirdo.” “Lame.”
And yet, I was reminded most that there is no match for the soul that chooses to hold onto hope, to work and to simply keep running.
There are life lessons in running: Attack the hills — and realize that a hill is not a mountain. Relax, breathe, and maintain your form. Even if you’re elbowed, obstructed or nearly knocked to the ground, don’t give up — keep your poise, keep moving, run for your life, run toward your dream. Stay with the pack. Don’t look back.
And let your mind be a field of dreams. Let faith be the seeds that take root therein. Let hard work and determination be faith’s nourishment. Let perseverance, persistence and discipline be the rain, fertilizer, and pruner of your labor. And don’t quit. Stay in the race. Whatever you do, never ever quit.
Imani chooses to run.
I watched her this past weekend, cross the last bridge, rounding the bend at her final high school cross-country meet, determined, relentless, giving it her all — having courageously faced every challenge.
I cheered. And I cried.