With apologies to Aesop
One day the hare felt rather frisky. He was boasting that he was the best hare in all of Holmes, Wayne, and Coshocton Counties. He jumped up and down, flexed his muscles, and ran his mouth. Close by, the tortoise crept along the woodland path not giving much heed to anything except finding breakfast. Whereas the hare was loudmouthed and arrogant, the tortoise was mild-mannered and tended to his own business. All the neighbors in Berlin Woods had little good to say about the hare, but they loved the tortoise.
The tortoise was just creeping into the small clearing when the hare challenged anyone in Berlin Woods to a race. “I bet I can beat anyone in any race. I am better than any four footed, two footed, upright, downright, upside down, or downside up creeper, walker, or racer. I can beat anyone, under any circumstances. I am the fastest and best,” he boasted lifting his ears straight toward the sky.
The woods rang with his boastful words. Racky, Tracky, and Smacky, the Raccoon triplets smirked at his words, but remained silent. Smacky wanted to challenge him to a tree climbing contest, but thought better than to draw attention to himself. Blossom Possum smiled but said nothing. Hoot sat on a branch and wisely refrained from giving advice. Chic Adee clung to the bark of a big oak tree eating a delicious breakfast of ants.
Suddenly, a wee voice spoke out, “I will race.”
The hare stopped his bragging and cocked one ear forward. “Who has accepted the challenge?”
“I did,” the wee voice spoke again.
The hare looked all around and up into the branches, but could not find the speaker. “Where are you?”
“Here I am. Down here.”
The hare looked down but all he saw was the tortoise.
“I don’t see anyone. Who are you?”
“It is me, the tortoise.”
The hare stared at the tortoise in surprised and then burst out laughing. He laughed so hard that he fell over backward. He rolled in the grass laughing hilariously. His laughter brought more of the animals to the clearing.
Finally, when the hare had emptied his laughing box he stammered, “I will not race you. I have more dignity than that. Go find an ant to race.”
He then kept bragging about his ability. Hoot looked down at the hare. “You challenged anyone to a race. The tortoise accepted that challenged. You said ‘anyone’ so are you going back on your word?”
The hare pondered Hoot’s words as the Raccoon triplets challenged him to keep his words. Chic chipped him on. Blossom looked him square in the eyes and smiled his challenge. All the other animals cheered.
“All right, I’ll race you,” the hare said to the tortoise. Let’s get started.”
“Not yet,” the tortoise responded in a small voice. Let’s wait until after dinner.”
“What! Let’s get this over.”
“You said you would race anyone under any conditions. I want to wait until after dinner.”
The tortoise was interrupted by the raucous laughter from the hare. After he quit laughing the tortoise spoke again. “How far do you want to race?”
The hare lifted himself to his full height. “I will make it easy for you. I will give you plenty of time. Let’s start at the big rock and finish right here. Do you agree?”
“I do. After dinner?”
“Of course,” said the hare in a disinterested tone of voice.
After dinner when the hare had filled himself with delicious carrots he showed up at the big rock. Most of the woodland animals were strung along the path from the big rock to the clearing. The hare, feigning indifference lay down in the grass to wait on the tortoise. It was time to start the race before the tortoise slowly crept to the rock.
“Okay, get ready,” wise old Hoot, hooted. When I hoot three times, run!
The hare got up, yawned, and ambled to the tortoise’ side. “Did you have your dinner?” he asked sarcastically.
“Yes, thank you,” the tortoise responded cheerfully.
“Hoot.” Everyone stretched forward.
“Hoot.” Tension was in the air as the crowd anticipated the last hoot.
The tortoise crept forward as fast as his little legs could go. The hare did not move. The tortoise continued his slow way forward. The crowd watched as the hare lay down. The tortoise crept out of sight around the bend. Suddenly the hare jumped up and streaked forward, charged around the bend, passed the tortoise in a blur, and disappeared.
The tortoise, not looking to either side, continued his slow walk forward. Meanwhile, the hare being almost at the finish line, stopped. He went to the side of the path and lay down. “I’ll just take a little nap,” he said to the crowd.
The tortoise crept forward an inch at a time. The silent crowd was almost embarrassed at the slow progress of the tortoise. Oblivious to the atmosphere of the crowd the tortoise focused on finishing the race. Slowly, inch by inch, the tortoise came closer to the finish line. The sleeping hare dreamed of carrots and prestige.
When the tortoise came up to the sleeping hare, he padded silently past and made his way to the finish line. The crowd gasped as he crept forward. When he was within reach of the finish line the cheering crowd awoke the hare. He opened his eyes and looked down the path but did not see the hare. He then looked toward the finish line where the tortoise was ready to step across. The hare flew into action, and raced forward. But, alas the hare was an ear short of winning the race. The tortoise stepped over the line.
I decided to interview the hare about this dramatic race but he refused, so I interviewed the tortoise. I discovered that the tortoise knew something that we all need to know.
“Why did you accept the race? Surely, you knew that you could not win?”
The tortoise looked at me for a moment before replying. “No, I did not know that I could not win. I did not race to win anyway.”
“I don’t understand,” I responded puzzled. “What do you mean, you did not race to win?”
“I did not race to beat the rabbit,” he said in his short sentence way.
“But you entered the race.”
“Very true. The hare wanted to beat me. I did not need to beat him. He needed to win a race. I needed to run in a race.”
I was puzzled, but I thought I was slowly beginning to understand the tortoise.
“The rabbit ran against me. I did not run against him. I did not run to win. I ran to finish. You see, the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong.”
I slowly understood what the tortoise saw. We all are in a race: the race of life. The race is not a competition against anyone. This is not that kind of race. We do not challenge anyone so we can feel good about ourselves. The challenge is to go forward day by day, moment by moment. The race is not to the swift, but to the deliberate, the focused, the visionary. The race must be completed. Though others may be swift, they may also be the losers. It is better to stay focused and remain slow, than to be fast and distracted.
The hare depended on his own ability. His ability was his long legs. His objective was to win in order to feel feel good about himself. His own ability, which was his strength made him over confident. His perspective was out of tune because he focused on himself. The tortoise did not focus on his ability. He didn’t have ability to put against the hare’s ability. He looked at the goal. He pressed in. He won.