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Day 17: The Best We Can Do

“We are all only mortal…we do only what we can do. All the Elemental priests have certain teachings in common: one of them is that everyone, every human, every bird, badger, salamander, every blade of grass and every acorn is doing the best it can. This is the priests’ definition of mortality: the circumstance of doing what one can is that of doing one’s best. Only the immortals have the luxury of furlough. Doing one’s best is hard work; we rely on our surroundings because we must; when our surroundings change we stumble.” -Robin McKinley “Chalice”

I have read and re-read that passage many times this weekend. In this beautiful story of people trying to fulfill their tasks despite their limitations, the master in the story tells this to his chalice after having just come back to himself. I won’t say more, because it is a lovely read, but it has made me think of the moments when I have been able to truly come back to myself. The times when I have had the ability to accept the outcome of a situation, win or lose, because I knew deep down that I had done my best.


I have also noticed how and when I am unable to come back to myself. I have been paying attention to the moments when my doing what I can does not feel like enough. The places where I cannot witness the best I can do happen, not surprisingly, when I stand next to someone who seems to be doing better. Yesterday, my son played a tennis match against one of the top junior players in the world. My son is a good player and yesterday was his first match in six months due to a stress fracture.

To listen to his father talk about his son’s clarity, work ethic and raw talent and reflect on what a shame it was that my own son hadn’t been playing since the 2nd grade also made me pause and wonder. I was proud of the games that my son won off of this champion and realized that while this father was lamenting my son’s running out of time to become a champion, he was having an incredible moment, right here and now. We all dream of greatness in the things we can do. We all long to be seen and recognized for the best we have.

And yet it is a rare set of stars that have to align in the sky that allow our best to flourish enough to champion on this planet. So many things have to go right and so many other things have to be willingly sacrificed in the making of huge success. This is where our love affair with the champion comes from- We can’t get enough of the champions, the stars that seem to ride beside the immortals.

I guess we all want the luxury of the furlough too; the idea that we deserve a break from doing what we can. Even for the champions, I realized after listening to his father, there is no furlough. We all have a finite number of days to make the doing the best that we have. It is the benefit of the doubt that turns a loss into a win and in any circumstance gives us a fighting chance to be enough for ourselves. It is where positivity has to begin.