I spent the day yesterday helping chaperone about 75 third graders who were taking part in a day-long camp at Voyageur Environmental Center in Mound, Minnesota. I was assigned to help herd “Group C,” consisting of 24 very enthusiastic, very energetic 8- and 9-year olds.
As you know, third graders aren’t exactly my area of specialty. So I was given a glimpse of third-grade humor when one of the camp counselors, a “lumber-yack” named “Yohnny Yohnson from Visconsin” welcomed all the “tird graders” to his environmental session on logging in Minnesota. As soon as the Scandinavian pronunciation of “tird graders” fell from his lips, the kids started with the elbows and tittering: “Turd,” “turd,” “turd,” they whispered and giggled to each other in delight. Yohnny Yohnson just grinned at them. He was no fool. He knew exactly what tickled third graders’ funnybones.
The kids were dressed in all kinds of outdoor attire. It was a windy, cloudy day with the temperature in the low 50s. Most at least had a hooded sweatshirt. But there were shorts, sandals, hockey jerseys, blue jeans, sun hats, stocking caps, sweaters, and even a plastic grocery bag from Cub Foods—you name it and some kid had it on.
However, all day long, there was one shirt I couldn’t seem to shake. Every time I turned around, there was that pesky third-grade girl in her gray, long-sleeved tee-shirt. At first I couldn’t quite make out the words; there was so much printing on the back of the shirt that it was hard to read. Third graders sit still for approximately two seconds at a time and third-grade girls just love to hang all over each other. So between the moving and the fabric wrinkles and the draped arms of classmates and the fine print, it took me three or four tries before I got the whole message. This is what it said on the back of that little girl’s shirt:
"Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” – Lance Armstrong
For some reason, that girl’s shirt reminded me of an incident a few years ago when some members of my family decided to climb Camelback Mountain in Phoenix. Everybody climbs Camelback Mountain when they go visit Phoenix. I knew I could do it because I was a walker, a hiker, and a darn-stubborn woman.
But to this day, I can recall what that rock looked like about three-quarters of the way to the top—the rock where I stopped, sat down, and declared I couldn’t walk another step. My legs were like rubber. I couldn’t breathe because of the altitude. I just sat down and quit. Everybody else kept going, and there I sat, waiting for them to descend again. After I had regained my legs and my wind, I was embarrassed and regretful. But by then, it was too late. I had missed my chance.
I remember what the sky looked like that day because I had plenty of time to look at it while I waited. I can’t think back on that day on Camelback Mountain without feeling regretful, and I know now that I might not ever get a chance to try again. Like Lance says, “ . . . If I quit, it lasts forever.”
Next time I chaperone a bunch of “tird graders,” I’m going to stand behind someone wearing a “Lookin’ Like a Fool with Your Pants on the Ground” tee shirt. My mom-jeans are always neatly pulled up right around my waist, snapped nice and tight. I could read that shirt without any of those annoying conscience pangs that haunted me throughout the day yesterday, with Lance Armstrong gently reminding me that sometimes if we quit, we don’t get another chance.