Directly prior to the final race for the 2006 Piston Cup, rookie racer Lightning McQueen performed his usual pregame ritual, repeating to himself the phrase “Speed, I am speed.” However, McQueen’s obsessive preoccupation with speed ultimately led him to carelessly blow two tires and lose an entire lap lead on lap 399 of the Dinoco 400, tying with two other racers. Despite the tie, McQueen ultimately benefited from this experience because he learned the importance of slowing down and enjoying life. Though I often find it difficult to not get too caught up in my own problems, over the past few years, I have tried to get myself to slow down and be aware of the extraordinary people, places, and events that make up an ordinary Westminster experience.
One of my most valuable school experiences occurred on an early spring-semester morning of my Junior year. I planned to arrive at school at 7:00 a.m. in order to study for the day’s history test on the French Revolution. I was operating under a robotic agenda designed to maximize the grade on my test, and I hypnotically carried out my morning routine. However, prior to entering my car, I fell victim to a stray tennis ball disguised by the predawn darkness. Misstepping on the neon-orb, I commenced my unfortunate plunge through the bitter February air, allowing my left temple to arrive at its intimate meeting with the damp 6 a.m. concrete. Though the faceplant ravaged my morning’s rigid schedule, it forced me to wake up from my own passivity in order to adapt to the trials that life threw at me. I was glad that the incident produced an unforgettable memory that forced flavor and challenge into what otherwise would have been a drab and forgettable day. The experience reminded me to step away from the storm of tasks in my own head in order to focus on the lively world around me and the people in it.
Someone who has mastered this ability to be aware of the people around him is Labib Mamun. I’ll never forget Labib. Everybody always talks about how great Labib is, and I’ll tell you why. During a long football practice last summer, I was feeling worn down and nauseous because I decided to take a nap between our lift and practice rather than eat. As practice was winding down, I briefly mentioned to Labib that I forgot to eat lunch –not even that I was hungry or needed food– just that I forgot lunch. It was merely small-talk and I didn’t think much of the conversation. About 45 minutes later, after carrying my sweat-drenched helmet and shoulder pads back to the gym and taking my cleats off with the rest of the guys, I found my signature spot in the deepest corner of the locker room where I sat down, leaned my head back, and closed my eyes to rest a little bit before putting away my gear. When I opened my eyes back up, Labib was right there to hand me a bag of Cheez-Its that he had saved in his locker, saying he figured I needed something to eat. Though it may seem small, this moment was something I’ll never forget, and it showcases how real of a friend Labib is. I couldn’t tell you how many times myself and others have filled the airwaves during practice with complaints of how much work we had to do for school and college, and that’s because everyone of us truly had so many things going on in our own lives. Considering how involved he was in the community last fall, Labib probably had one of the busiest lives of us all, yet he still took the time to actually listen to me and help me out when I was complaining and too worried about myself.
Labib’s selfless awareness and care for others is an extraordinary quality of many Westminster teachers and students that allows them not only to lend care and understanding to others but also to not get dragged down by the stressors of their own lives. The value of this awareness and attention to detail is one of the most important things I’ve learned at this school, inspiring me to slow down and observe the extraordinary beauty in the small moments of our ordinary days. These slices of life are what I’ll never forget about Westminster.
I’ll never forget the moments like returning to school at the end of the summer when the weather is magnificent and everyone looks fresh and well-rested or lying out in the scorching summer sun with my teammates after two hours of lifting and conditioning or watching the Westminster family slowly clear the football field through the empty Friday nights that fell silent after three hours full of screaming and cheering or feeling the joy and excitement radiate through the music-filled, 75-degree air in front of Pressly on Friday afternoons when everyone got out of their final classes.
Looking back, I’ve noticed that all of my best memories at school have come when I took a break from my own worries and tasks to simply observe the beautiful scenes of life. These memorable scenes were never during extravagant, built-up events, but rather naturally occurring around me. At a place like Westminster, it’s not hard for us to find ourselves forgetting about the amazing people and world around us as we race toward our own “Piston Cups.” However, if you can slow down and take a step away from your own hypnotic agenda, you’ll realize that often the “Piston Cup” you may be chasing is nothing more than what Lightning McQueen describes as “just an empty cup.” The true reward of life isn’t some award or trophy but is present at all times around you in the relationships and memories you’ve taken the time to make. So, stop, look around, and find the extraordinary life in what may seem to be just another ordinary day.