If you had been standing near the finish line, you would have seen them cross, matching stride for stride, exactly equal. Their finish was so close that you might have imagined they were friends running together. But they were just two men who finished the race within sight of the winners but not winners themselves.
For every race, there are many more finishers than there are leaders or winners. We hear the stories of the ones who win, inspirational stories about how hard they prepared, how much determination they gathered, how focused they stayed. We seldom hear the stories of the two men who finished, within sight of the winners but not winners themselves. We assume that if the finish is the same, the stories are the same.
But if we were to go back to the beginning, we would find that the stories were very different. We would watch one man running for miles with his son on a bike beside him, urging him on. We would watch the other leave a comfortable office to pound the miles alone. We would watch one man give up practice time to sit at the hospital with a dying friend, and the other give up practice time to cheer on a favourite hockey team. We would watch one man decide to have another beer and the other to decide to stay up very late.
If we were to stand with them at the starting line, they would be different again. One would be all focus and determination and professionalism. The other would be relaxed, almost sloppy, only his eyes showing intensity. They would begin with a similar gait, a similar pace. But their focus would be different. One hears his breath and feels the sun on his skin. One is lost in thoughts of what will happen on the other side of a win.
At some point, maybe even the same point, each man would realize that a win was going to be just out of reach. Each would know the bitterness of being so close to the prize without reaching it. Each would feel his legs and heart and breath pound on to the finish. One would hear the voice of a child, cheering. One would hear the voice in his head, punishing. They would look the same, their faces contorted with effort, their muscles stiff with effort.
Two men cross the finish line, exactly in step. They can see the winners, but they are not among the winners. They are so in sync you might think they were friends. But they could never be friends. They are not in the same story. They have not even been running the same race.
They are just two men who happen to cross the line, together.