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You find yourself in the midst of a crowd. It's a brilliant fall day, the day of the cross-country middle school league championship. Runners in different color jerseys stretch and mingle while they await the start time.

You are wearing your mom-hat, there to cheer on the oldest gingerbread boy. You find him. He is eating. Nine times out of ten if you were to go looking for the gingerbread boy, he would be eating. Such is the life of a growing boy. You wish him luck and offer him water and carbs.

The girls are scheduled to run first. The course follows a trail through the woods surrounding an immaculate golf course then doubles back to end yards from the starting point.

You and the youngest gingerbread boy follow the crowd of parents as they line up at the edge of the starting point. You cheer for the girls as the gun signals the start, then you follow along to the one-mile mark, the place where the girls emerge from the woods to skirt the edge of the golf green. Someone has a cowbell and shakes it as his runner goes by. You shout their names, encouraging them, clapping. "Go, go, go!" You look for the faces of your friends' children. "Good job!" you cheer. "You're doing great!" You're doing great.

When the runners thin out, the youngest gingerbread boy pulls you towards the finish line. You watch the clock. 11:36. 11:47. 12:04. 12:14. The lead runners are visible. The first one crosses the finish line. 12:42. The next one comes in. There's a trickle, then a flood as girls race to the finish.

You look at these beautiful children, on the cusp of being teenagers, their faces red and sweaty and earnest. Some are triumphant as they cross the finish. Some are clearly in pain. Some are huffing and puffing, steady runners. Some can hardly walk. Some look like they're going to vomit.

They are vulnerable. They are trying so hard. They have pushed themselves to their limit. And you are inspired, moved by their earnest faces, filled with love for these kids you don't even know. As you watch them, the thought comes to you that these are the children you write for. This is your audience.

This is why you write.


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