Two young men slide up to the makeshift starting line in the gravel driveway. Their friends debate who will win this race, the crowd divided by loyalty. The boys who have been in the program longest have never seen their friend lose a race. The new guys have never seen him run, so they side with the younger, newer racer. They were racing for the title of fastest boy at Villedge, a Back2Back Cincinnati partner. Just as the race is set to begin, the first young man is given a 5-gallon bucket of rocks to carry. “Do you still want to race?” he’s asked. He nods in response, affirming he plans to outrun the boy next to him, even with a bucket
Ready. Set. Go.
They take off. The first boy keeps pace for the first ten steps, but the rocks throw off his balance. He wobbles, losing his footing, and rocks fly out of the bucket. The second runner pulls ahead as his opponent’s bucket tumbles to the ground. Soon after, the boys return to the house, wondering what this foot race and the retreat they’re attending have in common.
The house, sitting on a beautiful piece of land in Eastern Ohio, is where the teens were taken earlier in the day. For many, the drive was their first trip outside of Cincinnati, and the day had been filled with laughter, conversation, and new experiences.
The last boy enters the house, processing aloud.
“That was stupid. Who races with a bucket of rocks?!”
These young men get up, face hurdles, and pick up buckets of burden everyday. It can seem they are set up to lose. They may be smarter, faster, stronger, and more resilient than those they are racing, but the burden of their story can slow them down. They are left watching as others reap the rewards of a life they could live. Sports teams. Grades. Family. Work. Friendships. Someone else always seems to slip into their spot, because who wins a race with bucket of rocks?
Each young man realized they’ve been told a lie – a “man” is someone strong enough to carry their own burdens and still win. Walking through this discussion together has cultivated a unity among these twenty-five young men that’s still being felt.
Among their discussion were these questions: Why is this burden here? Would I still want to be in this community, if I didn’t have this burden? If I wasn’t carrying this burden, what would I want to be doing? What burden can I leave here?
Answering the final question on paper, they then placed those words in a fire. One less rock of shame to carry.