I’m supposed to be reading about the Holy Spirit, researching for a paper my colleague and I are giving at an academic conference in conjunction with our denomination’s biennial.
I can’t shake this sense of isolation, this sense of unease. I’m pretty extroverted by design, so this tends to happen when I have entire days spent alone, as happened on Monday. And then, when I was sitting at my computer, news started to trickle in about something happening near the end of the Boston Marathon course. It was all convoluted and confusing. Now we know more details, but not enough. Though I only knew second-hand of people running the race, it shook me to my core, and I’m still having a hard time articulating specific reasons.
I’ve been trying to understand this sense of isolation. Running is one way I confront that. Writing is another. So here are some words.
I’ve not ever run a full marathon. I have run nine half marathons, and have my tenth coming up in just over a week. I’ve been at finish lines. I’ve crossed finish lines. I know that experience. I cannot imagine the fear, terror, shock of crossing the finish line as it is turned into a battle zone.
It has me thinking about why this event has left me feeling so hollow – thousands of miles away, separated by degrees from the individuals in the race. But we are not isolated. We runners are not alone. Though, in many ways I run to be truly alone. I don’t have a family from which to escape; I live alone. And yet. Running takes me at once both fully outside myself and within my own self in ways that transcend whatever chaos or routine surrounds the rest of my moments and days. Running puts me in touch with my body and my mind and my soul in ways that I have not found through stillness or silence. When I try to sit and think, pray, meditate, I get distracted. When I run, I must keep going, and yet the rhythm of feet on pavement, of measured, and yet labored, breath, allows me to hear what’s really happening beneath the surface stress and anxiety.
I never run alone. Technically, these days, I mostly run alone. And at other times I have had more consistent running partners. In the larger sense, I do not run alone. I have trained for races with friends and family in other states, and sometimes we run races together. Other times we start races together and reunite at the finish. Either way, we share the accomplishment. We share the exertion. And (most importantly?) we share the feast that follows – often involving eggs and bacon.
As I neared the finish at each of the races I’ve finished I almost lose my breath for the lump in my throat. The sense of accomplishment is almost too overwhelming – but not just for me. I know, to the core of my wearied, weathered body, that I am not alone. All these people – we run together. We run alone, for only our bodies, our spirits, can carry us from start to finish, but we run together.
If I may wax even more philosophical – running for me is church. We, in so many ways, only know our own faith, our own struggle, our own spiritual journey. And yet. We are not alone in the faith together. We do not run alone. We are caught up in each other’s stories and journeys. Running reminds me of this in powerful and profound ways. Running reminds me of my own strength. Running makes me stronger. And this is realized for me most powerfully in the experiences of last miles before the finish line and the joy of the finish line. Whether I run a race pace-for-pace with a friend, or alone, I know that I am not alone. I have done a lot of celebrating and accomplishing in my life, but nothing has felt like quite the sheer joy and emotion of crossing the finish line, and finding the friends or family I love and celebrating and sharing that with them.
I remember the first half marathon I did – through dirt, and water, and rain and muck. After getting lost and running who knows how many extra miles, the ridiculous sense of relief of finding the finish line could not be marred by the cold and wet clothes we wore.
I remember the Cowtown half marathon, on a beautiful morning in Fort Worth, a year after having my heart broken, felt like a journey come full circle – and might have been the first time I realized I don’t just run, I am a runner.
The Philly half marathon – sharing that experience with a soul sister – and the stack of pancakes as our reward. And later that year sharing with my sister her first half-marathon, and the joy of accomplishment reflected on her face, might have been one of my proudest moments.
The first (and second) times I crossed the finish line of the Bearathon – the toughest half in Texas – with friends, lovelies, who carried me, who carried each other – up and down hills (and onto cups of coffee and breakfast feasts).
I cannot begin to fathom the isolation of those moments being ruptured by violence, attack, fear. It doesn’t make sense; it’s not supposed to.
What remains true is this – is God’s own truth – we are not alone.
I say all this, I share all this to remind myself.