“It’s a fun run. We all have to do it,” Jaylin told me. “You should come.”
So I did come, not to run but to watch. Not just to watch but to help. On my arrival, they were breaking for lunch, so I set out along the course marked out, intending to pick up random discards: cups, juice pop wrappers, and other assorted trash. Wouldn’t want the kids to trip and fall.
As I walked, I also read the signs. Professionally printed on foam boards and stuck in the ground like political placards, personalized signs urged kids on in their running. Each sign had been purchased for $10 – this was a fundraising event. This elementary school, classified a Title I school, is in an impoverished neighborhood. These families didn’t have extra cash. Someone who loved these children paid for the privilege of encouraging them.
As I walked I read. As I read, I prayed. As I prayed, I shed tears. Oh, the love of these parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. I wondered about each little one’s story. I spoke thanks into the spring breeze for these teachers and administrators who had purchased signs encouraging these kids.
And then out came the next batch of kids, full of energy and enthusiasm, cheering for themselves and their classes.
“Parents,” the teacher with the microphone said, “you can spread out anywhere on the course.”
Though not a parent to these children and yet with no volunteer position assigned, I seized the opportunity to head out onto the course – ALL the way to the fence, clear across the field, to the middle of the backstretch. I was alone there. Just me, the backstop, two big trees and the soccer field beyond the fence.
Then, here came the kids!
I clapped, shouted and whooped as they came by. Some smiled, some looked away, and some pretended not to notice. Next time around, I offered high fives: “High fives! Free high fives! A little extra energy…who needs a little extra energy!”
Now really here came the kids. They would re-route to slap me five, cut off classmates, even, to swing near. A few slowed to a walk to get a “re-charge.” I learned a few of their names. Plenty complained that their stomachs were hurting, it was hot, they were exhausted. Some of the walkers began jogging when they saw me. A few stayed wide and clear of traffic to get in as many laps as possible.
Some walked and read each sign. Looking for theirs. A teacher had stopped to take Alexandra’s picture next to hers – I’m sure to be able to share with the family – but now kids were asking, “Where is MY sign?” “Can you help me find my sign?”
I had counted about 75 signs, but there were hundreds of kids.
I was their sign… “You can do it!” “Look at you go!” “Way to keep up the pace!” Way to keep going!” “Whoa, you’ve run how many laps?!””I’m so proud of you!”
Free high fives, free energy, free encouragement. That’s all I had. Nothing for sale. Everything to give. Cost me nothing. And it filled me up.
Suddenly, one little first grader came ’round the bend. I held out my high-5 hand but instead she grabbed me around the middle and held me tight, for just a second, before jogging on.
Oh my. Filled to the very brim. What had I done to deserve this plenty?
I cajoled the last three girls to complete their last lap. One jogged, one walked, one made me wait saying she didn’t want to run…and then sprinted ahead of me shouting, “I bet I can beat you!!”
And so they did. So they all did.
I watched them enjoying their juice pops and meandered by. Not a soul noticed. Not a soul cared.
I looked again at those fund-raising signs, with names of these little ones printed in colorful ink, all in a row along the course they had run. They had run and not grown weary, walked and not grown faint.
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. ~ Isaiah 40:31
What had first looked like tombstones set in a row, now looked like runways set for take-off. Even the crazy guy, Rob, who advertised “best deals on cruises” by donating 10 bucks to the cause must have known what I now know, that Alta Vista Eagles are meant to soar.
What a privilege it is to witness them take flight.
I’m walking to yoga class. It’s not far, maybe half a mile. I’ve left enough time. No rush.
Coming ’round the bend, a car slows and the driver peers out the window. I know her from yoga class. She’s offering me a ride, which I decline. She continues along her way and I along mine.
Ahead of me, I see another classmate exiting her house and striding along the sidewalk. See? Another walker, plenty of time… but she is quickly pulling away, must not have seen me, must be in a hurry, may be in a mood.
Oh but…Look up at the cotton white clouds that decorate Carolina blue skies. There, the egret stands in the tall shore grasses. Sweet lily pads wave at me as I cross the bridge, a ruddy duck floats among them. Is that a heron just flying overhead? Of course, there are those noisy black ravens, cawing, cawing and oh my, the squawk, the shudder, the screech of those hilarious Sandhill Cranes, always in two’s. Keep away from our nest!
I arrive at yoga, find a spot and settle in on my mat. After class I thank my neighbor who had offered the ride. “I like to walk,” I tell her, hoping she’s not offended.
“Oh, I like to walk, too,” she says. “Three times everyday. We do our 10,000 steps.”
Is this what walking is now? To be quantified, measured, and recorded? Have we squeezed out all the juice and found the pulp sour but good for us? Oh, if we could only see ourselves, see in ourselves, to see for ourselves all the signs and wonders and magnificent gifts at our very door step.
Oh, the places we’d go if we realized the places we are.
That moment when you’re
r e a c h i n g
than you’ve ever reached before.
Just a little. bit. more.
S T R E T C H I N G
closer than you’ve ever been before.
Your thighs are burning
oh, it h u r t s,
but that’s how you get there.
until it flattens on the floor.
That moment when you’re
. S T U C K .
Can’t go further.
Can’t get out.
Can’t get up.
One foot gone right,
the other so far left,
past pulling back, and well beyond shouting distance.
Here in the middle it’s
…aaaagonizing… and (embarrassing)
Must. choose. now.
rip and crumple,
turn and topple,
… S l i i i p p p i n g…
Lift and pray.
Why do we wait?
Love wants to answer.
But true love waits
to be asked.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
~ 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8