April 16, 2013

Thoughts on the Finish Line: Boston

I sat down at my desk just past 6am to write in my journal, as I do every day. After marking the date and day -- April 16, Tuesday -- my fountain pen moved along the page to form "the day after the Boston Marathon got bombed," and my eyes filled with tears. I feel so, so sad.

The horrendous details known as I write this -- three dead and more than 180 wounded, according to CNN -- are devastating, particularly considering the description of the types of injuries I have read in various reports about the blasts near the finish line of this iconic race, the world's oldest marathon.

Anyone who has ever been at the finish line of any race, whether as a spectator or as a competitor, has experienced its magical qualities. On any other day, this area is just a city street or a town square. But on race day there is nothing like it in the universe—it becomes a place where long-held dreams are fulfilled and new ones are born.

Each one of us who has ever accepted the challenge to try to race a certain distance, particularly the marathon, was forever changed at a finish line.

Who knew that there was this person inside of us with the will, determination, imagination and the simple faith that they could cover 42 kilometres and 195 metres on foot? The time it took did not matter, truly it does not. (If anything, the longer you needed the more courage the effort required.)

Those who prove to themselves that they, too, can run a marathon simply by doing it float across that finish line into a new identity, a marathoner. They are forever altered as the seemingly impossible just became reality because they made it so, one step at a time.

Runners never travel alone, however, even if theirs is a personal quest. Everyone around the runner is touched by their explorations as they prepare for the journey to that finish, that closure of a chapter -- often several chapters – which in turns open up a new and broader horizon. 

Husbands, wives, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, colleagues, and sometimes even perfect strangers, come to witness the culmination of their efforts, somewhere along the marathon course but most often especially at the finish line. The energy released and exchanged among those waiting and those arriving is palpable and magnetic.

“I am at my best nearing the finish of a race. Until then I am just another mediocre distance runner… But with the finish in sight, all that changes. Now I am the equal of anyone. I am world class. I am unbeatable. Gray-haired and balding and starting to wrinkle, but world class. Gasping and wheezing and groaning, but unbeatable,” wrote Dr George Sheehan in Running & Being: The Total Experience.

Any and every race is a celebration of all the training an athlete has put in over weeks, months, years. The finish line is the zenith of that celebration. It is both the symbolic and the tangible end of a pilgrimage that is nothing short of transformational, the sacred destination after a long journey where every person fights their own battles, struggles with their own demons, and hews their own paths to come out victorious.

Reaching the finish is proof of that, each and every time, and of immeasurable value to the soul. 

Every marathon, every race, is a journey of hope. It is about gathering courage, strength, and discovering another Self within. Running is about the drive to become a better person, about opening up to possibility -- for ourselves and for those around us. It is about believing in that which we cannot see, that which we cannot touch other than with our hearts.

The finish line is a gathering of spirit, and a belief in that human spirit -- the drive to improve ourselves, to challenge our own assumptions about what we think we can do, to defy self-doubt, to grow, to release what is hidden in our everyday persona, a character we have adopted without wondering often enough what else we might have to give.

Running is a quest for awareness, insight and understanding -- of our Selves and, with that, the Universe. It is about finding that we can extend ourselves and liberate another part inside of us we did not expect to see there. 

The finish line is innocence, happiness, gratitude, and potential -- both the one realized and the fresh potential uncovered, all in one step that passes underneath that timing clock, a rite of passage not just registered by the chip on our laces or ankle, or the BIB number pinned to our chest. It is felt deeply and stored in our psyche so we can touch its essence whenever we need it.

The finish line is a gathering of human potential, that of the individual and of the collective. We reach it by transcending the ego, towards and into the Self. Every marathon prompts an honest inner dialogue that soars beyond words in our brain into peace and stillness in our mind; this quiet conversation with the Self occupies our entire body, permeates the Spirit and lifts us to that finish line, the start of a renewed and more inspired life.

My love, my mother, my father, my sister, my dog, my best friends have waited for me at finish lines, craning their necks in anticipation to watch me complete the next leg in my pilgrimage. Willing me closer to my goal, the loved ones patiently standing guard at that otherwise ordinary place in history and geography just to witness what they know to be important to me, and therefore for them. 

I, too, have waited at many finish lines, cheering my loved ones -- Tim, my sister, best friends, team mates, competitors -- in their own pedestrian pilgrimages. Witnessed, and shared in, their personal victories of goals reached, fresh ones conceived in the sheer joy that comes with achievement.

Each of the more than one-hundred finish lines I have crossed held me still in time and simultaneously propelled me forward.

It could have been my love, father, mother, sister, friend, colleague, dog at that finish line yesterday, and it could have been me. Therefore I feel it was me, though I realize I cannot fathom the true extent of what it must be like for those affected.

At that finish line we all become one and that is why I feel so incredibly sad about what happened to all of us yesterday at the Boston Marathon. My thoughts are with you.

No comments: