This is a story of how I started out going for a walk and ended up having an epiphany near the finish line of the Dublin marathon.
My feet were killing me! Being a Floridian, I don’t normally wear enclosed shoes and socks on a daily basis. Or ever. In my sandals, my bunions are unrestrained. I almost didn’t go to Merrion Square that Sunday, but didn’t want to spend the day just sitting in our hotel room either. Kevin was golfing that day at a local course with some colleagues. So I bandaged my bloody bunions and shoved them into my shoes. The park was just a couple of blocks around the corner from where we were staying. As I got closer, I could see something was awry. The street ahead was blocked off and I could see portable fences set up around the park. I surreptitiously checked my map (heaven forbid I look like a tourist) and yes, that blocked off park was indeed where I wanted to stroll. It didn’t look like I’d be doing that today, however. There were lots of people walking that direction, though, and instead of heading back to the hotel in defeat, I followed the crowd onward.
A small group of people had gathered at one spot and were talking to a man wearing an official-looking vest. He was pointing down the road even farther and then I figured out what was happening! I had come upon the finish line of the Dublin Marathon! A ways beyond the vest-wearing pointer I could see a large green banner that marked the finish line. Like a lemming following the crowd, I followed the people that were headed down the street and around the corner. I had to walk a ways before I found an avenue up to the actual street where the runners would come by. I could hear cheering and clapping (actually many people had those little plastic clappy hands that you shake and it claps for you, something I would come to wish I had as well). As I approached the clapping crowd, I managed to find a small niche where I could stand and see pretty well. The first runners had already come by. The crowd mellowed in those moments of no one coming, but then as the people closest to the street could see the runners coming, the cheering started again. The clappers clapped again. I found it impossible NOT to clap my hands as I saw my first marathoner run past, so close now to the finish line. Soon more and more runners came by.
I have to pause to say I am impressed by anyone who can run. I can walk for a good long time, but start to run, and I have to either sit down or hold my side within a couple of minutes. I can’t even imagine being able to run a marathon. (I can’t even imagine being able to run a 5K.)
It was fascinating, the runners’ different expressions and “running styles.” Some looked as though they were putting forth no effort whatsoever (young whippersnappers). Others looked more pained. Some were smiling. Some were grimacing. Some lifted their arms in that, “Come on, cheer for me!” way – – which we gladly obliged. Some looked moved to tears. Every now and then, someone would start to walk, holding his or her side, and you just knew they were on their last bit of energy. For those folks, we cheered even louder, clapped even harder! Encouraging words were tossed out as though that would make the pain go away. A man in a wheelchair went past, he used arm-power to get himself all the way to the end. Some of the runners were having a pretty rough time, and were being helped along by others. For those who seemed to be having the hardest time, we encouragers along the sidelines encouraged even more robustly. I clapped my hands so long that my hands were stinging and red and my watchband broke. But the word that kept coming to my mind was that this was “thrilling.”
You see, I’m probably never going to run a marathon. Have no desire to do so. But to be one of those who cheered on the runners, THAT thrilled me. That felt like my job.
This all makes me think of when Joshua is fighting the Amalekites (Exodus 17) and Moses is praying for him. When Moses had his hands lifted in prayer, Joshua would be winning. When Moses grew tired and lowered his hands, the Amalekites surged ahead. So two other guys, Aaron and Hur, actually help out by physically holding up Moses’ hands so he could continue praying and Joshua would win the battle. And so he did. And so THEY did. Joshua was on the frontlines, but he had several encouragers petitioning God on his behalf. We aren’t all meant to be the one everyone is looking at. But those out front need those of us along the sides to cheer them on.
I don’t know if I’m a Moses or an Aaron or Hur, but I’m typically not the “Joshua.” I wasn’t that day at the marathon. I wasn’t the one running to the finish line with thousands of onlookers cheering for me. Nor do I care to be. But to be one of the encouragers? One of the helpers? I think that’s my place.
And I find that thrilling.