The first time I ran three miles, I almost cried when I saw the 7-Eleven up ahead. My lungs ached; my legs felt like a ton of bricks; my heartbeat thumped loud in my ears and mocked the sound of sneakers on concrete. I was acutely aware of every movement, every step forward to the invisible finish line.
It wasn’t a race.
But us slow pokes in the back have trouble remembering that. We round the next corner and spot a street sign up ahead.
“Make it to that crosswalk and then, maybe, you can take a quick break.”
And then we pass the crosswalk and refocus on a new landmark. That’s the way life should be handled: as a series of stops we should conquer one at a time. Don’t look too far ahead, kid. You’ll freak yourself out.
Someone should have told us that. Someone should have written us a letter when we were just old enough to read and said that life is a marathon—not a sprint.
Instead, we had to wait until we could grasp the metaphorical concept sung about on the radio and written about in books and challenged in movies. We had to figure it out slowly over time, after we already pressed hard harder hardest toward the end.
To take the 30 seconds to stop and look at where we’re at, who we’re with, what we’re doing, that’s crazy, right?
My senior year of high school, I finally figured out the whole running thing. I’m high strung by nature, but the day I ran my best, the clouds covered the sun and the light breeze cooled my back as I started from the back of the pack and picked the girls off, one by one, like flowers on tree branches as I eased by them. I wasn’t aggressive or laid back; I found a rhythm and I trusted myself.
That’s the way to go through life.
Instead, we’ve turned to vices. A quick cigarette here to ease the nervous jitters. A shot of tequila to make that guy in the corner by the jukebox look worthy enough to take home. And then the invisible ones:
Surveying a room full of strangers and knocking each of them down three rungs on some beauty ladder by tearing apart their bad hair dye job or their orange skin tone or their extra little flab around the waist.
We have become experts in grabbing onto someone else and using them to pull ourselves up higher. In life, in love, in the workplace.
We’ve taught ourselves that the only way out is through. Through holes in hearts and cracks in consistency and the pieces of us that break off when we shed pounds in preparation for bikini season the way dogs shed fur.
Have we forgotten to believe in helpfulness? In buying the box of girl scout cookies from the 7-year-olds dancing and skipping and begging us to pay attention please, oh please, just this once, it’s for a good cause?
All of it’s become extra weight we don’t need to carry around.
We’ve forgotten about connections.
About linking hands and hearts and creating an army of good to battle the bad in our past, present, future. We’re warriors fighting against each other when really, we should band together against the disease and terror and heartbreak that threatens to kill us each and every day.
Have we forgotten to sweep our neighbor’s sidewalk when the leaves fall or the snow piles up? To take in their delivered package on the porch when it’s raining and they’re on vacation?
We forgot about Gandhi. About being the change we wish to see in the world. Instead, we see the face in the mirror transform into the change we should’ve avoided.
The good news is that it’s never too late to get it back. What will you do today to turn it around?