On Wednesday I left my house for the first tough bike ride in preparation for the 2012 season. I rode into the valley for some intervals but halfway through my first interval the sky let out a fury of powerful drenching cold rain. My first thought was discomfort at the cold and wet. However, within a few minutes I was absolutely drenched and enjoying every minute of it.
On my second of three intervals, a driver came up next to me and asked “Would you like a ride home?”
My response, as simple and meaningless as it initially appeared, means so much more to me now. I responded, “I live for this! Thank you though.”
A week ago I sat in Richmond cheering for the crowds of marathon runners flooding by just a block away from my house. The cheers were mostly the same, “Great job!”, “Keep it up!”, “You got this!”, “Looking strong!”. But the responses were so vast and unique that my friend and I began trying to connect responses with attitudes. Most people would just accept the cheers and praise and keep running. However, some felt obligated to give thanks or others felt the need to inform us how their day was really going.
We would look to each other with many of the responses in shock or appreciated but the one that attracted the most attention was a response to me encouraging the runners to keep it up. A single runner amidst a crowd of runners responded “We’re dead!”. First, we were cheering at mile 20 of the race. If you were not exhausted, you should be going faster or farther. Second, the response seemed almost a shunning of my cheers. The Richmond marathon is known as “America’s friendliest marathon” and a participant should be well aware that they are getting themselves into a race with a lot of cheering and support. I try to be empathetic by doing what I know I like. I like it when people cheer for me, no matter what the state of fatigue or how awful my day is going. But it was evident that he did not appreciate my cheers.
But the reality of his outcry for pity did not come until a few minutes later when a runner gimped by us holding his hip. He looked awful. His condition worried me so I asked, “Are you alright man?” But his response, one of the most beautiful, profound statements of courage I have ever witnessed struck me so deep that my friend and I looked at each other in absolute awe.
“I’ll live,” he responded. I’ll live. That’s what he said, a statement of unfailing optimism and persistence. The other runner drags everyone down to a deathly state with his words of pessimism and despair. But this guy, who appears to me to be having a much worse day, speaks of life. He knows that maybe he will end up in the hospital, but he is alive and will remain that way.
That is why people do those sort of things, for life. We are alive and so long as we are alive we are going to feel that way, and be that way, and exist in that life. No one can take that from us but death itself. This guy was going to run himself within an inch of death but that is not what concerned him. He knew he would be alive and is currently alive and that is what mattered to him.
He’ll never know how profound and meaningful his two words were that day. But he doesn’t need to. That is how he lives his life. The other runner is dead, a zombie, letting an incredible opportunity pass by because of his insistence on his overwhelming fatigue, something he believes I may have never felt before, something he looks for sympathy for. Little does he know, standing on the sideline in comfort is my bane. He thinks I’m more alive because I am not feeling pain, because I stand with khakis and slippers and a warm blanket. But he is wrong to envy my comfort and find death in his life.
The zombie would find no crime in taking that offer for a sheltered drive home on Wednesday. Water would have ruined his day. But for the “I’ll live” people, that is a bike ride that will be remembered and appreciated for a lifetime. I could have taken that car ride and been ‘comfortable’ and dry within minutes. But instead, even after I had ridden back up the mountain, I laced up the running shoes to enjoy the powerful venue from a different perspective. I wanted to exist, to feel pleasure and pain. I could sleep in my bed tonight. But instead I will set out on a backpacking adventure like none I have ever attempted. I could eat a huge meal and take a warm shower. But I’ve done that nearly every night, and nearly every one of those nights I will or have already forgotten. They are insignificant, providing no growth or excitement. To be within an inch of death is where we are most alive.
I will continue looking at my opportunities for their meaningful nature. I think how would that Thanksgiving meal feel had I gorged and watched movies all week? How would my extremely comfortable bed feel had I slept in it for five nights in a row already. This Thanksgiving I will sit at the dinner table and be able to give thanks for something real, my life and the comfort that surrounds it. It will be a Thanksgiving I will remember forever because of the profound reasons I will have to give thanks. I was born in a privileged family where meals are always there; my bed is a mattress and not a floor. I am receiving an amazing education surrounded by amazing people and have opportunities to learn incredible things every day.
But tonight, while one man would curse the cold and the pain splitting through his legs and torso, I will give thanks for the ability to feel, the understanding that I am alive. I live for that.