A couple weeks after the election, I ran a 10k. The course was a down-and-back route and the race event included a 5k, half -marathon, and marathon as well on the same route with staggered start times, so as you ran, there weren’t just people in front of and behind you but also crossing paths beside you headed the other direction. I was running with a friend, and we were apprehensive about maintaining a respectable pace because our training hadn’t been particularly rigorous, but something happened that made running non-stop both easier and more enjoyable than I had anticipated.
My friend started calling out encouragement to every runner that passed us heading the other way; “Good job!” “Way to go!” “Looking good!” “Keep it up!” I quickly followed her example, and found myself looking eagerly down the path for the next oncoming runner I could cheer on. Suddenly I wasn’t thinking about how many more miles I had to run before I crossed the finish line, but on how many meters before I could reach out to encourage another runner. I was no longer focused on the burning in my own lungs or legs, but on the faces of strangers that broke into grins, or, more often than not, shouted back, “You too!” Running is a solo sport, but on race day, we’re all on the same team, even if we’re not all running the same race.
These present days, in which myself and many of my fellow Americans find ourselves fighting to protect and uphold our values in the face of a malicious power that seems intent on destroying them, are in many ways like that race. There are many people of different levels of skill and access resisting the demise of decency, democracy, and the collective acknowledgement of the existence of objective facts, just as runners of different experience and ability participate in races of different lengths. Some are going to be more efficient in their efforts than others, but each of us would agree that the important thing is to keep going. Actively looking for opportunities to validate others’ efforts will not only encourage their endurance to not give up, but yours as well.
Cheering someone else on in their pursuit of justice or their resistance to tyranny can be as simple as “liking” a post or a comment on Facebook or Twitter, or as involved as sending a letter to a public figure or politician who is taking a stand. It could mean honking in support of protesters as you drive by, or joining the protest yourself. It’s just letting people know that you see them, appreciate their efforts, and want them to succeed, even if they’re not running the same race as you.
For my own part, finding the path that my efforts will take means leaning into my Christian faith and discerning what it means to act in accordance with Christ’s teachings in this context, (which of course is what I should have always been doing, but haven’t consistently managed). As I contemplated this post, I drew inspiration from a verse in Hebrews that uses the same metaphor of running. In the preceding chapter, the (unknown) author of Hebrews lists several people that acted “by faith”, taking actions despite not knowing, and sometimes not living to see, what the results would be. Then the passage continues;
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” –Hebrews 12:1
I love the wording of that line, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” It acknowledges that it’s hard, that it takes continual effort, and also that our struggle is probably different from one another and from the ones who have gone before us or who will come after us. The important thing is to stay focused on the goal, and press on towards it, and we can take encouragement from the recitation of all the “runners”, this “great cloud of witnesses”. We’re each running a solo race, but we’re not alone.
We may not know exactly where our route is headed until we get there, so all we can do is take each step as it comes. What is the right thing to do right now, in this moment? And then the next, and the next. Another passage that has been in my mind lately that speaks to this is from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional The Hobbit, when Bilbo is walking into the depths of the Lonely Mountain for the first time, not knowing for sure what he will find, but seeing the evidence mount that he’s headed towards a dragon:
“This grew into the unmistakable gurgling noise of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him.
It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.” –The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
The most important thing is for each of us to keep heading down the path that we know is right, no matter how fast or how slow, and no matter if we can’t see what’s coming around the bend. You’ll never know who might be having a ‘Bilbo moment’, or how much your simple encouragement could strengthen them to press on, and that perseverance just might be what makes the difference in the eventual defeat of the dragon.
So run your race, and shout out to your fellow runners. We’re all in this together.