Taking Back the Finish Line on No Stop Monday

Fear and grief often paralyze a person and leave that person cowering and afraid to move forward. A person can imagine superhuman strength and ability to withstand the tests to the human spirit, but each and every one of us has a breaking point where darkness can sneak up on us, consume us, and leave us prostrate unable to move forward.

 

In the Boston Marathon, there is a hill that brings many runners to tears and wrecks many of a dream. It is aptly called Heartbreak Hill. This hill seems to last forever, but many people have misgauged what comes next. The rest of the race. That’s right. The race still has miles and miles to go before a person can rest. A person must get up and over the worst of the pain and then they must brace themselves as they face pain when it is least expected. Grief and fear are like that.

 

In the immediacy of trauma and tragedy, people react strongly and others step up to carry them. The average person, however, has about a six-month tolerance level for sadness, loss, and fear in others. Yet, to the one who has suffered from a profound loss, a body slam that is so unfair, or fear that sneaks into dreams unbidden, time looms large. Years can go by and something brings fear or grief back into the human spirit.

 

Last year, I had been invited to run the Boston Marathon to honor Phil and others lost far too soon. I felt like I was finally getting my footing and finding small joys in my life. I had conquered the famed Heartbreak Hill and I was heading home to the finish line. I felt smugness and pride as the finish line came into my sight field. Thinking that I owned the finish line, I ran on. I will never forget what came next. The unexpected explosion….the shaking of the ground….the smells…..the screaming…….and, then, another explosion. Fear came into my life.

 

This fear meshed with that cloud I have every April and while I thought that I was largely unaffected by the events of last year, I found that loss and fear are sneaky. The heart remembers and in our sleeping moments, the images come back. Sometimes it is just about breathing through those moments. I think back to my very worst moment on 24 June when I read Phil’s autopsy report and then looked at the pictures when the words didn’t make sense. I broke.

 

I crawled into bed and cried the cry of someone who has given up. Yet, in my darkest hour, my faith carried me. I have written before about the one time I felt a modern day miracle. This was the day. I still do not understand it, nor do I try to understand it. It is—just is—my burning bush from God to me. In that moment, I began to look ahead. I couldn’t look too far ahead. I looked only at surviving the next few minutes. Those minutes eventually lengthened and the dark shadows shortened. Like a runner trying to fight through fatigue, I took one step, then another until it felt like I had scaled the worst of my journey.

 

Every journey can have surprises. As I ran into joy last spring, I hit a major entanglement that impacts me still. About a week ago, the flashbacks started to the fear and the paralysis I felt last 15 April. It became a choice for me. I cannot let fear limit my journey. I cannot let grief keep me stuck in a sense of suspended life. I must face my fear and I must run on to take back that finish line.

 

At the Boston Marathon, the signs tout the “No Stop Monday” philosophy. I will not stop. I will not falter, but I will push through the pain and the fear one step at a time, one minute at a time because the journey is too long to look at in entirety. I run on.

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