Last weekend my husband and I ran a 5 mile road race. This is a distance that is right at the edge of my comfort zone. Add to that a grueling 1 mile uphill in the middle of the race that is steeper than anything I have ever run. So steep, as a matter of fact, that many, many runners walk it. And not just the slow ones!
I had come into the morning on the heels of a disastrous night’s sleep. You know the ones where you aren’t even sure whether or not you slept? Given this, I had no idea what to expect from myself. Therefore, I had to make some quick mental adjustments to give myself a chance to be with a day that I had been looking forward to in a way that would be supportive as opposed to degrading.
The first adjustment I made was to lower the bar; that meant finishing became my main goal. Right alongside that was the equally important goal of enjoying myself; of soaking up the support of the crowd; of leaning into the gratitude that I felt that I can still do this; of relishing the experience of being with one of my favorite people in the world, doing something we both enjoy.
All of this put me in the position of having a fabulous time. But more than that, it opened up something in me around the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of world I want to live in; including what it takes to do so.
I have to back up for a moment here and include that the night before the race, we had watched the Fred Roger’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” The loving world that Mr. Rogers created, championed and protected for children kept looping through my mind as I became the recipient of so many people, strangers, smiling at me, cheering me on, and wishing me well. Even though they had no idea who I was. I was gifted over and over again with incredible support. No strings attached. It felt as though I was deserving of it just because I was there. Just because I was me, doing what I was doing in the way I was doing it.
No need for me to be first. Or keep any pace. No need for me to look like anything other than I did. Or be doing anything other than what I was. It was incredible. And it was so easy to respond in kind.
At the end of the race, I started imagining what the world would be like if this was available for each and every one of us, every single day. What it would be like to make eye contact, smile at strangers, and wish them well. I realized that what made this possible was that there was a context. A structure. Something created that runners and spectators could step into that allowed for this level of open giving and receiving. We see this at other times. Maybe it is a wedding. Or a funeral. Maybe when a baby is born. Or someone is sick.
I realized that I am no longer willing for some external set of circumstances to dictate to me when and where this can happen. What if instead of me waiting for someone else, or for the events of Life to provide the context for a genuine and easy show of open-hearted-ness to others, I, myself, became the context? And what if that context traveled with me everywhere I went? No matter what the outer circumstances.
And if this seems silly or impossible, check it against this; “What really is the point of our lives here together?” Is it to compete? Be the best? Compare? Guard against? Get our share? Win? Alienate from? Keep others in their place?
Or is it something else?