You know that look when you see it.
I'll never forget seeing it on my friend Robyn's face. She'd been in the middle of a lengthy phone conversation. The call ended. Robyn tucked her phone away. And then that look took over. Where there'd been peace and contentment. Where at one moment there had been excitement, anticipation of a weekend of fun with friends, there was now concern.
It was the kind of concern that runs deeper than the bank calling you about fraudulent activity on your account or a friend cancelling an upcoming coffee date. It was the look of concern that said life would never be the same.
A short time after that call the results came back. My friend Robyn's mom Rose had Gioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. A month earlier I'd picked Robyn up at the airport for her annual trip to visit us and run the Richmond Marathon. Now she was processing how to tell her mom goodbye.
Life isn't always a marathon. When you know you're losing your mom, life suddenly feels much more like a 40 yard dash than a marathon. A lifetime to tell someone what they mean to you suddenly seems reduced to minutes.
Soon after this news I was with Robyn on Kiawah Island in South Carolina. We were there to run a half marathon. Life had changed for her, but she was committed to running the race that had been on her calendar for months. Running had been one of Robyn's passions for a long time. Now maybe it was a form of therapy.
Several of us were there running with Robyn. We committed to run this race for her mom. This one's for Rose. It was a prayer. It was a ray to run and honor Rose's fight against a disease that refuses to lose.
Running has always been a struggle for me. It's hard. The finish line always feels like a zillion painful miles away. But out there running that Kiawah half, I realized I was fortunate. Even though I knew logically my life would end one day, out there running - without a doctor's prognosis that my days were numbered - I could at least feel like I'd be able to run forever.
I was suddenly grateful for that: the hope that I'd be able to run forever.
What a gift it is - those moments- when we can innocently believe we'll be able to do anything at all forever.
After that race I wanted to do something to let Rose know I appreciated her strength. Strength that, without her knowing or intending, became a gift of gratitude for me. I could only think of one way to express that appreciation to Rose. I sent her my Kiawah Island Half Marathon finishers medal.
It wasn't a medal that represented victory. I've never had one that did. But every race medal I've earned represents a struggle. Taking on something that doesn't come easy. A willingness to fight all the way to the end. Whenever Robyn talked about Rose, that's what I heard. I heard about a mom in a hell of a fight, but a mom who wasn't going to go down with anything less than offering a hell of a fight in return.
Rose lost that fight last month. But all the way to the finish line she gave it her all. Cancer is once again the vicious victor. It's robbed the world of a beautiful mom and friend. I hope we'll one day find the weaknesses in cancer's attack and come up with a gameplan that stifles it once and for all.
But I also hope this. I hope we'll continue to rob cancer of some of it's evil glory. I hope people like Rose will continue to say to cancer: you can steal my life, but in doing so I'm going to reveal a strength in this life that makes the world stronger. Out of the depths of the ugliest places of cancer, I will rise with a beauty the world might have never got to see. So in some ways - you lose cancer.
I regret I never got to meet Rose in person. I'm sorry that it was cancer that introduced me to her beauty. But know this cancer - as you celebrate another ruthless attack on the innocent - many of us discovered a beautiful human being in spite of you. You come to weaken us, but people like Rose remind us we're stronger than we think. People like Rose embolden us to fight you back like never before.
Last week my friend Robyn mailed me the medal I'd sent Rose last December. She said he mom had hung it up where she could see it every day. As I write this, that medal now hangs where I can see it every day. A medal that once honored my capacity to take on a challenge and conquer it now hangs in honor of a woman who did some conquering of her own. Rose stood toe to toe with a disease that wanted to impose darkness, and in doing so she revealed light to us all.
That Kiawah Island Half Marathon medal has far more value and meaning today than it did the day I crossed that finish line. That's often how these medals go.
was in much more trouble than mine. And believe me, in the middle of my 8-mile run that day I was fighting for every breath I could find.
But I discovered something that day. I didn't know the extent of it, but I knew I was running the first steps of a journey that was going to be measured in units far greater than miles and heartbeats and disappearing pounds. Today, when I look back to that first half marathon in November, 2013, and consider how far I've come, it's not the miles and the medals hanging on the wall behind me that come to mind, it's relationships.
First and foremost, I think about my relationship with God. Prior to this running journey I'm not sure I'd ever heard God talk to me. That's not to suggest he hadn't been talking my ears off for years. I assure you he was. But I guess running's taught me there's a huge difference between hearing and listening, and that listening might be the most overlooked piece of a thriving relationship.
Running has given me the time and the quiet to be still and listen to God in ways I never had, and listening to God has opened doors to honor him I never dreamed could be opened.
Next, I think about my relationships with the people I've met along this running journey. Many of whom have become my best friends. Again, to think back and imagine I'd one day trek to Kentucky and Ohio, the Cayman Islands and South Carolina, not to run a particular race but to be with treasured friends to share that race with, well, let's just say that would have been hard to imagine as well. But they are all counted among the most beautiful of those opened doors.
Finally, I think about my relationship with myself. I believe one big thing that stands in the way of our opportunity to get along with ourselves, to embrace the contentment we can find in life through the real us and not the us we feel pressured to be, is doubt. Doubt that we're good enough, capable enough, bold enough to be the kind of person we hear God telling us we can be once we start listening to him.
Nothing shreds doubt like crossing the finish line of a half-marathon. Miracles happen. You suddenly believe you can run a whole marathon. In fact, you start thinking a marathon's something you must do, not something you can do. Life changes when you begin hearing prompts and your first thought is "I've got to do that." Life changes when you never hear yourself say "I can't" again.
One half marathon becomes 10.
The Boston Marathon becomes a race you know a lot about - one that makes you say "I've got to do that."
So for all the relationships discovered and grown along the way, number 10 is for you. I couldn't have found a better place to honor you. The Kiawah Island setting was beautiful (if a bit chilly), the race was well run - to include an awesome post-race spread of food, and for the second year in a row I had a pre-Christmas running experience filled with joy.
I didn't roam too far this weekend without someone handing me an ice tray
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