Sunday, March 4, 2012

About That

There are some places in the world that make their way into my heart and take up residence, filling the space with the sense that, I belong here... I need to live here someday... there are stories here... I was made for this.  Places that resonate so deeply inside of me that I find myself searching for the house where I'll live, making note of the street name of a quaint cafe where I'll get my coffee, studying faces -- you know, in case they end up being my neighbor and our stories intertwine.  Venice, Italy is one of those places.

Hence, it seemed perfectly natural that if I decided I'd ever run a marathon, Venice made the perfect backdrop.

So I'll be honest and tell you that the vision that kept me running toward the finish line during all those long, (yes, tedious), miles of pretty much nothing magnificent, (in spite of all the propaganda that claimed this was one of the race route's most scenic and historical), was the idea of running in the actual city of Venice.  The last few miles of the race.  Hm.  About that.

When I trudged past the 18-mile marker and a race official called out something in Italian, him all twinkly-eyed and smiles, and I responded in English, he repeated himself... in English, "You're an hour late!"  He gestured to his watch. 

I smiled back, a bit confused, late for what?, I thought.  I didn't know about the blockade a mile and a half ahead.  The one where they'd tell me I  was done and I'd argue that I wasn't finished.  And about that prayer I prayed as I crossed the starting line, "Lord, I want to be broken.  Whatever it takes...  Less of me and more of You.  Take me to a place where I'm consumed with living for You."  And, really, who prays a dumb prayer like that?  Especially at the beginning of a 26.2 mile race.

And maybe part of the story is about Francesca.  The gal who made me smile with curiosity as racers gathered at the starting gates, her skipping and dancing around like a giddy five-year old.  Her audible giggle as she stretched clumsily, her arms flailing wildly as she nearly toppled over.  A tall man dressed in slacks, pressed button-up shirt, and Oxfords watching her, his stoic expression filled with devoted concern.  Her husband?  A guardian?

She passed me on the right somewhere between three and four miles.  Her steady pace punctuated with an occasional stumble and quick skip accompanied by a gleeful chuckle and snort.  Later, well after the 5-mile mark, she was up ahead when the 6-hour pace group caught up with me and I fell in with them... them calling cadences in Italian, whooping and partying it up.  It was their pacer, the one carrying the baby-blue balloon with a bright white six painted on it, who asked me my name and welcomed me to the group.

"Alright, everyone!" she yelled.  "This is Sharon and she's going to finish the race with us!"  The whole group cheered, yelled welcome's and encouragements.  Pretty soon, our group came up alongside Francesca.  That's how I learned her name.

For a while, I kept company with this spirited group.  But then there was that little decision I  made when walking to the starting gate, the one to forgo standing in line to use the porta-potty.  The decision that brought about catastrophic consequences at about the 6-mile mark.  Lesson learned: never, never pass on the opportunity to visit the porta-powder room one last time before setting out on an epic journey.  Suffice it to say that there was no way I was going to keep up with the pace group.  The last one.  My last chance to jog this gig with the camaraderie of fellow racers.

Eventually, the pace group's whoops and hollers faded into the distance and I realized I'd have to sprint to catch up.  Better to settle into a resolute rhythm, dreamy thoughts, visions of running through Piazza San Marco and seeing my family at the finish line motivating me onward.

Francesca fell behind the pace group, too.  When I caught up to her, I noticed she was struggling.  I asked her if she was alright and she rattled something in Italian.  Her voice was high-pitched and squeaky.  But her eyes sparkled and she smiled and smiled, her words melodic, the syllables bouncing along trifling glissando giggles.

I slowed my pace -- more -- matching my stride to hers.  Occasionally, she'd pause, her breathing short, almost gasping, before stepping into a steady forward stride again.  And that's how it went, in fits and starts, me offering small exhortations here and there, waiting while she stopped to remove her shoes and shake pebbles out, her enthusiastic expression never wavering.  I smiled in spite of myself.

The two of us plodded along together.  As we approached the 13.1-mile marker, she tried telling me something urgent.  Although I smiled and shrugged, I didn't understand until she approached the lone race official busy winding electrical cords and letting the air out of the inflated banner over the road that announced the half-way mark.  Francesca waved me on with a high-pitched, enthusiastic "Grazie!  Grazie!" 
Later, upon reflection, I came to two conclusions about that part of the story.  First, it was a great test... I now know for a certainty that I'd get my teammate and I kicked off the reality show's Amazing Race right away.  Second, running the race in a relational context is a place that fills my heart with that sense of I belong here... this is what I was made for.  I didn't mind running alone -- very alone... as in, most of the race I couldn't see another soul ahead or behind me.  But running alongside Francesca... well, the race took on an eternal dimension.

There is something about that place of engaging in the divine, of traveling the journey with others... that place where we enter into another's brokenness... the challenge of letting go of a little more of my own agenda and selfishness and fear to risk love.

Francesca's enthusiasm was contagious.  I can still see her in my mind and I smile all over again.  There was something about that place of going the distance together that said this is where I live... take note.  That epic place filled with stories.     

My family was at the finish line exactly where I knew they would be, watching the racers approach the finish, waiting for me.  "Mom!  Did we miss you?  We never saw you coming toward the finish line!"  Uh, about that.

162.  Gelato on the walkplatz with family.

163.  A whole week full of breakthroughs!

164.  The whole family, sore left arms, and the blessing of immunizations.

165.  Six prescriptions for malaria medicine as we prepare for an epic adventure.

166.  Reading Kingdom Journeys together as a family.

167.  Praying together.

168.  Going the distance together.

1 comment:

  1. You're crazy... and that is just one of the things I love about you!