On the beach, late afternoon, tide out, sand firm under foot.
I’m not here to ogle at the pelicans, but to test my strength by running a mile as fast as my legs can carry me. When I lace up my old track spikes, memories flood my mind, and oddly, thoughts land on a long forgotten tale, told by a long forgotten friend.
The year is 1936. America locked in the Great Depression. The threat of world war looms, and a mad man has ascended to power, inviting the world to his Olympic dream in Berlin, Germany.
An ocean away, at Randall’s Island Stadium, NYC, runners in the 1500 meter U. S. Olympic Trials qualifying heat are heading into the final turn…my long forgotten friend Mr. Mather’s, boxed into fourth place, desperate to break free…
I walk now toward the water line and face the long horizon. I will start slow to work out the kinks. Whenever I think about pushing beyond myself, an image of fire comes to mind, refining, reshaping, renewing.
Mr. Mather’s was a decorated high school track and cross country coach at a rival high school. He was old by any standard when I met him, and eccentric. When he ran up steep hills he would regularly cry out in pain, followed by a kind of whinny a horse would make. Odd. In between his shrill cries he would tell stories. We became friends on those long runs together.
“I was feeling like I could win it,” he recounted of that hot day at the Trials. His eyes were wild in remembrance. “On the final turn three runners side by side barred my way. I had to do something because the finish line was coming up fast. So, I grabbed the shoulders of both runners in front of me…”
Something about his story speaks to my own gait across the sand. I can hear the shells breaking under my spikes. My insides churn. Even with no crowds to cheer, adrenaline courses my veins, to bring out of me what must be done.
This mile attempt is only a part of the reason I’m here, running too fast for my age. The backdrop of my day is uncertainty over the future. Our organization is heading into epic change, which will affect everyone. Will I find myself better positioned? Will Ginnette and I move again? When I signed up with this outfit, I vowed to go anywhere and do anything. That hasn’t changed. I came to the beach to hear from God, but He hasn’t spoken yet.
I’m about a mile into the run, and as I turn around, the wind is now at my back. My muscles feel loose, elastic, my gait elongated. I feel a little invincible, and it thrills me. I remember now the end to Mr. Mather’s story.
“When I pushed the two runners apart, one of them flew off into the infield, and the other careened into the other guy. My chest broke the tape, but I knew I hadn’t won.” There was no final time next to my name, only “DQ,” but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I missed running for my country by one place.”
My arms and legs are moving like pistons, or so I think. My lungs, filled to capacity, begin to feel on fire. In this moment of optimum exertion, in the middle of my own epic shot at ‘glory,’ God breaks the silence, and I slow down, wanting to be sure I hear every word.
“You’ve been chasing what might be, now seek Who Is.”
All at once, I understand. This is about an open hand, and letting whatever has been held go free without regret. And more importantly, about keeping the hand open, so that something new, perhaps head scratching, perhaps degraded, or not fully formed, can fall into the open palm. Mr. Mather’s story about winning, yet losing melds into the imagery of chasing and seeking, and from its alchemy, God reminds me, He can be trusted. I don’t have to take matters in hand.
Moments later, my heels sink in soft sand. My breathing is deep and rapid, arms tingle and legs ache. I check my watch, and smile. I haven’t run anywhere close to my goal.
The scent coming off the ocean hasn’t changed. The sun is still warm. The children dig in the sand, and scurry after sand pipers, their eyes reflecting innocent faith. I’m reminded that in the end, my end, I will be like Him, if in times like this, I keep my hands open, to trust Him without condition. To step into fire, not the fire I imagined or dreamed, but the fire He gives me.