In an apt, but clichéd metaphor, life is often compared to a marathon. I learned first-hand about the similarities in November of 2000 when I ran my first (and last) 26 mile, 385 yard race. Of the many lessons learned, the greatest was this: never run a marathon alone, especially the first one. The challenges are too great, the unknowns too numerous to attempt such a feat without companionship. Even better is experienced companionship. Like countless runners before me, I did reasonably well until mile 20, when I hit “the wall.”
I had just passed the Brookwood train station on Peachtree street when every ounce of energy suddenly vanished. I felt undone and the thought of running six more miles seemed a ridiculous impossibility. As I considered stepping aside and calling it quits, something completely unexpected occurred. A man I have never seen before or since, came alongside, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You can do it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can do it.” He trotted on ahead of me, but his words were like an infusion of carbohydrates. Repeating that mantra, I managed to push on and finish the race. Had he not showed up precisely when he did, I am certain I would have quit.
I was reminded of my marathon experience a few days ago when a friend decided to quit the marathon of life. As is true with every suicide, those of us left behind will never fully comprehend all that was happening with our loved one. For a myriad of reasons, some perhaps not even known to the individual, this person hit “the wall” and finishing simply was not an option.
In the pain and maddening confusion that followed, I thought again about my lesson learned: “never run a marathon alone, especially the first one. Even better is experienced companionship.” In the marathon of life, we’re all running the “first one,” and it is filled with countless challenges, unknowns, and “walls” that seem insurmountable. Each of us desperately needs a community that will surround us, love us, encourage us, and remind us that we can do it, to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. We need friends who are wiser, because they have been at it a bit longer and know a few more things than we do.
Because I believe in the truth of Easter and the hope of the resurrection, I do not grieve as those who have no hope. I have every confidence I will see my friend again when we are no longer running a challenging marathon, but celebrating our Lord and the gift of life in eternity. Because Jesus did not quit the marathon ordeal of the cross, but proclaimed, “It is finished,” I look forward to seeing my friend and all my brothers and sisters who have gone before me.
In the meantime, though, I’ve resolved that I will be a marathon friend. I will look for opportunities to come alongside folks who are hitting the wall and remind them, “You can do it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can do it.” And if you are one of those persons who is running alone and the wall is looming large, please, reach out. Give someone a chance to be your marathon friend, so that you don’t quit, but finish the race that is before you.
Dan Slagle is a contributor for the Seedbed Blog.