observations and opinion
Thousands stood, laughing and smiling, stretching and waiting for the start of the run. We were a throng, loose and ready. We were real runners, and beginner runners, walkers, pram pushers, tykes and moms and dads.
I don’t know how much money the Run for the Cure pulls in. Lots, I bet. My own surprising entry into the run shocked so many, they lined up to sponsor me. The run is for the money, no doubt. But it raises more than cash, and to be present there made that abundantly clear: the run raises spirits. Crowded with laughing women, and men dressed in all manner of pink outfits – more people in drag than at a Pride Parade – laughing at each other, at the sunshine, at life itself. Laughing at cancer.
“It turns grief into joy” I said to myself, as I pulled my knee up in a stretch. You see it in their faces. You see it in their costumes. You see it on the stickers they slap on their backs or fronts, “I’m running for….” you name it: Teresa, Grandma, Nona, and on and endlessly on, the names of the far too many people whose lives have been invaded by breast cancer. Who beat it, or didn’t beat it. It is sobering.
I’ve done two 5Ks now – this one went very well by comparison with the first – and one trick I have is to spot “pace bunnies.” A pace bunny is some other runner, someone just ahead of me, whom I can try to keep up with. The pace bunnies all have one thing in common – they leave me behind. But that’s okay, I just push myself into the jetstream of some other runner and try to keep up with him or her.
As we counted down (“ten, dix, nine, neuf, eight, huit…”) to the start of the run, I chose my first pace bunny. She was perhaps twenty, or thereabouts, with a guy beside her. And before we set out, I got a picture:
A young woman runs for the cure, for her “mommy.” Is mommy sick now? Was mommy sick when this woman was still a young girl? Is mommy better now? Or is she not better? None of those questions will ever be answered and that’s alright, perhaps it is better not to know.
What I know is that this woman, this stranger, like so many men and women crowded together on a cool sunny October morning – what I know is that some part of her true heart was broken. Hopefully mended, perhaps not completely. But she took her heartbreak out there, on the River Parkway, and strode her way forward ’till she came back to where we started and crossed that Finish Line.
Actually, I didn’t see her reach that line. As it turned out, she was a poor choice of pace bunny: as soon as the crowd left the gate, she disappeared in a trot. So I found someone slower, and then someone else slower, and set my pace, and kept at it step after step, ’till I got to that line myself. And I felt glad – grateful to the organizers – for the chance. Glad not to let down the generous fools who bet money on me, too.
Running, walking, rolling five kilometers down a lovely road on a lovely morning, won’t cure anyone of cancer. But what it can cure – and did for me, if only for a morning or maybe a day – was ennui. The world seems so full of the grim; the ones we love leave us; people struggle with illness and work and money and love. Every day, bright or cloudy, inevitably descends into darkness.
But out there, out there being alive – running for mommy – it is impossible to feel too gloomy about one’s own lot – no matter what’s wrong or right. Not in that hour, when thousands of people take their loss, pain and fear outside and, in mere minutes, churn it into hope, fun and grace. And when we were done, they stood to write a note, or leave their name, to mark the moment, to name the one they love. The one who may be gone. The one fighting to stay.
This Sunday run, in our town and so many others, raised a great deal of money for medical research, I am sure. Will it bring the cure tomorrow? Probably not. But I am certain of this: it turned grief into joy.