Some days, in fits of fitness fever, I’ve gone running with my students, enjoying, sort of, the challenge of keeping up with them. Usually, though, I go for runs by myself, enveloped in a cone of lonely exertion.
Sometimes this loneliness is self-chosen: I’ll admit that some days I enjoy the low-key drama of being a Lone Runner, bent on some destination that nobody else knows. Gives me a kind precarious dignity, a quasi-athletic respectability. Most runners I meet won’t do much more than nod. They’re loyal to some Nordic code of respect for the travails of the isolate trotter. They maintain a grim quietness, softened only momentarily by eye contact.
I remember, though, one time running down the brick streets of the Big Easy. Running in New Orleans is pretty good fun. Restaurants and pubs and shops are always spilling out onto brick sidewalks. As you pant and gasp and sweat, you are pressed upon by smells of gumbo and hot sausage and stale beer and po’ boy sandwiches and coffee. Running can be a sensuous experience. But in New Orleans, the city that has found itself again after a hurricane redoubles its windy sensuousness.
The best thing is, people talk to runners in New Orleans. At least they meet your eye. One guy in particular stands out, in my memory. I was running down in the French Quarter of a sunny November afternoon. And here was this guy, swinging out of a pub, beer in one hand. He caught sight of me, and—instead of ignoring me—addressed me:
You’re running for me, bud!
I was a little startled. Running as a piece of substitutionary atonement for a pub-trawler? Ok. Guess I’m glad to oblige. Sure, ok: I’m running for you. At least for now.
Makes me think of all the running we’re doing around in our ordinary lives most weeks. Not running literally, though maybe some of that, too. No, I’m talking about carrying on with the good, long work of parenting and studying for standardized tests and policing and leading worship and waiting tables and meeting for prayer and managing the business and taking care of the many vocations of our lives.
It could be easy to fall into a comportment of grand solitude, like the lonely runner: You have no idea how hard I’m working, etc.
Honestly, I don’t see that much at Redemption Church. Instead, I see more of the cheerfulness of compatriots busy with the many expressions of our congregational mission.
Maybe there’s some wisdom from that cheery guy with that slightly beery, bleary word for me on that afternoon pounding down the streets of New Orleans.
As we see each other running forward, there may well be something else you can say than,
Well, I’m working hard, too...
If you think you’ve got a lot to do, you should see my task list...
Maybe we should reposition ourselves as admirers of others’ work—giving honor where honor is due, to use Paul’s language. And even more to the point, maybe we should position ourselves as recipients of others’ work.
You, too, are running. It’s good to see you at it. And, hey, keep it up: I’m one of your beneficiaries. Your running is a gift to me. Glad to be alongside you. You’re running for me, bud, and with me, too, thanks be.
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