Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Human Race

I've noticed the word "disrespectful" popping up more and more in discussions about whether the New York City Marathon should be held. In a nutshell, anyone who evokes this word or its gist seems to be suggesting that it's wrong to hold the equivalent of a celebration in the wake of a tragedy. This argument irritates me.

A few days ago, a Dailymile friend from KC posted something going on and on about how she felt "selfish" for hoping the race wasn't cancelled, in the midst of Hurricane Sandy aftermath, and wondered if it was "disrespectful" (there's that word again) to run the race. I encouraged her, saying it wasn't like she was going to go dancing on anyone's graves - instead, she was bringing a spirit of endurance and strength and much-needed commerce to a city in need. And I didn't see anything wrong with that. She ignored me.

Yesterday, a first-time marathoner friend used the word "guilty" when describing his feelings about running through a city where people are suffering, where homes and businesses have been lost, and where some have lost loved ones. It was a feeling so far from my own when I ran my first marathon and especially when I ran my first NYCM that I felt the irritation coming back. Aloud, I wondered why he was bothering to run it at all. He said raising money for the Red Cross was how he was making himself feel better for running a marathon he didn't think should be held, and if I had a problem with anything about that, it was something that was wrong with ME, not with him. I applaud his activism, but I'm saddened by the guilt.

This morning, a New York run-blogger I know posted that he disagreed with the decision to such an extreme that he was ending his streak of NYCMs and cancelling in protest. This irritated me still further. Two weeks prior, he'd announced he was opting out of the race due to injury, but I guess he felt so strongly about the race going on despite the hurricane that he decided to resurrect his racing status so he could kill it once more, with feeling. It'd be like Newt Gingrich putting out a statement that he's ending his bid for the presidency today, despite being feasibly/mathematically/legally out a long time ago. Martyrs irritate me. Twice-baked martyrs, moreso.

It's certainly not for training reasons I want this race to continue - I've abandoned my hopes of a sub-4 in the wake of inconsistent training, time constraints, lack of inspiration, and homesickness have stalled my fundraising efforts, and I knew most of my amazing cheering section that flew all the way from Kansas City to support me wouldn't be able to make it this year, even BEFORE the hurricane. (Though Dad saying he couldn't make it made me cry.) Just finishing will be an accomplishment. I want people like Brian, who have trained so hard through the hottest summer on record and suffered recent marathon disappointments (too-hot Boston and dehydration at Garmin) to kick ass and take names, but that's not a strong enough reason for me to be feeling as irritated as I do. And it's not that I don't feel for the people who've lost their homes or businesses, lost their power, lost their sense of well-being, or in the most tragic cases, lost loved ones - of course I do. Sure, I got lucky - I don't live in a flood zone, I didn't lose power or internet, and while I might be stranded without my public transporation, but I'm not an academic, "Oh wow, that sucks - what else is on TV?" outsider. I've lived here long enough to feel personally affected, even if this doesn't quite feel like home. Plus, since I live here, I don't have the logistical concerns or financial investment in this race that I would have if I lived in Kansas City - I don't have to worry about how - or if - I'll get to the starting line. I don't even have to worry about my race-day transportation; the team takes care of that.

So why am I this irritated? Why do I care if the race goes on or doesn't go on?

The concept that's been running through my head ever since I started tuning into this debate has been "affirmation of life," a phrase I encountered for the first time in a Madeleine L'Engle novel about life and death. As Nietzsche put it, "If we affirm one moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; and if our soul has trembled with happiness and sounded like a harp just once, all eternity was needed to produce this one event - and in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed." 

(Heavy, right? I kind of can't believe I just quoted Nietzsche in my blog - holy pretension. And in a post about marathon running, no less.)

It finally occurred to me why these "disrespectful" types are getting under my skin. It's because they're the same types of people who look down on my family for celebrating, for laughing together, for continuing to enjoy life while my beautiful, life-affirming mother has been reduced to just barely 'existing' in the present, unaware of her past and unaffected by the future. They're the kinds of people who thought Dad should have started Mom on meds immediately, or that she should have been sent to live away from home the minute she started to decline. Such things (as well as the arguments the race should be called off) are often said out of deep love and concern. And I'll admit I've been one of them, from time to time - there was a big part of me that didn't want Dad to move out of the family home or even get rid of the old phone number, and there's a big part of me that still feels guilty for not living within hugging distance of Mom, Dad, and my brothers. But, as Dad reminded me when I took the job here, life goes on. Mom wouldn't have wanted things to stop just because she did. And so I go on. Sometimes it's easy, like when I think how she'd be proud of me and what I'm doing now. Other times, I realize the person I am now and the person I'll grow into are forever and incontrovertibly altered by what's happened to my family - Mom will never again know what I'm doing and be proud of me (or not) for it - and my heart aches.

I chose running as my affirmation, and the New York City Marathon (and still later, New York City) as the symbol of that affirmation, and of everyone who honors and supports my family. Running is how I meditate on hurts, how I get stronger, how I fight back, how I right wrongs. As such, I never feel wrong for running, I feel wrong when I quit. I picked New York because nothing but the biggest and the best would do, and it's the biggest and the best because it, too, refuses to quit. For me, this race is my mother, my grandmother, my family, my friends, and the belief that life goes on, for better or for worse, no matter what may befall us, and that there's more to truly living than merely surviving. Every opportunity we have to make new memories should be cherished, because without them, life really isn't worth living.

If anything, this marathon means more to me than last year's because it's more difficult, and yet more meaningful (?), to keep on while things are at their toughest. For some of us, there IS no closure, no 'making peace with it,' no definitive end to all the hurts. There's just moving forward...or not. And as much as I butt heads with this city sometimes, New York, of all places, understands that, and moves forward. Even now.

So, no matter what your reasons for being out there, fellow runners - be proud. And if you absolutely must acknowledge those who claim the race is a disrespectful event and waste of resources? Be fast.

No comments:

Post a Comment