The Unspoken Pain of Sharing Celebrations
*This is a long metaphor or twisted analogy. It may not work, bear with me. You’ve been warned.*
Imagine you were in a horrible car wreck, broadsided by a drunk driver. You were seriously injured. You lost mobility, time, and a sense of hope. You gained scars, fears, and pity.
Imagine you rally, survive, and for some reason, want to punch fate in the throat by training for a marathon, something you had never considering doing before, having usually enjoyed team sports, or the arts.
Imagine you train, battling old injuries from the car wreck, acquiring new injuries from the training,. You run to the soundtrack of self-doubt announced from the voices in your head and repeated on loud speaker when you get home by the real people closest to you:
“You don’t have to do this. You can’t do this. It’s too much. Just being able to walk is good enough. Why run?“
Imagine you also battle financially because of lost time, work, and pain and limitations from the injuries, and a lawsuit that finally settles for minimal damages, because your pain and suffering are not visible or quantifiable. You have, reportedly, recovered from your injuries. The drunk driver was not injured. He was not prosecuted and retained his license to drive and does so without restrictions.
Imagine you sign up for the marathon anyway. It’s the big kind of marathon, similar to the Olympics where runners start and end in a stadium full of people. Most of the real work takes place on a journey through lonely, winding roads, though, with very few spectators.
And imagine running, without a partner, not part of a pack, and certainly without an endorsement deal. No one really gets why you’re doing it at all. You do get encouragement, however, from unlikely sources – complete strangers you pass on the road. They clap, they call out to you,
“You can do it. Way to go. Looking good!”
Imagine thinking that they are wrong, you can’t make it, that no one really expects you to make it, that it is ridiculous to even try and that your time would be better spent on more traditional endeavors for people like you.
Imagine wondering if stopping halfway might be good enough. Imagine knowing that no one would blame you for simply walking it, “It’s the finishing that counts, you don’t have to finish like the real runners,” the voices say. Imagine a cramp, then another, imagine feet on fire, imagine pain in joints that had never been there before.
Imagine continuing to run, regardless.
Imagine entering the stadium after over 26 miles and starting the last lap around the track to reach the finish line.
Imagine feeling suddenly and surprisingly overcome with emotions as the crowd cheers, because some people there know that in the recent past you couldn’t get out of bed — let alone run or race. You also know that some of the cheers are coming from people who don’t know a thing about you, but they recognize a woman fighting not only to finish, but finish in objectively solid time regardless of any personal struggles.
Imagine the emotions taking hold so suddenly and with such intensity that it causes you to stumble as you take your last steps. You stop dead for a moment and put your hands on your knees, trying to catch your breath and blink away sweat and tears.
Imagine seeing out of the corner of your eye, a flash of color? Another runner trying to pass? Is your mind playing tricks on you? Are the cheers for the other runner? You raise your head, wipe your eyes and try to sprint, hoping that your pumping arms will convince your legs to rise from the dead, but you have so little left. Still, you begin to run, the end is in sight and the crowd, pardon the overuse – is going wild.
Imagine right before you cross the finish line being wrapped in a blanket — covered by the flash of color that had come alongside of you. The flash of color from the driver, the same drunk driver who had broadsided you and put you in the hospital.
Imagine looking up to see his fist raised in the air and his smile as you are reluctantly led across the finish line by him, being robbed of the opportunity to cross on your own — which you would have done, which you could have done, had you been permitted. Had you not been intercepted. Had you not been broadsided, again.
Imagine seeing your unwanted escort in running clothes, but without a bead of sweat. He did not run 26.2 miles. He was just one of the thousands in the crowd, and, from the smell of it, he had recently eaten a hot dog.
Imagine the crowd on its feet, those who know the story — cheering you not for finishing the race despite the odds, but for your obvious show of public forgiveness by allowing the embrace of the drunk driver who had taken so much from you and caused you so much pain.
Imagine the front page newspaper story, showing a photograph of you in visual defeat, being assisted across the finish line by the man who inflicted the injuries you fought so hard to overcome. Imagine looking at yourself as you’ve now been memorialized to others, as a woman lost without his assistance, a woman who could not have finished on her own. Your mouth is open, seemingly in a cry of gratitude, but you know that is was a cry of despair that no one heard above the roar of the crowd,
“No! Let me finish. I can do it. He didn’t run. He wasn’t there. I did this. I did this!“
Imagine the newspaper headline:
They did it! They did it! They did it together!
* * *
Imagine my son’s graduation from high school, with honors, and six college acceptances later, headed to a very selective college — accepted there because of his grades, test scores, challenging course load, essay, and leadership in many extra-curricular activities in both the arts and athletics. His accomplishments, not mine. But such accomplishments were not achieved in a vacuum, or even from a partnership, but achieved in a home atmosphere of encouragement, physical, psychological, emotional, and visual support created by me (and my supporters), coupled with a belief that we are just as good as everybody else. No excuses. I wore myself out making it possible for him to have opportunity and yes, the expectation, to achieve.
But now that it’s time to celebrate, imagine being hijacked at the finish line by the guy who, on one snowy night long, long ago said to me, his long time wife and mother of his five children, simply, “I have to go.”
Imagine sharing the podium with a runner who didn’t run — and who, previously, had broken both your legs.
It’s not uncommon for distance runners to vomit after a big race.
Just saying . . .
Just Me With . . . graduation festivities around the corner.
Could somebody get me a bucket?
Related: Misplaced Praise of a Father