Into the Fire - Reflections on First Time Marathoners
Malcolm D. Gibson
Near the starting line, first timers mill around chatting and laughing. They try to reduce the marathon to something more normal, something routine, something familiar. They kid each other, pretend to be confident, and recount recent training runs. But, eventually a hush falls over them as the enormity of the challenge looms.
For months they have trained and prepared themselves, and need only one thing to make them marathoners, crossing the finish line at 26.2 miles, and they will never be marathoners until they’ve done it. No one knows what will happen when they push beyond Mile 20. It is uncharted territory. Will they respond with strength and courage, or implode? It’s impossible to tell, and that’s the hell of it.
By tonight they will be different. They will understand then what they cannot know now, how they will react under fire. Like green troops going into combat, when their story is told, it will be about those who survived and those who perished. Which will they be?
They look into the faces of those around them, friends they have trained with, trying to determine who will make it and who won’t. They feel strangely isolated as the final minutes to the starting gun slip away.
The mystery is that they have volunteered for this mission. Why? What common trait do they share that separates them from the others? Not heredity. Not experience. Not success or failure in life. Perhaps somewhere deep inside they sense that they cannot discover the truth about themselves without risking it all, putting it all on the line for everyone to witness. The force that drives them to the starting line will deliver the answer by day’s end, a glimpse of who they really are.
Life detaches. The marathon unites. Comrades in arms, the first timers band together to conquer the world, if only for a day. Most will never see each other again. But, neither will they ever be far from each other’s heart.
Battling through the final miles bonds will form between perfect strangers. The strong will help the weak; the weak will find strength, all with a glance and a word of encouragement. Nothing they feel for the rest of their lives will be as spontaneous. Nothing they do will be as courageous, as compassionate, or as loving. In the face of defeat, they will give each other the gift of victory.
And so when the battle is over the soldiers will retire. But, no matter where they go, no matter what they do, they will remember this day. The day they went to war alone, risked it all, and came home together as victors. These are marathoners.
Thanks Malcolm for sharing your article.
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