Well, it’s over. I did it.
I finished a marathon.
Those of you who know me or have read previous posts know that this past weekend was my second attempt at running a marathon (the first ending with me throwing up about three miles from the finish line). While I went well longer than my goal of a 4-hour race time (I finished at 4:25), I did finish.
And that’s what really matters.
Brief summary of the run: I was ahead of my goal pace and feeling great until about mile 19; at 20, I officially hit the wall; by 23, I was walking more often than I was running. I limped across the finish line, and then something unexpected happened.
I started sobbing.
My good friend Bob, who got me into distance running in the first place, told me a long time ago about how he cried when he finished his first marathon. At the time, I thought he was a big pansy; I still do, but no longer because of that (hope you’re reading this Bob).
I couldn’t quite place my finger on why I cried until after talking to my wife last night. She helped me realize what it was: I was overcome by an intense sense of relief.
Relief from the pain in my legs and neck and back. Relief from the fear of failing. Relief from the mental anguish of wondering if it would ever end.
But especially, relief from being alone.
The race was a lonely thing. There were people lining the streets, encouraging us runners as we passed. I talked a bit to a few other racers as we went. I even saw my family along the course at one point.
But the whole time, there was this sense of separation, this feeling that, despite the fact that I was surrounded by so many people, I wasn’t really with them.
As I crossed the finish line, crying like a little baby, I started working my way slowly through the tables and people and trash towards where I could meet my family.
My mom met me first, and she hugged me closely and whispered how proud of me she was. Then came my sister and her boyfriend and my dad, who each got their own sweaty hugs and who also had kind words to share.
Then came my wife.
When she wrapped her arms around me, I felt like the last of my strength had been spent. I just kind of collapsed into her, and then I wept for several minutes. All the pain and struggle and worry and training were over; all that was left to do was to be embraced by her.
I’m not sure I’ve had many better moments in my life.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this: why was I so emotional? Why did I want to just be held by my wife? Why did I feel alone or separate until I got to my family, and even still a bit until I got to her?
I’m not sure I have very good answers to those questions, but I think it might have something to do with this idea that keeps popping in my head.
The end of that race is what I hope the end of my life will be like.
I hope I’ve spent everything I have, even if that’s short of the goals I set for myself or less impressive than others might accomplish.
I hope that as I cross the threshold of this world, My Mother is the first to greet me, to tell me that I did enough, that I made it where I worked so hard to get, and that the struggle is over.
I hope my friends and family are there, too, waiting to welcome me into that communion of persons that was the motivation and support I needed to make it there in the first place.
And I hope Jesus is next, arms open, eyes brimming with tears of pride and love. And I hope He pulls me into His chest, that I feel the weight of His love wrapped around me, that the warmth of his tears drips onto my face, that His Words swirl into my ears and His embrace holds me up when I can no longer stand.
That’s what my wife did for me this weekend. And it wasn’t until I felt her love that I really felt finished.
The love of a mother and a family is an irreplaceable and incomparable goodness. But it’s not the same as a lover.
Our mothers and our families are given to us, both naturally and spiritually. We are born into a certain family through no merit (or fault) of our own; it is simply a blessing we receive from God.
That is the same for our Mother Mary and our Catholic family as well. Jesus gave us Mary as He hung from the cross, just as He gave us the Church through our brother Peter to walk through this life with us and help us find Him.
But it is Him we choose. It is Christ whom we are offered freely, whom we can reject or accept, to whom we can give either ourselves or our scorn. And it is this choice that makes it all the more powerful of a love, unlike that which we experience anywhere else.
And it is also He who chooses us. God could have created any person He wanted, could have created any other combination of genetics and environment, could have allowed or prevented any number of difficulties or blessings in our lives, but He chose us, precisely us, each of us, to be the persons He wants to be in relationship with for eternity.
That thought alone is enough to meditate on for years.
I love my family, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I would die for any of them, in both the literal sense and the sense I talked about before on this blog. But the love I have for my wife is something altogether different. It is the choice of the other that makes it risky, romantic, adventurous, exciting; a choice we made with finality at our matrimony, but a choice we still make every day as well. It is a romance no story of ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’ could rival. It is the ultimate love.
The love of chosen self-gift. That is what my wife has blessed me with. It’s what my Lord has blessed me with. It’s what I hope to receive forever in His eternal embrace, if I can just make it there, mile by mile, step by step.
If I can just cross that line, I trust He will be waiting to catch me, exhausted, and whisper softly in my ear, “Well done, My good and faithful servant. Come; I will give you rest.”