“How is your soul?” our pastor asked us to ask each other. “Tired”, “Fine”… I heard around me. “Wounded and a bit beaten,” was my response. It was such a small moment with such a big impact. My words stuttered as they came out. Emotion caught in my throat as the truth of them hit me.
As the day wore on, flashes of five years ago kept creeping into my mind. Five years ago my husband and I trained for a Disney Half Marathon – which we completed. For some reason my mind was connecting the feelings my words had described to that day.
I am not a runner by nature, and I’m slow. My husband said when I jog it’s more like a cross between moseying and jogging. He’s not wrong. It took a little over a year from when I first got off the couch and prepared for my first 5K. I was diligent at training. Don’t applaud my efforts too soon. I’m an “all in” and then “quickly all out” kind of girl – I get bored easily. Injuries have sent me back to my old ways and I have gained back the weight I lost. But that day when I was “all in”, despite an injured ankle – I finished my race. The finish line is not where I felt those feelings – that was at the eleventh mile.
At the eleventh mile I stopped and soaked my sore knee and ankle in bio-freeze, as did many of the other runners. I made a pit stop, and when I came back out, I saw her run by; the balloon lady. For those of you who have never run a half marathon, or didn’t run it at the back of the pack, there is a pacer and she has balloons tied to her so that you know that’s who she is. For a Disney half, you end up out running on the streets near the park. So for safety reasons, if you are behind the balloon lady at a mile marker, there is a bus sitting there ready to take you to the finish line. You are not allowed to continue – it’s a hard and fast rule.
As I saw her run by, my heart sank. I was already exhausted and there was over two and a half miles left to go, and now I was behind the absolute slowest I was allowed to go. I immediately took off in an attempt to catch up with her. I caught her and fell behind her several times in the next mile. At one point she reminded several of us that if we were behind her at the mile marker, we would be asked to stop. I remember thinking I wasn’t going to make it. I had trained so hard and yet I was going to be asked to stop. It was defeating.
Then several of us began plotting her demise as we ran just in front of her. She would laugh and tell us that she could hear us. It helped to lighten that despair, even if it was silly. Somehow the journey took on a value of its own. I was laughing. I was enjoying commiserating with others but knowing I wasn’t going to give up. We encouraged each other. Eventually I would pull away from her enough not to have her presence be a constant worry. Worry is exhausting. I found my second wind, somewhere deep down and finished; running into the happy arms and smiling face of my husband who had finished much sooner.
That feeling I had at the eleventh mile – that’s how my soul has felt many times recently. I suppose I’m in the eleventh mile of my career. Close enough to want it to be over but tired enough to also want to give up and get on the bus. Some days I’m not sure I’ll find my second wind.
I lost my job a little over a year ago. I was not a match for this little company I had joined. It’s been a hard battle back for my self-esteem. I was injured in the process. Injured where it doesn’t show, if you don’t know me. I long for retirement – the finish line. But in the process, I’m missing the journey. In the process, I’m longing for my future and dismissing the value of my present. I see the balloon lady and I’m discouraged. It’s hard to keep working when you aren’t sure you can do it. When with every mistake made or unrealistic deadline missed, I wonder if this failure will be my undoing. The voice in my head is my own worst enemy. It’s like running and trying to keep up with the balloon lady, passing her only to have her pass you again.
Our pastor told us to pray for those answers we heard. Pray for those, like me, who answered honestly from a place of less than victory. And now, after my pastor’s question – I’m looking for my pack. The one that will plot the balloon lady’s demise… and make me laugh, and make me enjoy the journey again. I need to find my “communitas” as our church calls it. I need to fight for my joy and I need their help with that.
I’m looking for them now. I’ve realized how much I need them, so I won’t end up on the bus. How much I need them to change my focus because I’ve realized I don’t want to quit. I want to finish the race. I want to finish and run into the smiling arms of Jesus. Somehow I think someone else out there is looking for their pack too. I want to encourage you to fight for your joy. Find your pack. Don’t miss out on the journey wishing for the finish line. Because the best memories are there even in the eleventh mile and you’ll miss them if you get on the bus.
Vicki L. Pugliese