Friday, July 30, 2010

I Can Only Imagine

I was wrong, really wrong. Two months ago, after starting my latest running project, I was put in touch with a guy who was starting an organization, JRunners, for Jewish runners, along with two friends. Their first event was a 200K relay race. They were hoping to find 50-100 runners to run from Brooklyn to the Catskills, a distance of almost 125 miles. All proceeds would help Mendy, a friend of theirs who has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). I thought they were crazy. With three months to go and only 20 runners signed up, I was sure the race would be a flop. Not only that, it didn’t sound challenging or fun. After all, each runner would be running about 12 miles, less than the distance run each Sunday by serious runners. Intrigued, I signed on.
The race ended yesterday. (How cool is it that I can’t write “took place: yesterday, as it started Wednesday and lasted over 20 hours?) It was an incredible experience despite the fact that I was not one of the runners.

Among the highlights:
• Watching Chaim, only 12 years old, keeping up, and passing, the old guys
• Having a runner get so into his run that he ran across the Manhattan Bridge instead of the Brooklyn Bridge
• The first race in history, I have no doubt about this one, that had a 2 hour “time out” mid-race to make sure all runners who wanted to, had time to pray
• Blood, sweat and vomit (no tears, as far as I know) poured out by 60 runners
• Getting to produce and be interviewed on a 3 hour radio show (JM in the AM with Nachum Segal, who really is an amazing guy) that was broadcast from one of the legs of the race
• Driving with my buddy Roy from exchange point to exchange point and watching tired and excited runners give everything they had
• Watching a friend, Moishe Gamms run the last two legs of his race after his foot got run over. He even sprinted the last ¼ mile to give his team the victory
• Seeing the camaraderie develop among the runners despite the differences in race, religion, level of observance and age
• Being in such a good mood that I stayed calm when my car stuck in a ditch for 45 minutes when I pulled over to man one of the exchange points
• Spreading the word about ALS in the community (We really made a difference)
• Raising lots of money for Mendy and his family
• Getting to meet Mendy

I never could have imagined the incredible success that this event would be on so many levels. I never could have imagined enjoying a race so much, when I wasn’t running in it. I never could have imagined how much could be accomplished by over 100 people (runners, volunteers and more) who cared so much about a fellow Jew, who they had never met.

What’s next for me and for JRunners? I can only imagine.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Do Not Intend to Find Out

It happened again the other day. I got up early to run, got dressed and headed outside, while it was a little less hot and humid. As I turned on my running watch, the display read “Battery Low”. After expressing my frustration in a less than mature manner, I decided that I could do the run anyway based on having run that distance before. I did my run and everything seemed ok. Until two later when I did the run again, this time, having remembered to recharge my watch. I discovered that I had cut my previous run short by about .21 miles. Of course, a normal person would have let it go, so I did not. I made sure to tack that distance on to the end of my run, with a little more as “punishment”. Of course, the question has to be asked, would it have made any difference if I had not made up that small distance?

As a teacher, I have often been asked to explain why it was necessary for the Talmudic rabbis to add so many laws to protect the plethora of biblical laws. I often share an answer I once heard from Rabbi Nechemia Kibel (OB”M), an educator who really was like a father to his students. Back in those days, before the whole world had gone green, items that were fragile were sent by mail surrounded by Styrofoam “popcorn”. This popcorn prevented the item from breaking, in case it was jostled or even dropped. Often, when opening up such a package, I would have to wade through a lot of popcorn before I found the item buried in the middle. Surely, they could have taken out a piece or two, without any harm to the item. Perhaps a third, a fourth and a fifth as well. At some point though, one less piece of Styrofoam would have made a difference between the item making it whole versus the item showing up broken. Which piece would it have been? No one wanted to find out. So to be safe, the box was filled with the stuff.

Surely, when it comes time to run my next marathon in November .21 of a mile less will not make a difference. Perhaps I could get away with taking it bit easy. I do not intend to find out.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

One Step at a Time

The boy, being a typical teenager, albeit one with above average intelligence, couldn’t pray. His conscience would not allow him to. He had too many questions about G-d that he needed answered before he could stand before Him in prayer. His teacher, a friendlier than average rabbi, noticed him standing there silently staring into space, while those around him stood and prayed. Afterwards, the rabbi approached the boy and asked if he could be of help. The boy told the rabbi his problem and asked the rabbi what to do. The rabbi replied “When I feel that way, I keep on praying”.

I remember the exhaustion I felt towards the end of my first marathon. I had nothing left, but I knew I could not stop. I kept on taking one step at a time, feeling like I couldn’t take another. Yet somehow I did, and then another, and another, until I crossed the finish line.

I am in training for my next marathon. My mother’s death has put a cloud over things and for the first time since I started, running has become more of a chore than a means of relaxing. I find myself constantly checking my watch to see how much further I have to go until I stop. Of course, it is not just running that feels this way. Still, I know that I will keep on going.

One step at a time.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:

Monday, July 12, 2010

What's Your Butterfly?

The little girl ran across the field chasing the colorful butterfly, in a scene that was as beautiful as an Impressionist painting. As we grownups stood watching her, we enjoyed the moment, certain as we were that she would never catch it. The girl, all of six, was of course too young to know the futility of her chase and ran as fast as her little legs could carry her. Suddenly, like a plane starting its descent, the butterfly slowly dropped and landed on my daughter’s outstretched hand. Apparently, it too had not been informed that he was not supposed to do that.

I woke up early yesterday morning to run early and try and beat the heat and humidity. That didn’t work out so well as, I felt beat up almost right away. By the end of my run, when I was supposed to pick up my pace for the last 20 minutes, I was sure I couldn’t do it. I stopped and rested, trying to convince myself to try. It was only with much cajoling and some words that I should probably not repeat, that I got myself to try.

It has been said that most of us live “lives of quiet desperation”. Not only do we stop dreaming, but we shoot down the few dreams we have, before really giving them a chance. There is a cynicism that we grow used to which is both painful and debilitating. It keeps us from growing, dreaming, running and trying.

What’s your butterfly?

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Get Real

“You know what we doed in camp today?” the little boy, who couldn’t have been older than three, asked his mother, with an adorable ignorance of the rules of grammar. “We ranned around and we wuz sooo tired”. I smiled as I eavesdropped on the conversation between this young tike and his mom. The conversation was very sweet and the love they shared with one another was obvious.

I just started my newest training program for my next marathon. My every day is regimented in terms of mileage and pace. I am hoping that this coming race will be the one where I qualify for the Boston Marathon and fulfill my running dream. Still, the rigidity of the training is a challenge for me. I sometimes miss the earlier days of my running when I just ran and felt happy to be able to do so. In a sense, I have traded the joy of running for greater success.

I know many, if not most of the laws necessary to pray properly according to Jewish law. I am careful to follow the various rules of grammar as I pronounce each word. My prayer has technical accuracy but often seems to lack any inner feeling. It is as if the better I get at following the rules, the farther I get from God.

To be sure, I do not think there has to be a choice between technical accuracy on the one hand and beauty and grace on the other. The greatest musicians, athletes and religious personalities seems to combine the two. Still, for those of us who struggle to put the whole package together, I am not so sure that the heart should not come before the head.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Just Call Me Copernicus

It is tough, even painful, to make a discovery that goes against everything you thought you knew. Right now, I am dealing with the pain of such a discovery.

When you are a child, everything seems to center around you. Your parents and everyone you meet, seem to be there to serve you. You see the sun out the window of your care, and it appears to be following you. At a certain point you grow up, or at the least are supposed to.

Belatedly, I am discovering that the world does not revolve around me. Copernicus convinced the world that the universe was heliocentric, moving the belief of the people away from the belief that everything revolved around the sun. Some would say he moved people away from a theocentric belief, that G-d was at the center of the universe. I am struggling to move away from a ME-ocentric universe.

As I sit here in a year of mourning, I struggle with the fact that the world goes on its way as if everything is normal. How can the sun shine when I feel so gloomy? How can it be that people do not answer to my kaddish prayer, with the same passion that I recite it?
Before, I went out to meet up with a group for a run. There was a car accident, along the way that made me late. How could this happen to me? Never mind the people who were in the accident. Clearly this was about me. How could the people in the group not wait for me? Never mind that no one had any idea I was going to be there. They still should have waited.

My response was to go for a group run by myself, running much harder than I should have been on an “easy” running day. I didn’t care. I wanted to run my anger and self-pity into the ground. Still, like the sun from my youth, I could not get rid of them, as they accompanied me every step.

I am alone in my orbit, a small star at best, with a minimal gravitational pull. I will see where this new reality brings me.

PLEASE donate in my mom’s memory to help children with cancer: