by Ali Valdez
This past month, I have been setting up an office which has displaced many things leaving little more than a printer and a rug in my former library.
I came home from yoga one day to a random clothing rack centered in the middle of that empty room. Hanging off the edge were an assortment of half and full marathon medals: Sedona, Napa, Angel Island, Whidbey Island, etc. Oddly and unbeknowest to my mother, she pulled out and abandoned the garment holder on the day of the Boston Marathon. Although there was no unicorn, no yellow and blue stripes to boast of that afternoon, I felt a solidarity with the runners who did.
Something precious to me had been loss that day, too: the miracle of the marathon.
It was almost impossible to witness what was happening when FB blew up with posts about Boston. Images on the media portrayed a city on lockdown, bloodshed on the sidewalks, smoking explosions and people in despair. Days to follow would feature robberies, murders and violent shoot outs. All of it made me cry and broke my heart. For the victims, of course, and Boston as a city struck by terror. But mostly for marathons and the marathoning spirit.
My marathon moment was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life; a feat I hold in higher regard to any of my accomplishments in yoga because none of that training and running came easy to me. I enjoyed doing them because of the inspirational show of solidarity. Atlantic magazine coined the phrase “communitarian” to define the unique atmosphere when taking the field together for 26.2, the iconic number. There is something in all of us looking to progress, evolve past limits and transcend. You find that as soon as your foot crosses the finish line at a marathon.
And let us not forget the kindness of strangers. Where else could you find thousands of people at sunrise with big smiles on their faces? The start of a marathon line for one.
From this vantage point, strangers bond as friends. When the path’s unforgiving winding expanse of road grows weary, there is always the steady breath of angels on either shoulder to carry you in spirit.
For those that don’t run, there is a place for them, too, these corroborators of joy: the cheerful roadside volunteer thrilled to see you stuffing cuties and bananas in your clothes. I miss those days; I miss those people.
The field tests the human body, spirit and mental fortitude on every level. What it never challenges is the love the runner has for their sport, their pride crossing the finish line. No ‘race’ is ever the same; and I guess going forward no marathon will be either.
The first marathon was surrounded by the same climate of violence, senseless carnage, polarized political and cultural conflict. On another level it also captured the spirit of winning against all odds. The origins of the marathon go back to the days of ancient Greece. Supremely outnumbered by the Persians during a key battle, the Greeks managed to overcome their enemies and declare victory. A messenger was set on foot to report back the news running the famed ‘marathon’ without stopping until he arrived in Athens. He shouted victory, then passed out of exhaustion.
Prometheus’ deed imparted higher wisdom to human beings, something he paid for dearly by being chained to a rock. When you’re immortal, that can mean an eternity. To make matters worse, Zeus in eagle form daily took to devouring Prometheus’ liver, feeding off the organ that houses anger and resentment. Prometheus was an advocate for the advancement of man, providing additional skills and means to civilization. Our progression forward had a cost. It left Prometheus stuck in near perpetuity to repeat the same cycle of suffering daily.
It seems hard to not turn on a television and see people in a daily cycle of suffering. In spite of the horrific circumstances which brought forth the victory of the marathon of Athens and the tragedy at the marathon of Boston, people remain people. Yes, Prometheus gave us fire, but after Hercules rescued him off the rock, we humans sometimes are still stuck there in his stead.
From a yogic perspective, is it our karma that keeps us bound? Is someone or something ‘else’ that wrathful eagle pecking at our sides, or is it ourselves when we operate under the delusion that somehow we are seperate from the eagle, somehow the rock is not chained to us but vice versa?
As I point out the similarities and symbolism around the events, I keep circling back to this idea and notion of the ‘advancement’ of man: both the hubris and humility of it. Are we still not facing the same issues just with more modern weaponry and immediacy of their happening, not having to wait hours relying on a running man with a scroll of parchment in hand? There are more countries, more geopolitical angst, and yet people still having to make the daily choice of being victorious or just plain vicious towards one another.
I would love to see the world be that better place. I also know I cannot look out, point my finger benignly at all the perceived wrongs and think somehow I am removed. Communitarian implies being a stakeholder in the ebbing and flowing marathon of life. My karma is not floating free form, discombobulated from the rest of the world’s. In my skin, I have my own race to run, prejudices to overcome, and heartbreak hill to tackle.
Marathoning taught me more about hard work, patience, courage, friendship and devotion than anything else in my life. It was my unchaining from the rock of impossibilities because when I joined the field in communitarianism, and I didn’t walk, I didn’t stop, I just ran and four hours later, I did it!
It is my choice to turn off the channels, reflect on my own life and the areas where I can have impact. I also have to resign myself to the fact that I am not entitled, nor immune, from a potentially catastrophic or tragic event testing the verity of my yoga and faith based beliefs. I am nothing more than the runner in sandals on the long, dusty road back to Athens, the smell of fennel, heavy like licorice, bearing down on my sun burned shoulders. As soon as I arrive with a proclamation of victory over my shared humanity, I am bound to fall flat on my face. That much I can learn from the past.