I can almost feel the ripple of a cape caught in the air currents in the wake of my stride. For some completely unknown reason I broke into a run (i.e., jog) as I set out from my home on a cool but humid morning. The last time I did anything more than a walk was last October when my sister and I participated (notice, I didn’t say competed) in a 5K at the Holland Fair Grounds. I’m never fast but feel deserving of whatever my heart desires after pushing my body past its slovenly instincts. At the end of our annual fall race I imagine keeping up the charade of being fit all winter. What is to stop me from moving my workout into our basement treadmill rather than our country road? If I built on my tip-top racing form all winter rather than dropping off from any physical discipline, maybe I could even place next year with my muscles gleaming and sculpted in the home stretch! But somehow, with the onset of wintry darkness and encompassing cold, I return home at the end of my work day with thoughts about dinner and not improving my race time.
As we slammed into COVID hibernation in March I imagined that it could be the perfect time to start back into my fitness quest. I’ve never been a morning person so working out before the workday wasn’t realistic. But, if I could have some flexibility to my schedule and take a shower mid-way into my ministry schedule, that had some appeal. Nada. It may seem like I had much less to do with Bible Studies and in-person worship put on indefinite hold. But there were many new agenda items added to my new routine. Initially all meetings were cancelled and we sat in a fearful stupor, wondering if the Corona Virus would knock at our door. We watched the news non-stop those first weeks, our strength sapped as horrifying statistics about suffering and death became fodder for restless nights. I don’t know of too many folks who commit to new regimes of physical prowess after learning that more than two dozen refrigerator trucks have been moved into NYC to “store” dead bodies.
Colleagues and I began to meet by zoom weekly to offer support and figure out how to minister to our flock while physically separated from them. We wrestled with how to honor parishioners who died during that time when we could not meet with them or offer the comfort of our sanctuaries. We all took crash courses in how to use Zoom and began to open up the business of our churches through this miraculous means of gathering. We gave each other tips for how to best stream services in our empty buildings or piece worship together by sending videos to our now-crucial techy staff person. We asked for forgiveness for cursing the clogged internet when it thwarted our efforts to lead worship through a screen.
Somehow the motivation to literally hit the ground running never occurred to me even though my mental and physical health could have greatly benefitted from that. Upping my level of endorphins during a pandemic of historic proportions clearly would have been beneficial. But no.
So my sister, Lisa, sent out her annual challenge to me to get off my duff and enter a race. Only this year she moved up the date from fall and pitched The Super Run Virtual 5k out of Orlando, Florida. As if the joy of training for a race wasn’t enough, she celebrated that we would be sent a cape and other swag that we could wear as we ran our own private 5k. She brought my son-in-law into the fun as well, knowing that he is literally a Superhero to children in need of a boost in local hospitals. He was all in and, of course, had already run a few races in a cape. Lisa’s challenge motivated me to move. I told myself that I could walk it. Since I would be doing it alone I wouldn’t have to grind my teeth as women clearly my age or older effortlessly ran past me. There would be no despair over a five-year old child running alongside a fit parent, the two of them conversing as easily as if they were sitting outside of Rocky’s eating a double scoop ice cream cone. Not that I notice those things when I run in a race (perhaps I do have a competitive spirit?). So my husband and I began to break our quarantine with 5k walks and I rejoiced that no one would see how late I crossed a finish line.
But then the date didn’t work for the three of us and I was let off the hook. No June 27 Super Run. Maybe another Saturday this summer. In spite of the reprieve, I’ve moved mentally into my usual summer fitness routine. I love the way I feel after I push myself physically. I know that at any age (and especially at my age) I’m in a use-it-or-lose-it stage. So I headed out this morning to beat the heat and, for some completely unknown reason, I broke into a jog. As usual, I told myself that I could slow to a walk at any time. Truthfully, I have to make that promise to myself any time I go out for a run. But then my competitive spirit kicks in and today I ran the whole way. After an 8-month hiatus, it is both pitiful and triumphant!
As I loped along Herrington and then House Streets, I thought of the cape I wasn’t wearing for a race. I realized that there are so many folks who have shown themselves to be heroes in the past four months. Medical professionals who have put their own lives at risk by caring for the sick and dying deserve our praise—and an increase in pay! Government officials who have had to make decisions regarding public health policies in the face of frustrated and furious constituents have earned my respect. Police and firefighters who have responded to emergency calls and recently faced rioting crowds while the virus looms are heroes. I admire folks who wear stifling masks while marching in peaceful protests to demand changes to systemic racism that has plagued our country for generations. Heroes are those in helping professions who give calm to anxious clients through zoom and Facetime appointments. Though I have worn a clerical stole while recording my sermons, perhaps my colleagues and I have needed to put on capes to reassure our people, through the lens of an I-Phone, that God is near in spite of evidence to the contrary.
In my Spiritual Direction Practicum we studied the work of Joseph Campbell who delved into the notion of heroism across many cultures. We were asked how we are heroes of our own story. Most of us in the class felt uncomfortable with that notion. You know, like the man who rescued someone trapped before an oncoming train refuses accolades: “I was just doing what anyone else would do.” Well, except for all the other people lining those same tracks who were more anxious about having time to pick up a Starbucks coffee before work than they were about saving a stranger. So my classmates and I had to unpack our understanding of heroism. To be the hero of our own story means we have leaned into times of trial in the world around us and pushed past our very selfish inclinations. We have forfeited personal security for communal health. We have so highly valued the well-being of others that we have stepped out on a limb to serve them.
This sounds like being a Christian to me.
So I got a reprieve from racing against my own clock this weekend with a cape flapping in the breeze. I’ll have to focus on other ways to wear a cape—or to drape a stole around my neck as a servant in the name of Christ. That’s a race we’re always running, whether we realize it or not. In addition to the fun of a competition, The Super Run invites participants to raise money for a favorite charitable cause. My husband and I will enjoy deciding where our tithe will go this month in addition to the support of our church. So many people have been heroic during COVID through their financial generosity. As shelters and food pantries have struggled to pay bills for a greatly increased client base, people of faith have supported them. Our church has donated toward local restaurants that started cooking meals for exhausted medical personnel and first responders. Heroes quietly write checks. They make phone calls of encouragement. They drop cards in the mail. They make compassionate decisions by zoom. Before the deadly threat of a virus, they enter into the suffering of others hardly aware that their cape is fluttering behind them.
As I jog a solitary race on a road that is closed to through-traffic for the summer, I thank God for the heroes who run into danger sans cape or expectation of fanfare. I ponder how I might stretch courageously into being the hero of my own story—for Christ’s sake.