Monday, 30 April 2012

Around the Bay in Two Plus Hours

In 7 days I will  run in Toronto`s Goodlife Marathon.  A runner once said 'the shelf life of a Marathon runner is only slightly longer than a fruit fly.'  Realizing that this area of my life can end at any time, I have used a few different races this year to prepare myself for the Toronto Marathon and included my family as often as I can. A few Sundays ago was the 30 km “Around the Bay” run around Hamilton`s Harbour.

The night before the race:

I am restless because even though I feel fine physically, this winter was challenging for me on a few levels.  Doubts assail me and I wonder if I am up to the challenge.  Before going to bed I look at a picture on my Computer monitor that has become a constant reminder of why I have choosen to run.   I than pray that I will only run for God`s glory.  Feeling better, I go to bed and have a somewhat peaceful sleep. 

I awake at 6.30 a.m. with an upset stomach, a tension headache in my neck, and a sinus headache above my eyes.  Chuckling to myself, I wonder which type of pain relief I need; fortunately I choose Ibuprofen and both of my headaches cease.  My elder daughter is not feeling well, so she decides to stay at home. The younger one, while not feeling great, decides to come at the last possible minute. After my parents arrive at our house, my wife, my other daughter and I drive to Hamilton without any excitement.

The race: 

Walking around outside the starting line, I think of a T-shirt a I remember seeing a missionary wear around my Church, which said   'Make war on the floor'.  I guess it was a strong statement of this lady`s personal belief in the power of prayer.  I think to myself that this is what my runs are about: in a strange way I am making war when I run, although in my mind I see many reasons that should disqualify me for such a task. Running a race is a very individual event; people cheering for you can help, but for the most part on the course, you are by yourself against the difficulty of the course, the elements, and a lot of times against your own body and mind. THE ONE THING I KNOW!  - is that when I run a race for Ratanak and the girls at the New Song Center, I am never alone.

The start is uneventful and I hope to run a 'smart' race today.  I have actually taken the time to look at the race map and note that the last 10 km have some huge hills, so I try to hold off a bit to save some energy for the finish.  I am looking for my family at the starting line.  I see them before they see me and I yell out 'Izzy' (my daughter`s nick name). A rare thing happens then:   my father snaps a quick photo and there actually is a picture of me smiling.

At the 7km mark a sign captures my eye. It says 'Learn to love the pain.'  Not quite, but as I think of my experience in running long distances, I see where I have learned to tolerate the pain, and sometimes even embrace the pain as I sense what is being accomplished.

The Picture

Shortly after these thoughts, the picture I have thought about many times this winter comes to mind.  On the Ratanak website under Projects -- Child Exploitation Projects -- New Song is “The Picture.”  A picture tells a thousand words - well, this picture tells of two lives.  These two tiny girls have their heads bowed.   They are on a bed.  The younger one is leaning on the older one, possibly for comfort or safety, yet safety is a world away.  Compassion will not come to these girls.  They are so small, so frail, so delicate, so beautiful, so innocent, so shattered, so shamefully exploited.  Such evil has overwhelmed and consumed their young lives.

What do I, a man, feel when I look at this picture?  I feel shock: I have heard many stories of abuse such girls as these face, yet every time I read or hear a new story I still find it hard to believe.  I feel shame: men who may have much in common with me have deeply wounded these girls’ flesh and spirits, and I wonder - not for the first time - if this world would not be better off without men if this is what we are capable of.  I feel anger: I confess that I imagine having a group of my friends, all strong, good men, much like David`s 'mighty men' from the Bible, searching out and punishing the men who have harmed these girls.  I am convicted, and wonder what else I can possibly do to help girls such as these. I am overwhelmed if I think of so many other little girls around the world with heads bowed in shame, enduring unspeakable acts of cruelty on their young bodies.

I am reminded of the words of a song (that I liked more than 20 years ago) by the group 54-40:

  I Go Blind

  Every time I look at you I go blind

  Every time I look at you I go blind

  Every time I look at you I go blind

  Little child did you know that there`s a light

  And it’s gonna shine right through your eyes

  What do you think that life is like

  Every time I look at you I go blind

  I go blind, I go blind

  Every time I look at you I go blind

It has a catchy beat and at the time I thought it was about a man singing about how looking at the one he loves made him go blind.  I was shocked when I saw the music video for this song, as it showed tanks rolling through countryside’s, armies marching through foreign countries, and young children crying at the unfairness life had brought them.  I later discovered that this group is very involved in being advocates for children in the less developed countries.

What this song describes is a bit like my family’s cat, Lucy. When Lucy naps in the middle of the day, she keeps the light from entering into her eyes and disturbing her sleep by putting her paws over them so she can sleep.  To me this represents the reactions of a lot of people when viewing this type of picture for the second time.  The first time there is shock and a lot of thoughts, possibly commitments to try to do something to change these girls situation.  After time these feelings fade and we move on with our lives forgetting these girls in the picture.  Possibly later when we are confronted by these images again, we are not as shocked and we become like Lucy - we cover our eyes, we change the channel, we put these girls and their lives as far out of our minds as possible.

Mud on our feet:

Brian McConaghy, the founder of Ratanak, wrote these words under The Picture.

I am overwhelmed by the daily hell (a term I do not use lightly) experienced by these children and have no idea how they can survive as long as they do.  Yet, I am stubborn in my belief that here, there can be hope.  I remain confident that the penetrating light of Christ can punch holes even in this darkness.  This is not a time to be passive-- it is a time to roll up our sleeves and climb down into the muck at the bottom of the barrel--just as Christ would do.

For some reason, I dislike getting mud on my shoes more than anything. But because this past winter has been so mild, my biggest challenge this year in running down my ravine has not been the cold and snow, but the mud.  The mud stays on my shoes for the whole run, distracting me and making me feel unclean.  But when we involve ourselves in these children’s lives, we have to be willing to get muddy.  Pulling someone out of mud allows some of the mud to attach itself to our lives.

Other images

At this point of the race I see a brilliant white light enter the girls’ room. I see a figure in white bending over to pick up and gently cradle one of these girls and taking her to a place that is safe far from this room.  This image stays with me for quite a while and even though after the 16 km mark a new ache starts in my body, this picture satisfies me that the pain is worth it, that somehow in a way I will never understand, my act of running is making a difference.

Not to be outdone, another presence makes itself known to me.  At the 28 mark there is a cemetery.  I see a sign on the sidewalk with the words 'I see dead runners'.  Although not finding this hilarious, I can see the humour.  Next is a sign warning us to 'avoid looking at the Reaper,' then a man and a woman actually dressed as Grim Reapers with their scythes and shouting out warnings to the runners not to look at them and also warning of upcoming death to the runners.  I was furious and with clenched fists actually ran towards the man and called him an idiot.  At the time, I was thinking of fellow runners who were struggling and knowing how hard it is sometimes to finish a race.  Upon reflection I see where my reaction was much deeper.  Death came about because of Adam’s and Eve`s sin.  Death is a consequence of sin and should not have been part of earth.  Obviously people dressed as the Grim Reaper are not on the side that I fight for.  I think what really set me off is the recognition that just as unnatural death is for us, so is the life forced upon these young girls.  As with Adam and Eve, sin has entered into the lives of these girls and taken away what should be theirs – childhood and innocence – and instead, exposing them to the evil that desires, and then destroys, their young bodies.

But Death and Grim Reaper, your days are numbered.   Earlier in the race at the 20 km mark right before the hills, a man (who would be considered a 'small person') sits by the side of the road with his music blaring - the old Queen song 'We are the Champions.'  The part 'we will we will rock you' blares at me as I approach him.  I am overcome with emotion and high-five him.  I hear a chorus of young children signing at the top of their lungs 'He will He will crush you.'  At first I am thinking of the pedophiles and abusers of these children but then realize that this goes much deeper: it is about the day when Jesus crushes the head of Satan with his heel. 

  Genesis 3:15

  he will crush your head,

  and you will strike his heel.

As I pull into Copps Coliseum and run across the finish line, I think perhaps on May 6 as I run my next marathon in Toronto, I will see the rescue of another little girl much like the one in the picture.


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