We had no sooner boarded the bus that would be taking 50 of us on a tour of the next day's marathon route than we began a conversation with two gray-haired women one row up and on the other side of the narrow aisle. This was going to be their first marathon and to say they were excited would be like saying Grey's Anatomy is just a TV show. File that under the category of "Understatement."
As the bus rolled along the volunteer seated behind Dave the bus driver, would call out each mile and point out sights of the city along the marathon route intermixed with details for the coming race that seemed to anticipate every question a bus filled with marathon eve athletes might ask. Deep questions. Thought provoking questions. "How many aid stations did you say will have portapotties? Are there Snickers or just gummy bears? I ordered a large finisher's shirt but I've gained 10 pounds from excessive carbo-loading so can I change to an ex-large?" Throughout the course tour the two women, let's call them Madge and Lenore for no other reason than I'm partial to those names for I-am-woman-hear-me-roar-gray-haired women, would ask repeatedly to no one in particular, "Is this where we'll turn during the marathon? Will there be signs here telling us which way to go? Will it be clearly marked?" The volunteer would chime in, assuring them that yes, we were following the actual marathon route and yes, in addition to posted mile markers there would be aid stations and volunteers covering the entire course so they didn't need to worry about finding their way. After a few more minutes and a few more nervous queries, the volunteer looking back toward Madge and Lenore, smiled and said "You know, there's going to be more than 9000 people on the course tomorrow so if you just follow the people in front of you you won't have any trouble finding your way."
Before the bang of the starting gun you already know where the marathon course leads because you've spent time acquainting yourself with the route map. You know where the finish line is and you know it will take a mere 26.2 miles to get there. You don't have to worry that in the middle of the race you'll be faced with a unexpected detour. No one's going to move the finish line and then make you go search for it.
Not so in life. Life presents us with a mélange of intersections, junctions, and forks in the road. Your birthing cry is the starting gun but where your life leads and how you'll get to the finish line is mystery, despite your best plans, or perhaps inspite of them. The distance isn't measured, the course isn't set, the destination is yet to be determined. Imagine registering for a marathon that provided no Race Day Info. You'd never do it. Yet here we are in life, running the most earth-shattering fantastical race of all and at times feeling incredibly clueless as to how to live out our time to the finish line.
The journey of life I'm traveling is all new to me. Though I've been on the course for a long while, the past miles aren't a guarantee of what lies ahead, because no sooner do I think I have the course figured out than I hit another unexpected turn, an unwanted hill, or an abrupt curb that sends me sprawled across the pavement. What offers me hope, what gives me some sense of comfort is recognizing that every inch of the road I travel is already littered with the discarded water cups of others who have gone before me.
"...if you just follow the people in front of you you won't have any trouble finding your way."
So here's what I do on my best days. I keep my eyes straight ahead, looking toward those who have already traveled the course and run well the race of life. Dorothy Day. Oscar Romero. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Mother Theresa. My grandparents and my dad. I'm never going to attain their level of goodness and grace anymore than I'm going to sprout wings and make Jeff Galloway tremble in fear but that doesn't mean I won't do my best to follow them; to look closely at how they ran their race and learn from them and be inspired by them. If I do, I won't get lost. And maybe, just maybe, I'll reach the finish line having done my best because I paid attention to their best and allowed it to teach me.