Being “one of us” is a powerful thing. We are all stronger because of the communities we belong to.
This morning our family engaged in one of our semi-annual Thanksgiving traditions – we joined 37,000 other runners and walkers for the 42nd annual Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot 8-mile and 5K races. It was a great morning; just cool enough stay comfortable in winter running gear, but warm enough to be pleasant and friendly. It was great to be a part of such a large tribe of people, to be one of us with all of them. How often can so many people get together with no fighting and everyone friendly to each other? The only reason there were police on the scene was to protect us from traffic, not from each other. There was energy hanging in the air from so many people with shared goals. It was contagious. We were all wearing the proper tribal colors (race T-shirts, high-tech fabrics, running shoes), and we all had fun.
That many people won’t fit in the small space of a street on one city block. The pack of runners waiting to start spilled over onto all the sidewalks and side streets and stretched a long way from the starting line. And a group that size won’t move very quickly, even after the starting horn sounds. It always takes a long time before everyone is up to speed; the crowd uncoils like a big slinky. I got closer to the starting line this year than ever before, which meant I started moving (shuffling) only two minutes after the horn went off. Usually it takes 8 to 10 minutes before I start moving my feet.
About a half-mile into the race I found myself trapped behind three double-sized baby strollers being pushed side-by-side, the pushers talking and gossiping and giggling like old friends, all six kids nestled into their blankets. They created a barrier across the road of about 15 feet, leaving a huge wad of runners dammed up behind them trying to find a way around. But that sort of thing is what you should expect in a family event so huge.
By the time I hit mile two, I finally passed my last group of walkers – I don’t mean runners who occasionally walk, but people who never intended to run at all. They were easy to identify by their huge fleece jackets and blue jeans. It took me two miles to catch up them, meaning they must have lined up very near the starting line to be so far ahead of me. I got into place about 20 minutes before the race start; they must have lined up an hour before.
As I settled into my pace for eight miles, I thought about how running has become such a family marker for us. And this particular race has been part of our Thanksgiving tradition for ten years.
Running together is something that has become so important and identifiable with us, yet it started off in our group back in 1978 with me trying to impress a girl. I thought I had to do something athletic to win her attention and I choose running because it had the least skill requirements for a beginner. I was never any good as a runner but I just kept stumbling along. Who knew Cyndi would eventually join me? Who knew Byron and Katie would join in? Who knew Katie would marry an athlete and drag him into our running tribe?
Our beginning with running was fragile and tenuous to start with, but over time it became a fundamental part of our story. And it is our shared stories that make us a tribe, that make us … one of us.
This single activity sets us apart from most of the world but joins us with the thousands of families we ran with this morning. Why did we stick to it? How did it become so important? Who knows?
How often the defining markers of our tribes, the activities and attitudes that link us together, that bind us together, are so fragile and thin. Community can be very subtle. We had a lot of things in common with 37,000 people today, even more things not in common, yet I might feel more a part of that group even without knowing anyone else’s name than I might feel with some family members that I’ve known for decades.
The older I get the more I value the communities I belong to. Maybe its because my family has grown, and grown up, so its been more important for us to get together. Maybe its because I’m finally convinced I cannot do it all myself - or I can’t do it well all by myself - or I no longer want to do it myself. Or maybe I’ve finally listened to the advice of friends who understood the value of community for their entire lives.
Community has to be guarded and cherished. Our tribe is held together only by a few things, but they have become strong things. I am looking forward to more.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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