I’m currently reading a fascinating book called “The Things of Earth,” by Joe Rigney, a theology professor from Minnesota. It’s a bit of a challenging read and is most definitely a Christian book – there are verses from scripture referenced on nearly every page – but the primary message of the book is one that’s relevant to anyone’s life regardless of faith.
Rigney writes that “our existence in time, space, and bodies is not a bug; it’s a feature.” His primary point, distilled down to a sentence, is that our existence and ability to experience our surroundings on Earth is a gift, and that God has intentionally given us the ability to enjoy the gifts that surround us, which are also of God.
Now, I happen to be a believing Christian, but even if you are an ardent atheist who believes we have been put here and exist entirely by accident, I believe there’s a lot to take to heart here. If you believe in a creator, you should be boundlessly thankful that, somehow, you were created. Likewise, if you believe your life is only a matter of mathematics, you should be boundlessly thankful to have been fortunate enough to hit the greatest lottery of all-time. Either way, the message to cherish each day and moment applies.
I took up distance running seven years ago after a bout with cancer. I was inspired to do so because of the effect cancer had on my body. Specifically, the symptoms made me so tired that it was an impossibility for me to run at all. I knew that if and when I ever got well and had the strength to run once more, I would never take it for granted, not even once. There’s one moment from midway through my treatment that I will always remember. After four of my eight chemotherapy cycles had completed, I accompanied my then-fiancee (now wife) to a wedding of a friend of hers. At some point after we arrived, I remembered we’d left a gift in the car. When we exited the front of the facility, we found it had begun to rain. I volunteered to go back to the car myself, and after I took a few steps, I spontaneously realized I felt like running. So I ran. I made it to the car and back, and for the first time in months, didn’t feel winded or dazed. I legitimately had the energy to run again. I knew the treatment was working. I will never forget the feeling of the raindrops and of being able to run again after having it taken away. It was pure exhilaration.
Running marathons inevitably involves pain. It involves some occasional shortness of breath. After 20+ miles, you will ache in places you didn’t know it was possible to ache. Funny though it may sound, I embrace these feelings. They are a gift. Every day and experience we are able to enjoy is a gift. Yes, even pain can be a gift. We are here and vital enough to feel the pain.
The experience of cancer survivorship has made me appreciate everyday things, yet it has also made me more restless at times. Long stretches of inactivity, or repeating the exact same thing every day, or anything mediocre… I no longer have much patience for these things and they drive me a bit batty. We were not made to waste time, or at least there’s no reason we need to waste time. Sometimes you need to take the extra 15 minutes to spend with your children, buy them the ice cream cake (yes, I bought my girls an ice cream cake for Valentine’s Day and it was delicious), linger at the baseball park watching all the fans stream for the exits after the game is over, take that trip to the place you’ve always wanted to go… and yes, run that marathon with the biggest smile on your face and in your heart that you can possibly muster.
And when you’re running that marathon, whenever you see a little kid along the side sticking out a hand to high-five you, you high-five the kid. Every single kid, every last time.
Because it is a gift. All of it. Receive it and savor.
Nine weeks to Boston.