I see both sides in the clash over canceling the New York Marathon — having runners traipsing through devastated areas where people are still cold and homeless would have felt strange, but people who’ve been training for months traveled to New York on the reassurance that the show would go on, only to have that decision reversed at the last minute.
Whether the decision was right or wrong, nixing the marathon has me reflecting on the first year I witnessed it in person. We lived just a block from Central Park, where runners finished their 26.2 mile runs, so we wandered over to the finish line.
I found myself unexpectedly getting weepy as I watched hundreds of runners concluding the final yards of this grueling ordeal. To my surprise, many of them didn’t look sweaty and exhausted, but instead thrilled and jubilant. They waved at family members and smiled for the cameras.
Part of what really got to me, though, was the people lining the course. They were shouting things like “You can do it!” and “You’re almost there!” and “Good work! Keep going!” But they weren’t just yelling it to one person they seemed to know. They were doing it for all the runners.
It seemed like such a beautiful example of how life should be. The runners were pushing themselves to do something that’s mostly about achieving a personal success, not about having to beat someone else to achieve, and all around them, people who had no vested interest in their achievement urged them to continue.
Too much of American culture has held up cynical snarky criticism as the height of funny. Hey, I’m not saying I don’t find Jon Stewart brilliant. But we aren’t all Jon Stewart, and there’s a difference between satirizing American government and directing that hostility toward individuals around us.
What if we directed a little of that snark into cheerleading for each other? Like, “hey, congratulations on trying something new at work!” Or, as really happened to me recently, a taxi dispatcher actually yelled out “Great shoes!” Or whatever it is. Just giving each other a little love?
I hope when the marathon returns next year, the crowds turning out to cheer are bigger than ever … and maybe in the meantime, we can cheer on the relief workers helping hurricane victims?