When I arrived at Freedom Plaza, it was clear this was one part race and one part party. Diverse throngs of people from every walk of life mobbed Pennsylvania Avenue. Dads pushing strollers and women running with their dogs. Little kids jogging along side their parents. College kids with their earbuds in, less focused on the bonding than the personal record. One guy even had an artificial leg (I’m pretty sure he ended up beating me too, but let’s not dwell on that.)
Nearly everyone there was running for *someone* whether they had written that person’s name in sharpie on their race bib or had actually gone to the lengths of having team shirts made. I learned that “in memory of” means that someone died and “in celebration of” means they looked the dragon in the eye and lived to tell. I passed whole gangs from groups with names like Rob’s Runners, Lisa’s PittCrew and Team Terri. Some just said “In Memory of Ryan” or “running for my grandma”. Others had telltale dates – 12/14/69 –5/9/11, above smiling photos that said person pictured on said shirt had fought the devil and lost. One team, Sara's Angles, had shirts emblazoned with a picture of a bubbly and smiling four year-old girl in a sundress.
Since I rolled in about 30 seconds before the starting gun went off, it was a little hard to find my compatriots in the crowd. I ended up run/walking most of the race by myself, which, as it turns out, was probably a blessing in disguise, because I was not prepared to spend most of the race choking back tears.
Okay, let’s face it, I’m pretty out of shape, so I was prepared for the possibility of some crying but I figured it would come from a muscle cramp or something. I didn’t realize the t-shirts would get me.
But then again, that happens now. I hear of someone who has recently been diagnosed (like my friend Kate’s husband who’s battling a really nasty form of Leukemia – their four kids are ages 10 months to 6 years), someone who has survived, and those who haven’t, and I can feel the emotion well up. It starts in my gut and rolls all the way up to my throat until I have to bite my lip and think of spreadsheets to keep from crying.
In these moments, it hits me: I had cancer. Like the thing that *kills* people.
I realize for all of you who know and love me, this hardly counts as breaking news. At this point it’s like me telling you “I’m from Michigan!”, like it had just occurred to me. But sometimes I forget. Getting through meant never really admitting to myself the full extent of what was happening. So, as you can imagine, I don't really like to think much about it now, either. But sometimes I don't really have much choice on that score.
This is exactly what happened, when I rounded the corner on Constitution Avenue and caught sight of a whole extended family wearing shirts that read "Team Glen." As I looked at the screenprinted photo of Glen in his shades, relaxing on the deck of a boat, holding a beer and smiling up at me, it hit me like a brick to the face:
I am Glen and Glen is me.
The tears that came then, sprang from the sharp thing that is part realization and part reminder that I went to hell, danced with death and came out the other side. And that Glen did not. That both of those things remind me that my life is simultaneously both permanently altered and stunningly blessed.
As we ran past the Botanical Gardens over the one mile mark, I was overcome by a sudden urge to grab every member of Team Glen then and hug them. I wanted to tell them I know how brave he must have been. How unfair it is. But also how they've really captured his spirit in those t-shirts. How their love is a
living testament to the fact that he must have been a pretty great guy that
lived a pretty great life.
I did not grab them, mostly because I don’t want to scare the children (or get arrested and miss out on those free juice bars at the finish line I see people who ran faster than me walking around with.) So I keep my hands to myself. But I do silently say a little prayer – sending loving comforty kinda vibes to Glen’s people, and thanks to the universe for both forcing me into the fire and seeing me out the other side.