Yesterday, I ran the New York City Marathon. By the time I crossed the finish line, most of the other runners were already deep into their second margarita or their third slice of pizza. Most serious athletes could probably complete the course twice over in the time it took me to drag myself from the Verrazano Bridge to Central Park. And here’s the thing: I couldn’t care less.
Sitting in the start village, waiting for my turn to walk up to the start line, I looked at the people around me, the fellow runners of Wave Four. Like the last couple of rows of the bus on a high school class trip, Wave Four was no one’s idea of the best and the most likely to succeed. One look at us, and you could tell we weren’t the fastest, or the youngest, or the fittest. But you could also tell that we had the kind of soul that moves the world.
For every person like the sniveling lawyer who messaged me just before the race, using a slur and daring me to beat his time, Wave Four had ten folks like Dave, who identified himself as being 55 years old and 35 pounds overweight, but who still wrote his phone number on his jersey and urged any woman to give him a call if she valued a man who could run for seven hours without stopping.
I saw Dave again as we entered the park for the last few miles of the race. He looked dazed with pain. He was talking to himself about the beer that awaits him at home. But he was still running.
Maybe it was my flaming knees, or maybe my mental exhaustion, but all I could think about was Wave Four as metaphor: The least mighty of nations, the Jews, assigned to history’s most remote running corral, ran an incredible race nonetheless, finishing with faith when so many other mightier nations faltered. And my forefathers who settled Israel and built it into a nation were also Wave Four people through and through, a ragtag bunch of dilettantes who triumphed because they kept going and going and going even when everything in observable reality screamed stop.
So congratulations to all who ran, even to those who are fleet of foot and slim of figure, but today my heart is with the meek in the very back, the winners who may be out of shape but never out of hope.