Wednesday, June 2, 2010
How long is thirty seconds? It can feel like a finger snap when you’re saying good bye to someone you love but rarely get to see. It’s a blip of time when you’re on a relaxing vacation, laying on a beach or cuddled in a comfy Adirondack chair with a good book. Or when you’re front row, center, at a live performance of your favorite band. Time seems to evaporate at an accelerated pace.
Thirty seconds is a very long time when a nurse is trying ‘just once more’ to find that mysterious vein so she can draw blood. It’s a gut wrenching amount of time when you’re across the room and watch your child fall into a coffee table with sharp edges. It’s an excruciating amount of time when labor pains are wracking your body and the next one will be over in ‘less than a minute’.
Thirty seconds can be a lot of things. It can reveal new maturity in a four year old who stands in line at preschool without wiggling for the first time. It can uncover hidden affection when a big brother takes the time to pause on the hiking trail, just long enough for little brother to catch up, so an intriguing nature find can be shared. And sometimes thirty seconds can reveal a lot about a person’s character.
I have this brother in law named Kurt, who loves to run. He ran track in high school, alongside his four brothers. He was rarely the fastest runner and was sometimes teased for his ‘gangly’ running gait. But he continued to run as he became an adult, and eventually became a very smooth runner.
He started eating all the right foods and invested in quality shoes. His efforts paid off. For the past decade he’s been committed to running 5Ks, sometimes alongside his runner wife, sometimes on his own. The two of them have a drawer full of race bibs, collected from dozens of races.
Then a couple of years ago he decided it was time to run a marathon. The goal would be to eventually run the Boston marathon. Not everyone gets to run in Boston, only those who qualify. So, unlike the rest of us, who would be happy just to finish a marathon, Kurt decided he would finish one with a time that would qualify him for the big one in Boston. He trained and trained, running the mountain trails near his house and putting in the miles on long lonely back roads.
The day finally came for his big race and he was ready. He ran his heart out. But after all was said and done, he missed his time. After running for over three hours, at a really steady, quick pace, Kurt missed the qualifying time by one minute. After running twenty six miles, sixty seconds stood between him and Boston.
But it’s not in Kurt’s nature to give up. He knew he could do it. He’d come within sixty seconds of doing it. He had to keep going. So he laced up those running shoes and he started over. Back to the mountain hills, back to the long country roads. His wife rode next to him on her bike, pushing him to go farther, faster. He was not ready to let his dream die.
So this past weekend we piled all four kids into the car and we drove up to Vermont. It was time for Kurt’s big race. It was time for him to qualify for the big one. We made signs and brought along our loudest cheering voices.
It was a gorgeous day. Overcast and cool, just right for running. The sun came out and by mid afternoon we all had pink cheeks. We split up into smaller groups and tried our best to catch Kurt along the race route as many times as possible. His wife clanged her cow bell and blasted his favorite music out of a small boom box every time she caught sight of him. We yelled and clapped and screamed out his name every time he passed by our spot next to the course.
After three long hours of racing back and forth to catch a glimpse of him, we went to wait by the home stretch. He had been on pace for his goal time at the 20 mile point. When he finally passed us it was impossible to tell if he’d made it. Our clocks were not coordinated with the race clock exactly, but we could tell it was going to be close.
He finished, looking strong and relieved and exhausted, all at the same time. As he sat next to us on some park side boulders and stretched his tired muscles, his wife ran over to the results table to await the final times. It seemed like she was gone forever.
And when she did return she greeted her worn out hubby with a long hug and a tender kiss, whispering something in his ear. “Three, sixteen, twenty-nine.”
Kurt had needed three hours, fifteen minutes and fifty nine seconds to make his qualifying time. He hadn’t missed it by sixty seconds this time. He’d missed it by thirty seconds. A half a minute. A flash of time to the rest of us but a lifetime to a runner who’s just pounded 26 miles into the pavement. It was heart breaking to hear. But our man Kurt handled it with grace, just as we knew he would.
Knowing he has more training ahead, more gut wrenching miles to lay down to get ready for the next one, because by golly, there will be a next one, this man who could have been downright angry, turned to give us his great broad smile. He ate a bagel, had a quick drink of water, and he moved on. This one’s over, time to plan the next one. Within minutes he was joyfully riding my son around on his back like a pony.
I learned a lot about thirty seconds this weekend. It can feel like a long time and it can feel like a flash of light. And sometimes, when the conditions are right, it can teach you a lot about a person’s character.
Those two round numbers can speak volumes about the true meaning of class.