“Did you know that you can only buy hot crossed buns during Lent?” Dad asked me.
I shook my head, no.
“It’s true,” he said. “That’s why the cross is there. It’s an ancient tradition.”
I asked Mom and Dad what they’re giving up for Lent. “Nothing,” said Dad. “Nothing,” said Mom. We all laughed. When I was a kid, giving up something for Lent around our house was…well, it was gospel.
“Nowadays the focus isn’t so much on what you give up,” said Dad, “but on what you take on. What you do to lighten your neighbour’s load.”
I”d taken a bus to Peterborough for the annual half-marathon. My parents live a couple of miles from the starting line, so I was staying with them. Dad was in a hurry, getting ready for church. He was on Sidesperson’s duty, which meant he had to put on a tie and a sports-jacket, and get to church early to greet the parishoners, and help them into their pews. Mom was also on Sidesperson duty, but she played hooky to drive me to the starting line.
“I can always take a cab,” I told her.
“No,” she grinned. “I’m glad for the excuse.”
The roads were dry, and it was one degree above zero, which meant I didn’t need to wear long underwear. Mom dropped me at the YMCA, where I picked up my racing bib and traded stories with the other runners. At noon I went outside and bounced around in the starting corral, trying to stay warm. I thought to myself: I LOVE THIS! I LOVE RUNNING! THIS IS WHAT I LIVE FOR!
45 minutes later, I was no longer happy. I was unhappy. Ultra unhappy.
I’d run 12 kilometers, and my lungs were on fire. It took all my strength to keep from throwing myself into a snowbank and bursting into tears.
I HATE RUNNING, I thought! THIS SPORT SUCKS! WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?
In that moment I hated absolutely everyone and everything in the world.
The volunteer handing me a cup of Gatorade? HATED HER!
The barefoot runner dude? HATED HIM!
The kindly-looking folks at the side of the road? HATED THEM TOO.
“You can do it!” they shouted.
I nearly yelled right back at them: “YOU’RE WRONG! I CAN’T DO IT! YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH THIS HURTS! GET OUT HERE AND START RUNNING IF YOU THINK IT’S SO EASY!”
Suddenly I realized who they were. Broke into a grin and stretched my arms wide:
I was SO happy to see my parents, I did a little tap-dance there on the road. Mom and Dad had been standing outside in the freezing cold for an hour, just so they could cheer me on.
“Nowadays the focus isn’t so much on what you give up,” Dad had said earlier, “but on what you take on. What you do to lighten your neighbour’s load.”
In a flash, I thought about all the stuff my parents had done for me over the years. All the diapers they’d changed. All the meals they’d cooked. That time Dad picked me up at the Pen Centre after I crashed his van. The time Mom nursed me through a 105 degree fever.
They’d done so much to lighten my load. And what did I do for them in return?
I tossed them my sweaty neck-warmer.
“What the heck is that?” Dad shouted after me.
“It’s his underwear!” another runner joked.
And then a strange thing happened. As I ran away from my parents, I noticed that my pain was gone. I sped up and got back into the zone, and finished 2 seconds faster than my goal. (1:29:58)
It’s a good reminder. Next time you’re having a rough time on the road, stop dwelling on your own pain, and shift your thoughts to someone else. Think about what you can do to lighten their load.
And while you’re at it, eat some hot crossed buns too.