Are you pleased to be? Pleased to be alive, to be consciously engaged, to belong to a community, to control your experience, to love and to be loved, and to appreciate life? That was my experience last week as I ran the Lost Dutchman Marathon in and around Apache Junction, Arizona. The story of this race may be a diversion from our series on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), but not much of one. From Hamlet to my own musings on death and dying, this Provision may assist you to become an agent of celebration, conscience, and change.
Time for a brief intermission from our series on Appreciative Inquiry with another running tale. As I write this I am flying home from running The Lost Dutchman Marathon, which follows a route near the Superstition Mountains about 35 miles east of Phoenix, Arizona Click. The weather was fantastic and the contrast from the cold, winter storms of the east coast of the USA could not have been more dramatic. Phoenix has seen no rain for more than 125 consecutive days, and the 5th running of The Lost Dutchman Marathon was no exception. It was clear and crisp at the start, with temperatures rising dramatically only for those who took more than four hours to finish the race.
This time, that was me. I have been recovering from running for most of last year with an injured right leg (primarily the gluteus and hamstring muscles). After finishing the Atlanta marathon on November 24, 2005, I decided it was time to give it a rest until things felt completely healed. That took about two months, during which time I ran no more than a total of about 50 miles or 80 kilometers. The leg healed up just fine, but left me with only about 4 weeks to get ready for The Lost Dutchman.
“Yikes!” was my thought exactly. Given that people lose fitness about three times faster than they gain fitness, during which time it’s also easy to gain a few pounds or kilograms, I was more than a little concerned that my two month break would make it difficult for me to finish The Lost Dutchman. I had continued cross training, of course, but I had also traveled quite a bit and my usual routine was routinely interrupted.
My biggest concern was to not push myself too hard, too fast, in an effort to get ready for the marathon. It was tempting to do so, and it almost happened, but I avoided problems by following the rule to never run two days in a row. I would run one day, then cycle the next. Run another day, then weight train the next. Run one day, then elliptical the next. It worked. I was able to run/walk The Lost Dutchman, with no sign of injury, all the way through to the end.
Tragically, at the same time as I was working to bring myself back to life, in the days prior to the race, two acquaintances, men about my age died in the prime of life. One died from a brain tumor while the other died from pneumonia. Both left young children and surviving spouses in the household. The news was both sad and sobering.
It also provoked much thought and soul-searching. Even though we all know that death will come, it’s still hard for me to wrap my brain around the notion of my own death. After more than 50 years of life, my own death still seems a bit curious and surrealistic. It’s not that I’ve had no pain or health problems and it’s not that I’ve never been around or with people who have died. Having spent 20 years as a pastor, including nearly 15 years in the inner-city of Chicago, gave me plenty of contact with death and dying. It’s also not that I have never grieved the loss of a loved one. That too has been a part of life.
But my own death seems somehow disconnected from the death of one and all. The idea that my life will someday be over, that the sun will rise and I will not be there to greet the day, that Sunday will come and I will not be there to send out a Provision, that races will be staged and I will not be there to cross the finish line, that my wife will look for a hug and I will not be there to reciprocate, that my children will have some big news and I will not be there to share it, that clients will call and I will not be there to answer the phone • the whole idea that my life will end just seems hard to fathom.
“Why not?” I want to retort. Why not live forever? Why not renew my body, mind, and spirit, as I always have (with occasional help from medical personnel and loved ones), ad infinitum? Why not generate health, healing, and wholeness across the corridors of time through full engagement with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” Why not turn death itself into yet another project to be worked on and resolved?
I’m sure I will find that out soon enough, but I’m in no rush to hurry the process. And perhaps that’s why my own death still seems to be an oddity. I love life, and that’s enough for me. My days are filled with happiness and meaning, giving me energy, hope, and resolve.
Not everyone is so fortunate. That was the problem, you may recall, for the legendary Danish Prince Hamlet, who waxed eloquent in Shakespeare’s play with some of the most well-known lines in the English language:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question.” It’s a question of life and death. And, when it comes to Hamlet, just about everyone ends up dead. There is no happiness and meaning here, no reason to consider death from a distance, because life is but “a sea of troubles,” filled with “heartache and a thousand natural shocks.” For Hamlet, death becomes “a consummation devoutly to be wished,” Oppression. Pride. Unrequited Love. Injustice. Were it not for “the dread of something after death,” something both undiscovered and undiscoverable, those who “grunt and sweat under a weary life” might well take action to end it all.
Today, more than 400 years after those lines were penned, not much has changed for many people. There is weariness and tragedy that cannot be denied. And it prompts both suicide and homicide in proportions so epic as to startle even Shakespeare. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can make choices to be fully engaged with uplifting the course of life, regardless of how difficult or easy things may be. We are not condemned to repay evil for evil, like Prince Hamlet. We can, instead, become agents of celebration, conscience, and change.
That was my experience in the Lost Dutchman Marathon. The first seven miles of the course were more or less downhill, at which point I was feeling ebullient. My leg was not hurting in any way, shape, or form; my breathing, heart rate, and perceived exertion were ideal; my mind raced to the finish line, celebrating the possibility of a sub-4 hour marathon. Such are the delusions of grandeur that beset most marathoners at this point in the race. Everything seems so effortless and easy that one forgets all about the last seven miles.
Midway through the race, it became clear that I did not have the endurance to maintain my pace over the length of the race. No surprise there, given my recent training history. But instead of getting discouraged, I quickly reframed the experience from a sub-4 hour finish to an enjoyable training run in and around the desert peaks of Arizona. My leg was holding up fine, and that became my entire focus. It had been so long since I could run pain free, that each stride became an exquisite opportunity for gratitude. My pace was irrelevant. My relief at running pain free, combined with the remarkable scenery, was all I needed to keep my head in the game.
It was a matter of conscience and change. To get through life with a positive attitude one needs to make constant adjustments to dynamic conditions. As conditions change, we can either play into their hand or invite them to play into our hand. I choose the latter. Why rail against the conditions? They are what they are. Better to make the best of what we have to work with. And in this case, I worked with my body to not only enjoy the experience but to receive energy for the journey.
I certainly needed that at the end. My conditioning and fitness were not what they should be to finish strong. As the day got hotter and as the hills got steeper it required not only muscle memory but every trick I had learned in more than 30 other marathons to get myself through with enthusiasm and spirit. That is the real problem when we play into the hand of circumstance and conditions. We become dispirited and discouraged. We slide down a slippery slope that ultimately robs us of energy, dignity, and grace. We die before our time.
That’s an easy thing to experience at the end of a marathon. I know. I’ve been there more than once. Invested in a particular outcome, struggling to maintain a pace, one loses the joy of running and can barely make it to the finish. Not so when we invite the conditions to play into our hand. By releasing the outcome, new opportunities present themselves and new strategies surface for making the most of our experience.
At the Lost Dutchman Marathon I decided to break up the final five miles into very short intervals of running and walking. I would pick out a stick, a bush, a water stop, another runner, or a marking on the road and run or walk to there. Run to one mark, walk to the next. Run to another mark, and walk to the next. Not only did this approach conserve my energy, but it also gave me continual stimulation in picking out the next mark as well as more opportunities to look around and to enjoy the scenery.
Do you see what was happening here? I was working with the conditions • the condition of my body, the condition of the course, the condition of the landscape, and the condition of the experience • to become an agent of celebration, conscience, and change. I wasn’t just reacting to the conditions. I was interacting with the conditions in order to make my way successfully through to the end.
Isn’t that what we all want out of life? Who wants to go through life with a curse, like Prince Hamlet? Who wants to die without living from that place of celebration, conscience, and change? “To be, or not to be: that is the question.” That line kept passing through my mind as I ran the marathon. Whether it was because of the premature deaths of my two acquaintances, or because of my pain-free run, or because of my working with the conditions, whatever it was I found myself pleased to be.
Pleased to be alive. Pleased to be working with the conditions. Pleased to be with friends. Pleased to be able to move, at any pace. Pleased to be making a contribution. Pleased to love and to be loved. Pleased to belong to a community. Pleased to control my experience. Pleased to be an agent of celebration, conscience, and change.
That was an incredible amount of pleasure to experience during a marathon. It was not exactly ecstasy, but it was incredibly fulfilling and meaningful. To be pleased with one’s engagement with life: what more could a person want? No matter where we are on the journey, no matter how close we are to death, there’s no reason to not take that spirit all the way through to the end. Happy, healthy, dead. That’s how I hope to go. Appreciating the best life has to offer, constantly finding ways to serve and to be served, to love and to be loved.
From that framework, life becomes a joy and death loses its sting. That is the framework I experienced in the desert of Arizona and that is framework I wish for you and for all in the living of these days.
Coaching Inquiries: How do you feel about your way in the world? Are you pleased to be? How could you make your life more meaningful and fulfilling? How could you become an agent of celebration, conscience, and change? Who could assist you in becoming consciously engaged with life?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
I really connected with Erika’s last Pathway, “Get Beyond Guilt” Click. I especially like the line “accepting the role of martyr serves no one.” Reading her story helped me to think about people that our church is enabling to live their cycle of martyrdom. Good stuff; thanks.
I read Christina’s most recent Pathway, “Wake Up To Thanks” Click, and loved it! What a great way to start the days! Just thought I’d let you know that I enjoyed it.
Did you agree to list my country (Iraq) in your country List? (Ed. Note: Yes, it has been listed there for quite a while. Go There Thanks.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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