Years ago, in a lifetime far away, I was at a party with Gwyneth Paltrow. I remember passing by her—she’s tall—and sort of chuckling that she was drinking a Corona Light. In those days I kind of thought Corona was light enough. But a few days later I read a quote from Ms. Paltrow in the newspaper when she was asked whether she would ever consider running the New York City marathon. Whatever doubt I had in her poor choice of beverages evaporated in the face of her fine choice of words. She said, “Run a marathon? Doesn’t that take four hours? I don’t do anything I like for four hours.”
In the past few months I’ve been a witness to a friend who is training for an Iron Man triathlon. For those blissfully unaware of what this event entails, it begins with a gentle 2.4 mile swim in open water, then a moment of peeling your wetsuit off to get on a bike for a leisurely 112 miles, followed by dismounting your ride, putting on some running shoes, and bringing it home with a little marathon (26.2 miles). The total tonnage of hours on bikes, jogging on roads, and out in the open ocean is more time than I can fathom doing any one of those things.
Witnessing my friend prepare for this event, to do something most humans will, blessedly, never have to do, inspires something in me: wonder. Not the magnificent, “behold this glorious sunrise” wonder. Nope. The good, old-fashioned, “I wonder what got into that guy” kind of wonder. It’s a wonder not unlike the kind expressed by the southern grandmother of a friend of mine when someone explained to grandma that they were running a marathon. She asked them simply, “Honey, what are you runnin’ from?”
Humans with the drive, the patience, and the fortitude to withstand years of strenuous training to accomplish something hard deserve our respect, for certain. But many disciplines hold the pain or the discomfort that the discipline is meant to alleviate or to heal. Grandma’s question wasn’t only a witty remark. She’d seen enough to know what might drive a person who wishes to be made of iron. And so she wondered. And even Gwyneth Paltrow might have sounded cool in her comment to the paper, but not long after that she won an Oscar—no simple feat for average humans. Grandma might have some questions for Gwyneth, too.
Discipline is a form of coping. It’s order applied to disorder around us, running through us, and maybe sitting in some jostled corner of our soul. There are other forms of coping. There is coping at the bottom of Corona Lights for some. There is coping on the streets where people live, and not only jog by. There is coping wrapped tight in the bedcovers we can barely peel off to face the day ahead. But when we rise like the sun does every day and when we lift a little to the spirit that gets into us, we hold the best of both wonders in us even if just for a moment…and nowhere close to four hours.
And may it always be so.
Rev. T. J.