I have often thought it must be a great feeling to have run a marathon. This wondering hasn’t made me in any way inclined to actually run one, but I have been married to a marathon runner for long enough to know the reality of training for and completing a marathon is in sharp contrast to the euphoric moments when the line is crossed.
Last year our niece Naomi decided to run her first marathon and some of us went along to support. The marathon was in Bournemouth and it was a toughie for a first marathon, with several hills along the way. Naomi also knew that she would be running much of it alone, because she was faster than the girl with whom she started. When Martin and I looked at the map we saw that there would be a long section where there would be little support, as the route did a long loop out of the city. Marathon runners know that this is a feature of many routes and it’s often in the last third when they are really having to dig in to find more energy. So we decided to drive out of town and place ourselves at the furthest point out to cheer her on, realising when we got there that we were stood at the bottom of a rather steep and long hill.
As Naomi came round the corner I began to cheer but Martin took one look at her and started to run next to her. He ran with her to the top of the hill and when I met them at the next loop he started to slow down, until Naomi said: “Don’t leave me.” Martin stayed with her till about mile 25 when the crowds were getting bigger, the bands were playing and the end was in sight. However much Naomi appreciated all of our support that day, I’m sure the one who made the greatest difference was Martin. He didn’t just “talk the talk” he “walked the walk” – or ran in this case!
How often do we offer to help people – you know, the “if there’s anything you need” comment – but never actually follow up in an authentic way like that? I know there have been times in my life when I have taken someone up on their offer for help, but then the help comes in such a begrudging way that I feel worse than I did in the first place. It’s so easy to offer support; it’s harder to give it – especially when support means getting alongside that person and being in the tough situation with them. But sometimes there’s nothing else you can do.
There’s a tribe in Africa where if someone loses a loved one, they sit on a blanket outside their hut and others come and sit with them. This is not to weep and wail together (although if they do cry then that’s ok), but to just be together in that situation. It says “I am with you in this. I know you are hurting. I know this is hard for you.”
When I went through a period of depression a few years ago, three things were very beneficial to me that all encompass this ritual. The first was that there were certain homes of friends and family where I knew I could go and no demands were made on me; they would let me sit quietly in the corner without insisting I join in. The second was going to the Sunday morning service and being in an atmosphere of love and acceptance but feeling free to leave quickly at the end without having to engage with people. The third was a card from my friend Donna that said: “I can see what you are going through and I am sitting on that blanket with you and will continue to pray for you.”
I know that the likelihood of me ever running a marathon and feeling the pride and joy afterwards is very remote, well non-existent really. I also know that I will go and support Martin and our friends the best way I can manage. But more importantly I want to be the sort of person that says “Is there is anything I can do?” to a friend needing support and be prepared to back up my words with actions. Perhaps I won’t be joining in a marathon with Naomi any time soon, but one thing I can do, one thing we can all do, is sit outside a hut with someone and just let them be.
Written by Ros Satchell