“Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages”
This morning, the Maine Marathon was going by just up the street, and when I saw all the activity, the cars parked all up and down our normally rather quiet block and so many people rushing by with their kids and rattles to cheer the runners on, I felt compelled to join them. I grabbed my favorite percussion instrument, a little hand-drum with a lizard painted on it and a great sound, and made my way up the street to where the local market was handing out cups of water and a trio of bearded Baby Boomers with electric guitars were belting out Beatles songs.
The runners, of all ages, genders, races, sizes, weights, heights, and physical conditions, in emotional states apparently ranging from triumph to desperation, were already straggling by in outfits ranging from lobster hats to high-tech runwear. People around me were waiting for their friends, cheering, and then getting their kids and leaving. My daughter had had no interest in coming, and I don’t know a lot of runners; I recognized one (or maybe two, I’m still not sure). But it didn’t matter. It seemed they could use some support, and I was finding the experience quite moving. I stayed for quite a while, clutching my hand drum, and as each runner came by, I raised it up and honored them with a little tattoo.
A surprising number of them managed to look up from their sweat and breath to catch my eye, smile, or even say thank you. But even when they didn’t respond, why was it so intensely satisfying? It wasn’t just the pleasure of helping out, or the novelty, or delight/amusement at the amazing variety of people, or the vicarious satisfaction of participating even so indirectly in the race. It was really about the privilege of witnessing such an honest depiction of the human journey.
I used to feel confused by my love of parades; I thought of them as full of imperialistic pomp, as descendents of Roman victory triumphs, and yet they compelled me. But today I was reminded that any procession can be as much a pilgrimage as a triumph: a group of people, each on an individual journey yet sharing so many challenges, each caught up in their own struggle with self-esteem, discipline, and goal-reaching, each needing something so different from others, and yet each somehow after the same goal.
As I cheered each person on, I realized that perhaps the work was not so different from teaching poetry.