Words by Al Blanton | Image by Ryan McGill
There is an incredible feeling of accomplishment when you cross the finish line of a half marathon. I’ve done this maniacal thing twice in my life. Just recently, I completed my second half marathon—a grueling, hilly affair on a warm morning in early October (if you don’t know already, a half marathon is 13.1 miles, and not in a car).
During the race, I was coasting for the first seven miles. Feeling good. Kind of sassy. About Mile 8, though, I met this hill—this slow, gut-testing hill that just kept going up, up up…
Over the last five miles, I think I got a small glimpse of what Hades is like. I was hot. I was parched. I didn’t think I was going to make it. But I just kept going, and I did.
Crossing the finish line (hallelujah!), I collapsed onto the asphalt. And instead of plopping down near the tables with drinks and bananas—like an intelligent person might do—I chose a spot about 30 feet away.
For several minutes, I just sat on the ground, catching my breath. I felt terrible. My body was aching with pain. I was super thirsty. My neck was sore from having to hold my big, 7 ½ hat size, bobbing head up for two-and-a-half hours. My legs were like Jell-O.
I wanted to get up and get a drink of water, but my body was simply hurting too badly. I half-expected a worker or some Good Samaritan to walk over and ask me if I needed anything, maybe ask if I was OK. No one did.
I looked around and everybody was busy doing their own thing. Scanning the crowd, I noticed there was a lady preparing the medals to be handed out. Photographers, dressed in gold t-shirts, were readying themselves for the next contestants to cross the finish line. Vendors were hawking their wares. Family members were eagerly anticipating their loved ones to appear so they could cheer them through those final steps and snap a pic for social media. Others were just chatting, not really paying attention to anything. And I sat there, taking it all in.
Finally, I was able to muster up enough energy to walk over toward the refreshment table, grab a Powerade, and find a shady spot on a curb. Again, I sat there for several minutes, catching my breath and trying to hydrate enough to be able to walk to the truck. And although this was a less conspicuous spot than the one before, still, no one came over to check on me.
I started to make a methodical walk toward the truck, but quickly realized I had gotten too eager and laid down in a grassy area underneath an oak tree. There were people around. A family. A few kids.
I laid there for quite a while, staring up at the leaves as they swayed in the wind, their green color juxtaposed against the cloudless blue backdrop of the sky. I was waiting for someone to say, “Hey man! You OK?” But again, no one did.
Out of the haze of my periphery, I could see a few people walking by, and I silently wondered if anyone would stop if I was started doing grass angels and turning purple whilst foaming at the mouth.
The truth was, I felt alone. Sure, this distress was self-inflicted, but I wanted someone to at least ask how I was doing. I wanted to know someone cared.
I thought about how life is like that, too. We are so busy doing our own thing—we’re distracted with work, hobbies, ballgames, Fantasy Football, Netflix, Reels, pageants, books, wine tasting, monster truck competitions, concerts, rock climbing, hunting, life—that we don’t notice how people might be struggling. The widow who is grieving the loss of her husband. The high school student who feels hopeless. The father who just got laid off from his job. The child who’s dealing with anxiety. Your spouse.
While we are mindlessly looking down at the newsfeed on our phones, there’s a whole world out there that needs our attention and compassion. It may be a co-worker. It may be a random person at the grocery store. It may be your best friend.
Have you noticed? Have you called to just check on them?
I’m as guilty as anyone on this. Even in my text conversations, I don’t stop the thread to ask the other person how they are doing—I just assume if they haven’t mentioned anything, that all is well, and I rock on.
But the instruction to love one another is scattered all throughout the New Testament. Take a look at a few of these verses:
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32
“Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” – Philippians 2:3-4
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” – Colossians 3:12-14
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
and he will reward them for what they have done.”
– Proverbs 19:17
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” – Romans 12:15
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34
We should all ask ourselves in 2023—in a world where there are more distractions than ever before—Are we loving one another well? Are we loving others deeply and compassionately, or is laughing at videos on our social media feeds and taking selfies more important?
Maybe, for a moment this week, it’s time to stop scrolling, turn off the TV, and simply look around.
Sitting on that asphalt, I was reminded how important it is to check on people. After all, you sometimes don’t realize how much people are struggling—until it’s you. WL