It was thirty years ago next month that my friends and I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon is Washington, DC. It was a beautiful, cool morning, with crystal clear skies as we embarked on the 26.2 mile treck around our country’s monuments; the beginning was punctuated by the blast of an 80mm howitzer, and the ending was adorned with the sonorous Marine Corps marching band playing my favorite childhood military song, The Caissons Go Rolling Along.
Thirty years ago. I turned the age of 29 a week after that race in Washington, beginning the last year of “my first thirty years to heaven” (to borrow an altered phrase from Dylan Thomas) “whoever he was” (to borrow a phrase from Paul Simon). And in a few days I will turn 59, beginning my sixtieth year on this earth. The time is flying by. And I can’t seem to stop it. Or even slow it down.
If you are a country music fan you are probably familiar with Tim McGraw’s song, My Next Thirty Years, where he takes “a moment to celebrate his age” (30 years at that time) and to refocus on the next thirty years, vowing changes in behavior, etc. “The ending of an era, and the turning of a page,” as he calls it.
My mother, Edith Aileen Benson, passed away two months ago today, having come close to completing her third set of 30 years (at age 88). Thirty years ago she was about where I am today in life, in terms of age. Am I two-thirds of the way through my walk on this earth, or . . . even more? One wonders.
Thirty years ago I ventured with some of my best friends into the most taxing run of my life. One of our number fell by the wayside at mile 16, near the Lincoln Memorial. I had my own pains to contend with, beginning at mile 5 as we went around the Pentagon, and intensifying at mile 12 as we rounded the Capitol Building. You see I had injured myself while training the week before the race, and I was sporting a new pair of running shoes and taking butazoladin as an anti-inflammatory for my ailing tendon.
At mile 20 they sent us around a large field, and I could see runners coming back toward me from where I was headed – the pain, the fatigue, the monotony, the discouragement . . . it was all just too much for me. And so I stopped, and started to walk. Six miles from my destination. I had failed.
Then coming from behind me, one of my friends (I hadn’t seen any of my friends the whole race so far), Karen, stopped to encourage me to run again. And so I did. With the arduous and indescribable pain that sets in when you have completely fatigued your legs, stopped your activity, then tried to begin again. It was excruciating. But I did it. And there is nothing I would give in trade for the experience of running across that finish line (it took me over four hours), listening to that military music, and glowing with satisfaction at the feat I had accomplished that day.
Thirty years ago. And now . . . at the close of my second thirty years I am running the marathon of caring for an aging parent. Her passing has slowed me to a walk. Feelings of failure try to taunt me. It is excruciating packing up her things, deciding what to keep and what to discard. Trying to refocus now, since my focus has been so well-defined over the past few years with her. Now it feels nebulous.
But I have a wife that loves and encourages me, children who are as supportive and kind as humanly possible, friends and family that are there for me, giving me space in this time of grief and uncertainty. And so, I will slowly begin to run again. And I already know that I would not trade the experience of running this race for anything in the world.
We held Mom’s memorial on Saturday, September 29, 2012. My brother and I got to pay tribute to Mom along with 40 family members and close friends. It was a beautiful and memorable afternoon. There was no howitzer, but there was the sonorous voice of Judy Garland singing Mom’s favorite song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and there were beautiful roses (red and yellow), and loaves of pumpkin bread (Mom’s recipe) for each attendee.
I shall never forget the marathon that marked my first thirty years. And I shall never forget the one that marked my second.