Warring Against Weariness
Determined to watch fatigue defeated and the war against weariness won, I tried to choose a front line spot near the finish line. One could not witness victory from the starting point.
I was not prepared for the crushing weight of bodies that pushed, shifted, and strained against me like fierce, relentless waves against a ship’s bow. Still, nothing moved me; a rather exacting price to pay, but worth it. Although I grew tired of trying to protect my turf, for two hours I stood my ground, shifting my body in harmony with the persistent pressures behind me, and trying to avoid the fence that separated the throngs from the race track, but also threatened to eviscerate me.
Grabbing hold of the fence with both hands, I leaned backward, feet apart, uncaring of whom I pushed back. Occasionally, I could feel the skin crawl on the back of my neck from the hot air of someone’s breath, but that didn’t matter. When the race ended, although worn down by the effort, I could leave with entrails intact.
Finally, in the distance, multiple figures appeared on the horizon, moving in concert. It took only a matter of minutes before the first few contenders reached within yards of the finish line. From where I stood, I could see the ripple of muscles strained to the limit. Skin glistened like early morning dew on fresh cut grass, chests expanded and retracted in defiance of exhaustion, and beads of moisture fell unrestrained on faces set like flint and eyeing the goal.
Suddenly, as if propelled by some unseen force, two of the runners pushed past the remaining front-runners with feet barely touching the ground. The crowd tried to inch forward, an impossible task that only those of us who stood in the front line knew all too well. Once again, I pushed back against hot breath, but this time a pair of small feet dangled from the shoulders of an adult and rested on my shoulders. With a slight turn of my head and a quick glance, I could see that father and son seemed oblivious to the person standing in front of them.
I turned back just in time to see one runner abruptly sprint past his rival like a cheetah that has his prey in full view. The crowd spoke with one deafening voice, and then exploded into a thunderclap as the champion crossed the line.
My front row view did not allow for the luxury of being among the first to leave. So I waited while the crowd worked its way towards the exits. Other spectators stood by watching runners who knew the race was over, but kept running nevertheless.
I hardly noticed the young man next to me until he tapped my shoulder.
‘You know someone who’s running in the race?’ he asked.
‘Well, I do,’ he beamed, ‘I’m waiting for him to finish.’
I didn’t know what else to say, but I didn’t have to know before he continued.
‘He’ll be along soon, probably the last one.’
I stood in awkward silence wondering why anyone would be so elated over a last place finish. By now, the last of spectators were gone, leaving just the two of us. I felt compelled to wait. While we waited, he pulled out a folding chair, opened it, adjusted the arms, but did not sit down.
‘He’ll need this.’
Again, we stood in silence.
‘Are you sure the person you’re waiting for ran in this race?’ I asked in as kindly a voice as I could summon.
‘Oh, yes,’ he assured me.
Within minutes, the beaming young man began to jump up and down.
‘There he is, there he is!’
I trained my eyes on a lone figure walking wearily towards us; his white hair glistened in the late afternoon sun. Instinctively, I felt the need to help him, and said so.
‘Oh, no,’ cautioned the young man. ‘He would not want that.’
As the old man slowly inched towards us, the young man ran with the chair to where the winner had crossed the finish line and set it down. Soon after, the old man gave a final shuffle, grabbed the arms of the chair and sat down.
With love in his eyes, he panted heavily, ‘Thanks Grandson, I could use this.’
For the third time today, fatigue had been defeated and the war against weariness won. It was time to head home.
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