As I watched the live coverage of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon on Sunday, I was reminded again of a simple but important truth. It takes effort to remember the things that have shaped us as a community and as individuals.
When significant things happen in our individual or collective lives, we think we will never forget. Whether it is a tragedy or a triumph, we can’t imagine we would ever forget how we feel in that moment. In the depth of despair and darkness we struggle to believe that we will ever see light and feel warmth again. Likewise, in the intoxication of joy and light we cannot imagine it ever being dark again.
Then time marches on and we forget.
The passage of time dulls both joy and pain. We slowly find light replacing the darkness. We gradually come down from our mountaintop experience. Time tends to level things.
This is not a bad thing. Our lives would be unbearable if we could never recover from tragedy and difficulty, nor could we sustain the heightened energy and amplitude of pinnacle moments. We need the tenor of our lives to return to a moderate tone after periods of intensity.
However, we also need to remember where we have been. Past pain and past joy can serve to help us moderate ourselves during future times of stress. Comparing our present circumstances to touch-points in our past allows us to understand the relationship between now and the future. Having survived struggle and tragedy and darkness, to once again see light and feel joy, gives us confidence during other difficult times that we will rise again. Knowing from experience that the present joy and brilliant light of success will fade helps us to savor the moment and anticipate its ebb.
When I use to run marathons and ultra-marathons my running partners and I loved to train in horrible weather or when we didn’t feel well. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, we knew that when race day arrived, we would be prepared to face just about anything.
One year during the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon it rained, hailed, was sunny, and was windy, all in the same race. We often found ourselves saying to one another during that race, “this isn’t so bad, we’ve trained in way worse than this,” and we had. We had run in snow, and ice, and wind, and lightening. We were prepared because we had already suffered, and we knew we could make it through.
The highs in our lives also help to put things in perspective. Every summer, when we go to Colorado, we climb one or more 14,000 ft peaks. It is really difficult, and we struggle every year, but once we make the summit, we remember why we do it over and over again. The view is unbelievable. There is a feeling I get when I’m on the top of a mountain that makes everything else in my life seem small and inconsequential. If for only a moment, I am completely free from worry, conflict, emotional pain and difficulty. I am at the same time reminded how small and temporal I am, and also how blessed and singular I am. It is an amazing reset.
The highs in our lives would be meaningless if we didn’t have lows, and the lows in our lives would kill us if we didn’t experience the climb out of the valley. Still, we struggle sometimes to remember these important moments and seasons once they are past. And so, we need memorials. We need to be reminded of the pain we have endured and overcome, and we need to be reminded of the joy and blessing we have experienced.
Yesterday people ran to remember. Sometimes we put up monuments and markers. For some there are pictures and artifacts and mementos. Others just keep things in their hearts. Whatever you do, make sure you remember the blessings you have and the gift of pain you have experienced. We would not be happy living on a level plain. The mountains and valleys and there to allow us to experience life fully.
If you are in a valley right now, be encouraged. Your road will rise eventually. There are people around you who are willing to walk with you until it does.
If you are on the mountain top right now, revel in it. Absorb everything you can, and then offer to lift someone up to where you are.
If you are on level ground for now, know that there are mountains and valleys ahead of you, but you have come through these before and you will again.
Wherever you are, find a way to secure it in your memory, lest you forget.