Running from one year into the next may not be most people’s idea of holiday revelry, but since 1979 doing so has become an annual tradition for tens of thousands in New York Stad. Until now.
Like so many other longstanding events, the Midnight Run in Central Park from 2020 aan 2021 was scuttled due to the COVID-19 pandemie. But I nevertheless have terrific New Year’s Eve memories of racing with a cast of colorful (some costumed) characters in the shadow of the city’s skyscrapers and under the glow of festive fireworks.
As my friend and fellow runner Lynne recently told me: “I never ran in the Olympics, but at midnight in Central Park I got a sense of what it must feel like.”
Organized by the New York Road Runners Club, the four-mile race winds its way through the famed metropolitan oasis. Sparkling cider is offered at the water stops, though in the early years champagne was available.
But of all those cold, late-night runs, one stands out more than the rest because of a man I met at two miles into the run.
Larry was older than me, his bearded face weathered and a bit worn, but his pace was steady and comfortable.
“Any resolutions for the new year?” I asked him as we matched stride for stride on Central Park’s inner loop.
“Just hoping this year is better than the last,” he said matter-of-factly.
Taking the bait, I responded. “What happened last year?”
“Wife said I was running too much, ignoring the family,” Larry said. “I was lacing up my shoes one day for a workout, and she said, ‘If you walk out that door, when you come back, we won’t be here.’”
“So, what did you do?” I asked.
“I went for my run — and when I came back, sure enough, sy was weg,” Larry said.
Larry went on to tell me how he sensed the marriage was a mistake from Day One.
“I remember standing at the front of the church and watching her walk up the aisle,” hy het gesê. “I had a bad feeling about it.”
I never got to ask why he felt such dread, but one can imagine. Too many people are more in love with being in love than truly loving their significant other. Romance may make the world go around, but it’s also a daily decision and not just a euphoric elixir rush of dopamine, adrenaline, vasopressin and oxytocin.
Larry said the biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves. We ignore obvious signs and problems, hoping for better days instead of taking action to make changes.
My old pastor and friend Dr. Jim Singleton once told a story about an old dog moaning and groaning on the wooden floor of a hardware store. When a customer expressed concern, the proprietor told him the dog was sitting on a nail.
“Why doesn’t he move?” the shopper inquired.
“I guess it doesn’t hurt him enough to get up,” the owner replied.
We’re too often like that dog — lamenting a lot but lazily going along with the status quo. Taking action is what separates success from failure. Because even if you don’t entirely solve the problem you set out to tackle, the mere pursuit and effort will change you for the better.
In werklikheid, Larry’s running didn’t cause his divorce. It only magnified underlying and unresolved problems. Any number of things could have helped him, from premarital counseling to a heart-to-heart conversation with a trusted friend. He simply ignored all the warning signs.
Larry isn’t the only one ignoring or running from his problems. America is full of people doing the same thing. Whether wallowing in unfulfilled relationships, going to jobs we don’t like, or spending money we don’t have to impress people who don’t care about us, the human condition bends towards apathy.
After one of the most difficult years in memory, of being locked down both literally and figuratively, ek dink “aksie” needs to be the operative word of 2021.
It’s time to stop talking and start doing. Don’t run from your problems. Face them head-on.
Struggling in your marriage? Ask for help. Pastors and counselors are a great place to start.
Unhappy in your job? Do something small every day to work towards something better.
“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal,” says film producer Greg Reid. “A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.”
I lost sight of Larry just before the finish line, but often think of him each New Year’s Eve, including this one. I’d like to think he made changes in his life. His struggles have helped me with mine, and I hope they might also help you tackle yours as we head into 2021.
And now that we’ve entered 2021 after COVID-19 tragically claimed the lives of over 346,000 Americans in 2020, I think we can all agree with Larry’s wish: “Just hoping this year is better than the last.”