Sunday, October 19, 2008

The thing we do...

Saturday night. 8 pm. Most of the house was packed.

Or was it?

The obligatory last minute odds and ends had somehow multiplied while everything else had been packed in an organized fashion. Doesn't it always go this way with moving?

There were ten of us scurrying around the open space, sorting the remaining items - "trash", "give away", "to be delivered to someone", and "up for grabs." Each one of us doing our part to keep busy and contribute a helping hand.

Every ten or fifteen minutes, I would feel the cold breeze of looming heartache. I'd notice her in a corner wiping away a few tears. Or consoling Ate - her son's nanny - who was heavy with sadness.

In funeral-like fashion, everyone busied themselves with details. Acting as if packing up your best friends' life is as mundane as getting your daily groceries. It warrants no emotion. You'll finish one task, then move on to the next, maybe stopping to eat a piece of pizza or to exchange witty banter with another.

Emptying the fridge. Checking the drawers - for the thirteenth time. Ordering the taxis for the early-morning trip to the airport. As a team, we unearth and maneuver every detail.

And pull our sweaters closer to avoid suffering the occasional breeze.

This afternoon, my tram ride to Olympic Stadium came to an abrupt end. In my lack-of-sleep induced lapse of judgment, I failed to consider that what waited for me at my final destination - the finish line of the Amsterdam marathon - would be the cause for stunted public transportation today.

My dear old friend and ex co-worker was here from LA to run the marathon, and I wanted to be there to cheer him on.

Realizing rather quickly that he would be done running long before I would get to the stadium by foot, I decided to embrace the nameless runners in front of me and cheer them on in honor of my friend.

I walked a block south and landed in front of the Rijksmuseum.

The sun was proudly displaying its October finery. Pointy plates of golden leaves blanketed the sidewalk. The museum building broke the blue skyline with sharp turrets and straight lines. All of this exaggerated with natural light shining from behind it.

Against the monotony of brownish-grey brick and pavement, flashes of brightly-colored running garb. Hats. Shoes. Shirts. A Pantone holiday party in motion.

You can tell by their strides and face that they aren't going as fast as two hours previous. My eyes pan and easily notice the strain of many runners' steps.

Men and women of varying shapes. Blond, brunette, bald, tall, short, round, thin.

Looking at them, then looking at the crowd, I wonder if two different climates are occupying the same street. Shorts and t-shirts juxtaposed against coats and hats.

From the right, drums pound without stop. A tribe of eight sway left and right to a trance simultaneously created and felt through the rhythm of their instruments.

And another rhythm emanates.

From every side, applause. Words shouted kindly from smiling faces.

"Come on!" "Keep it up!" "Good job!"

A drone of encouragement. A sonic wall of enthusiasm. Accompanied by a beat so primordial, I think it never began and believe it will never end.

My feet have frozen into the open space upon which I am standing and I take it in.

All of this before me: the aspiration and courage to keep moving toward the finish line, no matter how challenging the task is...the human impulse to stand along side and cheer on these people...these strangers...knowing that rhythm needs to be a part of the ritual...this thing that we, as human beings, do for one another...

After the last of the paperclips, straws, dog treats and other assorted miscellany had been sorted, the cold realization that it was soon going to be time to say good-bye began to invade the room.

Almost without cue, the ritual began.

We gathered around the dining table. One poured champagne. Another broke the silence. We raised our glasses. She spoke. He spoke. The women cried. The men consoled. The comedians distracted. The wise uplifted.

The ten staying behind beat a steady rhythm of encouragement for the four preparing to leave. Oh, this is so hard for them. For her, especially. To leave behind this life, this sisterhood. They have been the nexus at the center of our home-away-from-home community for four years.

I see in her eyes she doesn't want the minutes to pass. No more going forward. Someone has to pull the plug for her, or she'll never do it.

And so, one-by-one, we stepped up and embraced the chill - each in our own way. It was time say good-bye.

I'm surprised to notice that my face is now wet with tears. The runners pass by in a steady stream, headed for the finish line. My hat provides me enough privacy to sob in the middle of the crowd.

In the center of this moment, I am completely overwhelmed. Stunned by the human capacity to love. To care. To be impacted by relationship. Amazed that as steadily and involuntary as a heartbeat, we will brave the cold to cheer on those we love. How can we do this? WHY do we do this...this thing we do when we love?

This invaluable facet of human existence is easily taken for granted. But today...right now, I see it. Feel it. And I'm honored to be a part of the Race.

All too soon, the moment passes. The tempo now etched in my mind, I turn, step in rhythm and head for home.

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