Nope, this one is not about me.
Runners’ World Magazine recently published an article about Junyong Park, a 34 year old Massachusetts runner. He puts the definition of “crazy person” for most of us into clear perspective. Mr. Park is what is called an “extreme athlete”. He participates professionally in the most grueling of races around the world. He is a two time winner of the World’s Toughest Mudder race, a 24 hour ultra-distance obstacle race. The obstacles are designed by British Special Forces. He routinely trains in cold, slushy New England weather. According to the article, “a typical day for Pak begins with a 20 mile run followed by an obstacle specific session with trees and walls, then a quarter-mile, 50 degree swim”. My favorite story is the one where he competed in a 70 kilometer (about 43 miles) race in the Nicaraguan jungle. He finished second, which also happened to be last. The other 37 contestants quit. He lives in New England and keeps the heat in his house at 45 degrees (that is not a typo). He does that to train himself for the discomfort of his races. On top of all that working out, he quit his job as an engineer at a high-tech firm to train full time. Want to read more? the article is at: http://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/the-maniac-next-door
But after reflecting on the article for a little while, I started to rethink it a little bit in light of my running two half marathons in the same weekend. Yeh, it is really crazy to have your house temperature at 45 degrees (how does a guy that does that even have a girlfriend?). If you participate in a race where over 95% of the people quit because it is too dangerous and hard, you are probably crazy to some degree. Running around town dragging a tire to prepare for a race is a little strange.
But is it really crazy to quit a promising job, when it is NOT what you want to do with your life? Is it crazy to pursue what you are passionate about? Probably no more crazy than staying in a job that you do not enjoy. Or no crazier than staying in (or pursuing) relationships that are bad for you (disclaimer here: I love my wife and we have a GREAT relationship). Is it crazier than making excuses for NOT working out (I am just no good at it, I need a friend to join me, I am too busy, it is too hard, etc.)? I do not believe it is really crazy to try to achieve the peak performance of what you are able to do – in whatever endeavor you choice. Who has it right? Mr. Park or the person who says “I am no good at math (or singing or dancing or reading)” and never tries to achieve greatness?
That is the awesome thing about people who pursue their life’s goals to such an extreme. They provide proof to us that the unthinkable is doable if we choose to focus ourselves. We may learn from their single-minded focus that we do not want to be as extreme as them. But more importantly we learn we can achieve WAY MORE than we allow ourselves to think. The mind is a wonderful thing. Part of its role is to tell us when there is danger. That “flight or fight” thinking is instinctive, unconscious and immediate. Unfortunately, all of us give in to that immediate reaction without more reflection. Walking down a dark alley? Probably a good thing to allow your automatic mind to control things. Thinking about taking on a new challenge, exercising, eating better, reading more, etc.? The initial instinct may say “no”, but why not ponder it a little more?
I challenge all of us to rethink our boundaries.
Pastors preside over hundreds, if not thousands, of funeral services over the course of their career. Some of them are for people they know well, others are for complete strangers. Some are done under tragic circumstances, others are done at the end of a long-lived life. I would suspect that having to deliver on one of those services is tough many times. What can you say about someone you hardly knew? How can you not be at least partially “going through the motions” sometimes when it similar readings and songs are selected? How can you possibly “get psyched up” for another “performance when you do them day in and day out?
I am sure Father Matthew Mankowski faces this. But on Friday, October 18, 2013, the man met his moment. And he succeeded. Many of us are put in a place at a particular moment and time and are faced with the challenge – will we live up to it? Some of us succeed marginally. Some fail. Some avoid the moment as best they can. But sometimes, one of us rises to the occasion and inspires the rest of us. Father Mankowski did that.
At my nephew Bryce’s funeral, father was absolutely genuine. He felt our pain. He poured his soul into the funeral mass. You could tell he was struggling with the emotions, the questions and the weight of the moment.
He said a couple things that were very important. One was he told us it was “okay to be angry with God”. We needed to grieve and part of that grieving was anger. But what he said next was MORE IMPORTANT. He said that “God would understand”. Wow, I never thought of it that way. But God is a benevolent God and he understands we need to be angry. So we have absolution to question God, perhaps in an angry voice, “Why?”. And He will understand. We all needed that absolution and it feels good.
The second thing he said was that we would never know on this earth why Bryce was taken from us at a young age. It is inexplicable to our human minds. The only way we would ever learn is through our faith. At the right time, we would find out. But in the meantime, we need to live with faith.
The final thing he did was bring some humanity and some humor to the service. At the end, he surprised everyone (including my sister and her family) by playing a “tribute” to Bryce. After speaking a few final words, he moved the microphone to his iPod and played the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars. Bryce loved Star Wars. This brought a smile to the assembled masses and allowed us all to think of Bryce as the kid running around doing something with Star Wars. Isn’t that a fantastic image to leave us with?
The man in the moment knew what to do to make us all feel a little better. Can’t ask for anything more than that. Thank you Father Mankowski.
My 9-year old nephew, Bryce, died unexpectedly on Friday, October 11. We are all devastated by the news. We all know that an occurrence like this happens every day. Much like the rings on a target or the ripples on a pond when a stone is thrown in it, the impact is different depending on how far you are away from the center. I can tell you when you are near the center, the impact is large. There is no explanation for his untimely death, so I am not going to try to make sense of it. But I am going to try to make more sense of his life.
There is no doubt Bryce brought great joy to his mother, his father and his big brother Nick. Bryce was unbelievably smart. He often used words much older than you would have expected from someone his age. He remembered facts like an encyclopedia. He could answer questions correctly far above his age level. He loved to sing and dance. I know he entertained his family countless times with his love of music and dancing. He was so lively.
Bryce was my mom’s salvation the last years of her life. The two of them were truly best friends. They spent countless hours together, playing games, arguing about anything and just enjoying each other’s company. He filled a void in my mom’s life like no other person could do. She was so lonely most of the time. When he was around, she was in heaven on earth. God was so wise to put him on earth to be mom’s companion and soul mate the last years.
Like all of us, Bryce was not perfect. He was a really picky eater. That is one of my pet peeves. I let it bother me too much when people do not eat what is provided to them. As I reflect on Bryce, this hits me in the face. Maybe Bryce did not want to hang around the dinner table because he knew his time on earth was short. It is almost as if he was saying, “look, I don’t have time for this long eating thing. I have a short time in this world and I want to enjoy it doing other things”.
Bryce like to be the center of attention. As the youngest of his cousins by nine years, he was on a different trajectory than his cousins. And with the attention my mom gave him, he was accustomed to being in the center. Sometimes that would be annoying when we were trying to have “adult” conversations. Now as I reflect on it, perhaps his desire to be in the center of attention was another way to say “hey you all, I am going to be here on earth a short time so try to enjoy me as much as possible, even if that means I am the center of attention a lot”. It is a really humbling thought to tell yourself that someone’s behavior was a signal to you that you totally missed.
So is there a lesson to be learned here? Yep. Enjoy the days you have with each person on this earth. You never know how long or short that time will be. Take a moment to reflect on YOUR actions with regard to another person. Are you getting the most you can out of knowing that person?
I’ve been trying to come up with an analogy to the current impasse. I think I have one.
Imagine that Rose and I could not agree where our child should go to high school. Imagine Rose insists they go to a Catholic School. I insist they go to a public school. Rose argues that the Catholic values taught are important for the development of our child. Her friends support her. One friend tells Rose about how wonderful an experience her child had going to a Catholic school. Another notes that the public schools are a den for drugs, bad behavior and general unruliness. One can even point to a neighbor’s child who went to a public school and has gotten involved with the “wrong people”. Rose is adamant that our child receive the best education combined with an atmosphere of healthy religion. So Rose is adamant and firm in her position.
Imagine I am equally adamant. I don’t want to spend the $10,000 a year on a Catholic education. It is not worth it. Anyhow, a public school can offer a much broader range of classes for our child. Those options will be critical in their development and allow them to choose the path that is best for them. My friends tell me how most of the Catholic school kids are rich and spoiled. They do not have a broad perspective of the real world. One of them is aware of Catholic students who party all of the time. I stay firm in my position.
So let’s imagine our solution is that neither of us will compromise. Therefore, our child will not go to high school anywhere until one of us caves in. So school starts and there sits our child at home, not being educated. Rose points out to her friends how big an idiot I am. I do the same to my friends, who support me 100%. What would be your opinion of our skills at parents? We would be considered horrible parents. Sacrificing our child’s future. Unfit to be parents.
How is that much different from our current politicians (I cannot get my self to call them “political leaders” because they are NOT)? They are willing to sacrifice what is best for us – the citizens of this country – for their own political grandstanding. No matter where you stand on this matter, I cannot understand how anyone can say what is going on is good. Life is about compromise and concession. Leadership is about LEADING. We don’t have those qualities in Washington.
I could imagine that if Rose and I agreed to a “solution” in this hypothetical case that our “solution” would be equal to what our politicians will eventually do. We would probably agree to send our child back to 8th grade. That way we would not have to worry about the high school thing for another year.
What do you think?