Some of the greatest advice of all time circles a common theme.
When you face tough times, just do the next right thing.
As I’m writing this, I can see several hundred runners in the Little Rock Marathon making their way past my hotel, seven stories below. I decided to make my way to street level to cheer the participants on. About the third floor, the elevator doors opened and three marathon runners entered the car. Apparently, they had started the race, run to the hotel and then stopped for a few minutes to pick up additional clothing and rain gear from their rooms.
Yes, it’s raining during the marathon. And the temperature is dropping as Storm Titan makes its way into the area. So I can’t say that I blamed them for the side trip.
But what I thought was remarkable was the conversation they were having. Apparently, there were four runners in their little group. These three chose to make an unscheduled stop, the fourth ran on. What I was hearing was the opinion of one runner that their team member who had continued was going to be sorry. “She doesn’t know how the cold and rain will affect her. She will shut down after a while. She clearly doesn’t understand what she is doing.”
Now, not being a person with experience running marathons either wet or dry, I have to assume that there was some truth to what the woman in the elevator was saying. Yet, I wondered if perhaps the one who ran on wouldn’t be just fine.
The truth is that most of us have been caught in a situation where conditions weren’t ideal. Perhaps there was an opportunity to divert and to take on extra resources or leave the course all together. Yet, in the moment, we made a decision to continue and to simply take the next step.
As I watch the marathoners move past my window, I’m aware of the different styles of the runners. Some take quick steps, others have a long gait that makes it look like they can run for days. The posture of some runners looks painful. They are bent over and every step appears to be a struggle. Others run with heads up and shoulders back.
I’ve watched the spectators, too. Friends and family members are scattered along the road with signs and encouragement. At one point, I saw a young woman with Starbucks cup in hand, leave the curbside to run alongside a friend for a few hundred yards.
Even though others can strategize and still others can encourage, the fact is that each participant has to decide on their own whether to continue, to put one foot in front of the other. So, in the next few hours, tired but exuberant runners will be finishing this race. And the important thing to us — and to them — is that they continued.
The rest of us may not be marathon runners. But we all do essentially the same thing. And those among us who simply look forward to the next step, the next right thing for us, are ultimately content in our plight and happier in our celebration.
I am reminded that when I see someone struggling through life, it is not my place to second guess them. Only to marvel that they remain on the course. And to cheer them on wherever I can.