April is always so cunning. And I am always taken in by the way it offers the sly beauty of intrepid daffodil blooms or weeping cherries to encourage me into happily persevering through the mish mosh of sun, then rain, snow, hail, sleet – all in an hour’s time.
Perfectly appropriate, then that April is also host to Patriot’s Day. Marathon Monday. Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Every. Single. Year. A character in my hometown’s narrative, equally as predictable as it is unruly. The annual invasion of television trucks, security detail, chains of baby blue portable toilets – the predictable. The weather – the unruly and often hairy beast. We are the starting line of one of the most grueling marathon courses in the world. 26.2 miles to Boston.
Without fail, I wake into a sense of collective anticipation: the whir of helicopter blades slicing across the sky above our otherwise inconspicuous suburban landscape. The amped energy of 30,000 runners with nothing left to do but start the race. No more training. No more decisions to be made. These are the sneakers, the layers, the juice packs. Last night’s dinner and this morning’s meal can no longer be considered. Regrets will come but cannot be changed without more consequence to what each person has come to do in the first place.
An hour ahead, runners line up inside the barricades that had been erected along our Main Street two days before. When the world comes to you, arrives with a baseline of mental and physical grit, we must offer it a container, a direction, some flow. Otherwise, it might leak out and be disappointed by the simplicity of a lazy cul-de-sac neighborhood that suddenly seems like an awkward host.
This year I stood my ground at the three-mile mark. Obligating myself to study the faces, the bodies, the messages scrawled onto bare arms or across chests. Who are you number 19,456? How did you get here? What have you borne before today? Is your stony face concentration? Determination? Pain? Does my cheer reach you ears? Can you sense how impressed I am as I watch your footfall, one after the other, closer, closer, closer to a moment now 23.2 miles ahead?
Heartbreak Hill will show you no mercy. Wellesley College is, devastatingly, only halfway to the finish. 30,000 stories run past me. Mothers, sons, friends. Bearing whatever has happened in life to this point; testing that against this unparalleled requirement for endurance. Which is harder? Maybe that’s the point.
I found myself in the suspense of empathy. That place where only my imagination can fill in the gaps of what this must be like. Having never undertaken a physical feat anywhere near comparable, my wild mind seeks comfort in assumption, truth without proof. Storytelling.
I suppose, similarly, I have never put myself in the position of demolishing any part of my house. I have never remodeled a city home that I own, nor blasted land near a neighbor, nor invited strangers in day after day for eighteen months. I have never moved my family out. I have never rented another house while the one I pay a mortgage on stands empty. These are BIG things to do. These are the kind of risky, gritty, meaningful choices our clients make. And much like choosing to run a marathon, I suppose, our clients are driven by the notion of a glorious ending.
I see how the intense months offer insight into the depth of their character, their ability to re-envision themselves, re-define their capability for the feat they undertook. I honor the vision that carries them forward, perhaps offering a new definition of life after the finish line is crossed. No, I don’t know exactly what that is like. And I certainly cannot assume it is the same for everyone.
But I have borne witness to many who have come before — be it marathoners or remodelers. It has been a lifetime of both, simply given where I was born: Hopkinton and into the Perry family. I have selected a careful spot to stand, and I choose to stay here year after year. So, won’t you tell me what it is like for you? How may I express my awe and help you reach your goal? Can I run in your shoes, say the right cheer, get you water at the right time?