The marathon is an event designed for heroes, as the long grind strips away all our defenses, leaving only the nub of a person by its end. It’s why feelings are so raw, because the carefully constructed artifice that we’ve erected, that we’ve come to believe is the real us, like a chrysalis, has been shed, even as a glistening new me emerges in the bonhomie of the chutes.
That stripping away and revelation is part of what attracts people to the event. And for those who watch the final stretch from the sidelines, it isn’t the pain that inspires, it’s the feelings they see on display, those looks of inner satisfaction that transcend place and time, looks that plant the seeds for their own subsequent entry.
The long internal battle from first training days to final exultant step is also why grace and humility seem like an integral part of every marathon champion. It is also why every competitor, regardless of their time, can relive their journey with any other finisher with appreciation and empathy.
These qualities of persistence, humility, and empathy are ones we would like to see in our leaders, as well. And perhaps it’s why the American electoral process has evolved as it has. No six-week Westminster style parliamentary sprint for us like our British cousins. Instead, through the long grinding process of an American political campaign we become witness to the stripping down of the candidates’ facades, until the real person is revealed.
That is when a decision feels right, when we are given a chance to see beyond the image, beyond the handlers and ad men. What’s left is raw, it’s real, and we can believe it.
Sometimes, though, you actually hope for a little ambiguity so both sides can feel some common, if not ground, then affinity. Because, just like in a marathon, it is through affinity that the sides can be drawn together in the aftermath, which, after all, was the goal of the founders.
But after the third and final presidential debate of the 2016 campaign it doesn’t seem headed in that direction at all. Rancor remains hard and brittle with less than three weeks left till Election Day.
People take cues from their leaders, as leaders are the ones who can ostensibly see farther ahead, and thus can plot a course that steers us all to a safer destination.
So it is as simple as this, if we allow the current political rancor to split us too widely apart, it will only leave us more vulnerable to outside forces. The vitriol and intransigence we saw displayed in Las Vegas is way more than unseemly at this point, it is dangerous. Not only could it foment internal strife – and we have already heard stirrings of that – but it could invite even more outside ambition.
The happiest politician after the third debate must have been Vladimir Putin. Russia’s unwelcomed hand can already be seen all over the electoral process with the hacked document dump coming from WikiLeaks. So no matter which of the two party candidates now wins, Putin is already a joint victor, for his seeds of uncertainty and doubt in the integrity of the process have been sown.
So this come-together call is nothing more than a reminder that, personal ambition aside, Stronger Together is much more than the campaign slogan of one of this year’s candidates. But in order to be strong we have to be unified across some formulation of E Pluribus Unum. That’s what de Tocqueville saw that made America great. That’s what will keep America great.
So let’s recognize that we are all members of a flawed species, not a flawed people. We can’t be blamed for our nature, but we can be blamed for turning on one another by giving into these all-too-human tendencies to succumb to our baser instincts.
Instead, like athletes in training, we must acknowledge our shortcomings, work on strengthening our deficits, even as we understand that our tendency is to give in when times get tough.
What we are left with, then, is the understanding that political campaigns, like marathons, bring emotions to the surface where feelings can be rubbed raw. And humans, after all, are God’s creatures. But please note the possessive. Not by our choice are we this way. No, this was gifted us, and while there are many gifts, so, too, are there many sins. And so we try to see it from that vantage point.
The child’s eye, a mother’s touch, the safe harbor of love that develops in the womb then breathes softly from above as we suckle for nourishment, these are only the first of many false promises that life presents. For how quickly do such comforts give way to the waves of cruel injustice that break upon our waking days?
Grace under pressure, wasn’t that what Hemingway called courage? The final stretch of this marathon is upon us. What will history have to say of our response?