Today we run for Terry

Part II, Part III, Part IV

Today our school participated in the Terry Fox Run, and remembered the truest of Canadian heroes, who makes each of us see ourselves as individually capable of greatness, and collectively capable of achieving the impossible. In him, Canada imagines itself, a fact that was brought home to me a few years ago when I drove past the stretch of highway where Terry’s run ended, just east of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

As far as Terry gotI was 22 and driving across the country, the year I graduated from university, down south, and my sister and I had spent the summer working at a Boy Scouts of America summer camp in the Ozark Mountains. We had flown to Toronto and bought a car that we filled with WalMart camping gear and headed west, out through the Great Lakes and the immensity of Ontario on an odyssey across our homeland after stretches of time away (a few months for my sister; five years for myself). After living in Arkansas, and living in the woods on the edge of Damascus, Arkansas (pop. 307), we had come to feel ourselves as something of ambassadors for Canada, and encountered the North with fresh eyes that let us see the unfolding miles of highway, and rock, and sky with a deep appreciation that This is what we were. The country – as I’ve written at some length before – is spread out: the only thing we share resolutely no matter where in Canada we live is that – to varying degrees – we live far from everywhere else.

And Terry chose to run across it. To dip his leg in the Atlantic and set out running toward Victoria. To go town to town, and ask people to raise money and awareness for cancer research.

The immensity of the task – 26.2 miles: a marathon, every day – and the enormity of his hope have spread his message and example far beyond the life he eventually surrendered after leaving the highway east of Thunder Bay. He didn’t  abandon his run, or even lose his battle against his own mortality, or the country’s highways. Being shuttled into an ambulance on a stretcher, finally, Terry apologizes.

“I’m sorry I won’t be able to continue my run,” he tells us.

But he leaves the fight in our hands, and asks that we commit ourselves to an act in his memory once a year, to not let the Marathon of Hope ever be complete until the impossible can be realized, and we can finally say that we have cured cancer.

That day is coming, and we will all have had a hand in it.

Who else lets us believe this? Who else proves it with their very existence?

And so today we run for Terry, a guy who trained for his marathon on streets near our school. We run to remember that we, too, are capable of greatness.

Douglas Coupland says it better:

We like to speak to the dead because, in a way, they’re perfect. We here on earth can only grow weaker and worse for wear, but the dead remain pure – not only pure but they do not judge those who still live.  
We tell the deceased things we don’t dare tell anybody else, because they know the worst that can happen. And if they died young, they never had a chance to lose the fine and wonderful parts of themselves.  

Maybe you’re young, and maybe you’re old. If you’re old, you know that as life goes on, we do lose a part of ourselves along the way. And maybe the parts we leave are the ones we once considered our best. But the thing about Terry is that he never lost the finest parts of himself, and because he left us the way he did, he’s always there. To many people, Terry never stopped running. Day or night he’s still near us, passing by the outskirts of the cities we live in: he’s out there in the Rockies and out there amidst the fields, out there on the Canadian highways, with his strange hop-click-thunk step, forever fine and keeping the best parts of ourselves alive, too.


3 thoughts on “Today we run for Terry

  1. This is a deeply moving story.

    The first marathon runner of all time was named Phidippides. He was a kerux, a herald, of ancient Athens and belonged to a tribe or clan or family of runners. In 490 BC, at the news of the Persian advance on Athens, he ran to Sparta to ask for help — a distance of several hundred miles, often through difficult terrain and occasionally through hostile territory. The four-or-five day run nearly exhausted him, but as soon as he got the Spartan answer — “no,” by the way — he ran back the way he had come. The day he got back, he found the Persians had reached his homeland, so he joined the battle to fight them. He fought in the battle, and then ran the 24 miles from the battlefield to the marketplace in Athens to announce, “Victory for the Athenians.” He then, according to the histories, died of exhaustion.

    Sometimes the victory is chimerical, or so personal that it does not matter to others. Sometimes the death or apparent failure is for the ages.

    Somewhere, Phiddipides is greeting Terry, and saying, “Well run, man. Well run.”

  2. Thanks for the added historical context, Andrew. I think the metaphor of the journey – to delivery news, carry a message, and connect people and places from afar – and further, one covered on foot, is a powerful story that binds us together. From one generation to the next, we pass the torch and hopefully are worthy of the praise, “Well run, man. Well run.”

    1. When I turned thirty, I walked the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, from Léon to Santiago. Another year, I walked Saint Cuthbert’s trail across Scotland. When I was 15, I joined a group that bicycled Quebec City to Louisbourg and Cape Breton Island. And I’ve walked most of the New England sections of the Appalachian Trail.

      I think journeys are tremendously important. We humans undertake them for a variety of reasons — to connect with the divine, to carry messages, to hear messages, to retreat from the world, to reengage with the world. The words Walkabout, Pilgrimage, Quest and the Narrow Road to the Interior all call up various images in our minds. There are good reasons why early Christians and early Taoists were both called “followers of the Way.”. The road to Mordor and the road to the Grail Castle have different perils, but the real courage comes from standing up and saying, “I will go. Send me.”

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