Just A Thought: A Journey Without Knowing the Finish Line


We’re all somewhere out on the course of life, moving forward each day. We each know when our journey began. We celebrate our starting lines each year on our birthdays.

We don’t know when we will reach the finish line. Although we know it’ll arrive at a date in the future, it’s date remains unknown to each of us. So we try to do the best we can each day. Or do we?

I’ve had the opportunity to run 19 marathons in my lifetime at different locations across this county. From Orlando to Washington DC, from Minnesota to Arizona, from Austin to Albuquerque, each one has its own unique atmosphere.

But what each one does have in common is the distance. It is always 26.2 miles. Someone measures out the race and makes a mark where the end of the race is. At this mark on race day there is always a lot of activity with loudspeakers, music, and loved ones waiting to welcome those who make it to the finish line.

Each race has a starting line, crowded elbow to elbow with hopeful runners, and an uncrowded ending line where successful runners finish one at a time.

Just like the journey of life, I am more tired after 30,000 steps when my body “hits the wall” around mile 19 than I am when I took my first step after hearing the starting gun fired.

The good thing about a marathon is that the finish line is well marked and predictable. If you train well and are persistent, eventually you have the ability to raise your arms up in the air in celebration and take that final step. The celebration, although worth it, is then short lived as every muscle in your body tightens up in soreness.

Just like life, running a marathon doesn’t mean everyone will make it to the predesignated finish line. Some people’s finish line comes early. We all know people whose flame was blown out way too young. We don’t understand why this happens, but we must accept it as reality.

In life, we need to remember the unpredictable finish line is not what our journey is all about. We never reach a point where everything we want to accomplish is fulfilled. We each die with unfulfilled dreams. If arriving at a predetermined finish line means our journey is through, once we arrive at the marker we would each drop over dead.

Instead, if we make it to mile 26.2 we must realize our journey has been extended and the finish line is still somewhere off in the distance. It can be like someone moving the goal posts on us.

We can celebrate that we made the distance we set as a goal, but then we look around and realize we still have steps left in us. Even recognizing this, we don’t know how many steps we will be able to take ahead.

Regardless, in the journey of life we are all out on the course shuffling our feet and swinging our arms, or at least we should be.

I think of a runner named John Stephen Akhwari. He ran the marathon in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. He represented Tanzania. The 1968 marathon had the runners run through the streets of Mexico City and then had the usual finish inside the crowded stadium. It was the last event of the day. After the leaders finished so did the rest of the runners. Time passed and most of the crowd had left, thinking the race was over and that all of the marathoners had crossed the finish line.

But about an hour later, with just a few thousand people left in the stadium, out of the cold dark Mexico City night and through the tunnel into the stadium came Mr. Akhwari. He was the last runner in the marathon. His leg was bloody and bandaged. Wincing with pain each step he took, he pressed on in his lap around the track towards the finish. The spectators remaining in the stadium, a few minutes before absorbing the final Olympic experience in silence, began a slow steady clapping to encourage Mr. Akhwari.

He made his painful way around the turn at the end of the track and the cheering crowd grew louder. With each step he slowly came closer to the finish line. Finally, he hobbled across the white stripe and the crowd roared as if he had won the event.

He collapsed from his exhaustion. They put him on a stretcher and took him to the medical tent.

As he lay recovering in the medical tent a reporter asked Mr. Akhwari why he endured the pain and why, since there was no chance of winning, he did not retire from the race as many other runners had done. And here is why I am sharing this story... Mr. Akhwari appeared perplexed at the question. Then he simply said, “I don’t think you understand, my country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race, they sent me to finish the race.”

Like those spread out all across a marathon course, we have each started our lives. One step at a time we journey forward. There are some in life ahead of us, some behind us, and a few next to us. Our job is not to finish first or not to finish last, it is to run the course the best we can with the individual resources and the God- given gifts we each possess.

We were not born to merely start our lives. We are here to make a difference and to make it to the finish line, however that looks for any one of us. Giving up is not an option.

So, with the finish line unknown, that leaves us with today and if we are blessed, tomorrow.

I live my life with an urgency, knowing it can be taken from at any time. Any day I wake up I may be four days from my funeral. And since I don’t know when the last day will be, it makes my life an urgent experience.

Even if we live well beyond our life expectancy, our lives are still brief. Is a person who lives 90 years more valuable to this world than one who doesn’t make it to age 40? Martin Luther King, Jr. died one year short of 40 and Jesus only made it to 33. Somehow I don’t think longevity alone should be our goal.

I don’t think any of our lives will be defined by longevity. Each of us would like to have this, but our lives will be measured more by what we leave behind in the years we live.

What we receive in our years dies with us, what we give lives on after we are gone.

So back to the question at the beginning of this column, “We each do the best we can each day. Or do we?” We sometimes use excuses to keep us from doing our best. You determine the answer to this question in your life. Furthermore, you may be the only one who truly knows the answer to this important question.

My challenge to you today is to recognize that every life is short and your finish line may arrive quicker than you think. Understand this when you have the opportunity to add value to others and you chose not to. Celebrate each day you have been blessed with. Recognize that each day you wake up you have one less day to spend on this planet.

Mark Twain said “The two most important days in your life is the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Recognize that when you reach your finish line, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.

Be sure you are making a difference in the lives of others and do so now before it is too late. As was said by Harry Chapin, whose life was cut short, “When in doubt, do something.” And I will add to his comment, do something that will live on when your finish line arrives.

Just a thought...