A Victory Lap in a year of COVID

For quite a while before I crossed “the finish line” [1] I gave some thought to what to do next. There are some good reasons to think about the question, but there are also some pictures in my head that have played as large a role as any thinking I have done about it.

While I was at the University of Oregon, I saw Steve Prefontaine win a lot of races. The stands were full of Pre fans and they stood cheering his victory for a long time. He continued to run laps close to the stands recognizing their applause. I remember hearing one of the commentators noting his response to the fans and observing that he did the last round in 62 seconds. A great picture to hold in my mind.

The other picture is my own initial experience of the “victory laps,” as I called them, when I finished long training runs in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, where I lived in the late 70s. I would get back home after a 15—20 mile run and tack on an extra half mile, one lap around New Faculty Circle. Nearly all the physical stresses I accumulated during the run somehow relaxed when I ran that last half mile as “merely celebratory” and not “really running.” Even the blisters eased off some. It was still running, obviously, but something had happened because of what I called it.

I was only in my 40s then, but it occurred to me that it would be very tidy to think of getting to age 80 as four laps of 20 years each. And very shortly after that, I began to think of the years after 80 as victory laps, like the ones I was doing then, and I began to hope that I could run those additional years as a celebration of the run I had just finished.

It was a flash of inspiration. I could keep on running, but I had already completed a very demanding course. I liked that.

And that is just the way it has turned out. I have just finished my fourth victory lap. Yesterday. Each has been alike in feeling celebrative; each has been different in what is enjoyed and celebrated. Today I am starting my fifth. [2]

That last lap had some unique features, marked particularly by the COVID pandemic. I am so very grateful that I did not have to make the hard choices about going to campus and risking my health and the health of others. As a long-since retired person, I have invested where I chose. I have put in more miles on my bike this year than I ever have in a year when I was not commuting. I often ride and out and back route where there is a Starbucks at the end of the out. This is clearly not a winning and losing kind of ride; it isn’t even a get there on time kind of ride. It’s celebratory.

I am deeply appreciative of the Bible study groups that have materialized and for whom I prepare the materials. I joke that preparing for the the groups keeps me off the streets, but if you think of “the streets” as having no meaningful work to do, it is really true. I have been teaching one overtly religious study—a group of men at my church—and two secular ones. Sometimes I have had a chance to teach the same text; once emphasizing the religious significance and twice as a study of how narratives work.

Here’s an example. Luke says that Elizabeth got pregnant and, Luke 1:24b, “for five months kept to herself.” When you approach the text as a narrative, you wind up asking, “Why is that there?” Or, more succinctly, “So…?” It isn’t hard to find an answer. What’s hard is noticing it and asking the question. [3]

I’ve learned a lot about Zooming this year. I don’t think I will ever want to give that up. For no more inconvenience than a phone call, you can see people and share slides and discuss them. My friend, Fran, and I taught an Adult Ed course on some children’s books, making the pictures as readily available as the text. Who would have thought?

I’m only a few hours into Victory Lap #5. I have no idea what it will hold for me and I don’t need to. My only commitment is to run it in a reflective and celebratory mode. There is an evaluative component to it, of course. I used to remember the run and assess my performance. Should I have taken that hill up to the Cheese Plant harder? Was I holding back more than I should have? I’m not being critical. I just realize I am going to come to that hill again and I want to have thought about how to run it. That’s part of the celebration.

When I began to think about “the end of the race” in terms other than dying, I thought of it first in words the Apostle Paul provided me, “I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” Paul does not strike me as a celebratory kind of person, but years later I found out that the “course” he had finished could also be called a curriculum—from the Latin, currere, “to run.

And I already know how to finish a curriculum.

[1] Question: What’s on the other side of the Finnish Line? Answer: Russia.
[2] This isn’t like they say about marathons. You don’t plan to run another one until your memories of the previous one begin to fade. It was during that training run era that I ran my first marathon, the Pittsburgh.
[3] The answer is that Gabriel cites the information as proof that the whole proposition he is offering Mary is really true. No one else knows it because Elizabeth “kept to herself.”

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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