"No One Has to Pretend"


"One Saturday morning as I was running on a trail that wound through a neighborhood park, a group of boys from two college cross-country teams flew past me. Their bodies were sleek and strong. They wore uniforms that made them all look like Olympians. They were so fast that I began to feel like a lumbering truck that wasn't going to make it up the hill. About the time I had recovered from this indignity, the girls' team raced past me with all of the grace and speed of gazelles. When I finally got to the end of the trail, all of the real runners for long done and were talking with their coaches. And there I was, doubled over, sucking wind, and telling myself there's no such thing as a good run.

As I slunk away from the crowd toward my car, I noticed another group of runners starting to reach the end of the trail. This group had no fancy uniforms. They wore baggy gym shorts and T-shirts with something hastily scrawled cross them. A few were running hard, but most had a clumsy pace. the cross-country teams immediately moved back tot he finish line and began cheering wildly as each of these last runners stumbled to the end. Curious, I went over to get a closer look and noticed that this last group of runners were all developmentally disabled. Some of them had very obvious handicaps, but they still ran. They had not interest in the coaches' clipboards and stopwatches, and they seemed oblivious to the fact that this was a race. They were running with abandon for the sheer delight of it. A few were being pushed in wheelchairs. Then two girls who had Down syndrome appeared at the end, walking, holding hands, smiling and waving to those of us who clapped and kept on clapping. No one cheered more loudly than I. And when I got back to my car, I couldn't stop crying. 

Why were we all cheering so enthusiastically for these kids with handicaps? Maybe it was because we were proud of their resolve not to be limited. Maybe. But a poet would wonder if there is something in all of us, something essentially human, that envies those who are graced with the opportunity to live without veneer. They certainly knew more than I did about the joy of running in a park on a crisp fall morning. 

Joy cannot be analyzed, strategized, or explained. It can only be entered, and the portal into joy is confessing the truth: We are not whole. No one has to pretend, and the truth feels so good that we just want to cheer whenever someone exhibits it."

M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor As Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life, pp. 37-38.