Last week, I went out for an early morning jog. I didn't have a particular distance in mind. I never do, really. I suppose that's because whether I run one mile or many, when I'm done, it always feels like I ran from Virginia to Los Angeles. In quicksand. So my plan is to simply start running and about the time I feel like I'm going to sink, usually somewhere in the middle of Nebraska, I start walking.
That's surely where I was this particular morning - Nebraska, ready to start walking - when I saw a fellow jogger running toward me. And there's one thing you never do when a fellow jogger is within eyesight. Walk. So as tired as I was, and in spite of it being well past time for me to downshift from run to stagger, I kept going.
And the unknown jogger kept coming.
As he drew closer something seemed odd. Odd might not be the right word. Actually, I'm sure it's not. But I was about to cross paths with the largest jogger I'd ever seen and I had no idea what to make of that. This coming from a guy who freely admits he's no small jogger himself. Just not that large. When I first saw this man I began to wonder how it was physically possible for someone so large to continuously have both feet rising from the earth's surface without the benefit of rockets or a crane of some sort. But they were. Then for some reason it occurred to me - how many people suffer heart attacks in this country each year while jogging. There was a time when that would have seemed an unlikely health threat to me.
It's amazing what happens when you start imagining how much pain and discomfort a perfect stranger must be in tackling the exact same activity you are. You start losing sight of your own pain. Which was certainly welcome - for a moment. But the lift I was about to get from this unnamed and unexpected fellow runner would extend far beyond anything I was thinking or doing. It would go beyond the next mile. Far beyond the world of running all together.
I was about to get a life reminder, if not a lesson.
The jogger was now upon me. Our eyes met. I didn't recognize him. I didn't have time to. Without breaking his surprisingly smooth stride, and with the fire and spirit of Knute Rockne delivering a halftime speech, the man threw his left arm confidently outward toward me. In less than the time it takes for a single stride, not 10 yards in front of me, the unknown jogger unveiled the largest and quite possibly most encouraging thumbs up I'd ever received. His big, way to go thumbs up seemed to freeze there. I accepted it with a surprised nod, and then a smile along with a burst of energy that carried me through Nebraska and into whatever state came next.
It's an awful feeling you know. To realize you're the one who should've been giving thumbs up instead of receiving them. To realize you've wasted time pointlessly entertaining sympathy, often the perfect disguise for being judgmental, when you could have been sharing in the power of encouragement. But what an awesome reminder, that in a world increasingly overwhelmed with ways to communicate - phone, email, instant messaging of all forms etc. - we can still be moved to unexpected heights by a thumb. A thumbs up. Through a simple yet wholly human transmission - no electricity required - I was inspired.
And oh the power in what was the grandest poke of them all. I have a thumb - two of them - and not nearly often enough is one of them sprung outward and upward toward someone who just might need it.
So today, whether you pass someone on your morning run or see the neighbor working in the yard. Or maybe you pass someone driving down the highway. Can I request of you, don't take time to consider whether they might need it or not, just give them a thumbs up. And if you never see them again after you do, and if you wonder if it made any difference, I can assure you, it's quite possible they've ridden the spirit of that thumbs up all the way to Nebraska and beyond.