Very little is needed to make a happy life. Marcus Aurelius - Meditations
On July 26th 1981, my grandfather, Robert L. Payton, ran a marathon on a cinder track in Garden City, New York. He was a great storyteller and told me this particular one many times. Initially, he’d been planning to run Chicago in the fall with a couple of friends but work and other commitments had gotten in the way so he’d decided to challenge himself to the distance, alone. 105 laps with no support other than a brief stop half way when grandma, wondering what he was up to, had come over to the track to bring him some water.
Over the years, I have related to his account in different ways. As a kid, I found it awe-inspiring, bordering on the impossible. As I grew older and through my own practice in long distance running, I came to share in his experience, putting feelings to his words. After he passed away last spring, I decided to run a marathon in his memory. The opportune moment for doing so came last week, when I went to Indiana for a tribute to his life and work at the university. Sorting through his belongings at his home, I found the shirt from the Garden City Track Club he was a part of. I started the run early morning and spent the first hour distracted, wondering if I’d get kicked off the track. Soon thereafter, the high school football team came to practice. The coach didn’t oppose my running so I kept going trying to block out the noise and focus on my grandfather’s memory. I felt frustrated, drifting in and out of concentration, disappointed in myself that I wasn’t honoring him with the right attention. By the time they left, I was approaching the final laps. All of a sudden, everything became calm and quiet in my head. I let go of my expectation of how this needed to be and let the running settle in. I listened to my foot steps and heard his. The same sweat rolling down my face, the same grimace, the same burning in the legs, the same counting of the laps, the same anticipation of the finish, my throat tightened, blocking my wind pipe, my eyes welled up with tears, in that moment, under the same sun, we were one.