The bright summer days could not lift the dark cloud that weighed in our hearts. The Sole Mates lost one of their members, for JM had lost her battle with cancer.
A healthy woman who used to power walk with a group of friends who called themselves Sole Mates, JM would have been the last person among us to leave this world at her age. The news that she had cancer was as much a surprise to JM as it was to her friends. Most of us were not able to witness it, and for the few who did, JM’s condition deteriorated fast. For days, I switched between sadness and disbelief since hearing the news that she was fighting this almost impossible battle, and after knowing that she was resting in peace with no more pains and sufferings.
It is always hard to say goodbye, and yet, because I was not able to say goodbye to JM in the hospital before she left, my occasion to bid her farewell was at the memorial service her friends held for her. I found myself standing in front of her race medals that were on display and trying to re-live the times we trained for those races together and our race days. Some of the medals I also have in my possession.
I remember vividly how we walked into one another one sunny morning in the early spring and we were preparing for the same race. She was smiling and laughing as she approached with her training partner. We gave each other a hug and exchanged good luck wishes. To nobody’s surprise, JM finished the race smiling and laughing. Sadly though, In less than three months, she was gone.
I have met a lot of people since I have taken up distance walking as a lifestyle. Some have become my friends, some remain acquaintances, and some I have not seen for a very long time. There are times when I walk just by myself, and at other times, I choose to join a group walk. I cannot calculate the distance I have walked over the years. It does not matter. Walking has assumed a meaning for me–walking those distances is a metaphor for going through life.
Throughout life, we have both our solitary moments as well as times we share with people whom we relate.
There are smooth and easy days, and there are uphills and challenging stretches. Just like in a walk, be it a distance of 5K, a half marathon, a full marathon or even an ultra, sometimes we are by our own self, and sometimes we have people to walk with.
Many a times in a race, I pace along with people whom I have never met before, and after exchanging a few words, we walk together and motivate each other on. At some point, we part our ways and move on. Isn’t this like life? There are encounters, shared experiences and separations. Some share our life with us longer, or care for us deeper. (The Sole Mates have decided on this name with the pun well intended.) However, in the end, just like in a walk, all this will come to an end. We say goodbye to the people we love when they go, and when our own turn comes, we say goodbye to life as well.
We lament that life is ephemeral. In response, some try to live life with a gusto, and some look for ways to live longer. So can be our feelings about walking. Our training focuses on power for the shorter distance and endurance for the longer ones. It is not possible to attach a value as to which is better. We make our choices and we pursue what seems to suit us best at the time.
I can recall some difficult moments during my races. The first that came to mind was the feeling of exhaustion at the 40K mark in my first marathon. Then I saw my friend, CD, who had promised me to meet me there and walk me to the finish. ( I can feel my energy surging inside me as I am writing about it.) I kept on going with her, I was in a zone telling myself that I could finish the race. The story did not end here. About 100 metres before the finish line–I could see it getting closer and closer–I stumbled and fell! I knew I scraped myself fairly badly. No, I had to finish the race. I got up, and walked past the finish line with my head held high. Someone put a medal around my neck. I fell into the embrace of CD and my loved ones who had come out for me.
When we decide to walk a certain distance, we try our best to complete it. No matter how tough it is, life must go on. Well, at the end of a race, we often say to one another, “See you at the next race!” Regrettably, the metaphor of walking and life applies no more here. At the end of life, the goodbye is final. This is the sad part. I cannot say to JM,,”See you at the next….!” I can only reflect on the moments we shared in our walks, moments that were part of my life.