When I finally stopped gasping for air I realized what I had done.
After plodding along for the past few years with no attention to speed I decided to see if I could run faster. I looked around and found many recommendations and decided to try interval training: Run a lap at normal speed than run the same lap faster. Repeat. And repeat again and again.
After panting I realized I was able to increase my speed by 20%, if only for a short period of time. I did not know what I had accomplished while I was running, only after I stopped.
The Jewish high holidays have concluded. The liturgy for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is filled with images of the majesterial as we proclaim God the Master of the Universe. We listen to the primal sound of a ram’s horn, the shofar, to punctuate the day. And in one stirring paragraph we describe the power of that sound upon our hearts. But that sentence is mysteriously juxtaposed to the most enigmatic phrase of the day. The sound of the shofar will be sounded, the prayer states, and a “still, thin sound will be heard”.
That phrase comes from the book of Kings 1, chapter 19 and concludes a section about Elijah the prophet who had reestablished God’s honor before crowds of idol worshippers, including Israelites who had strayed from their belief in God. Tired from his battle for truth Elijah beseeched God to end his life. God responded by sending an angel who led Elijah on a 40 day journey to a cave from where he witnessed a sound so loud it crushed rock, caused a devastating earthquake and a great fire.
“God is not there” we are told after each cataclysmic event. Elijah did not find God in the maelstrom. But than a “still, small voice” appeared and there is where Elijah reconnected to his Maker. Immediately afterward we read Elijah leaves his cave and re-enters the world, appointing a king for this nation and for that one. He begins to re-build the world. 19th and 20th century naturalist writers have borrowed this phrase as well and often refer to the “still, small voice” they hear in the forests and the fields.
And I thought of this scene finally standing upright after bracing myself on my knees doubled over, oxygen deprived, the lactic acid burn starting to ebb. We don’t know what we have accomplished in the midst of the thing, in the middle of a run, or long hike. Or in the midst of raising our children. Indeed, physiologists believe that endurance is increased not during the quickened pace while running but rather in the moments right afterward when the the cardiovascular system adjusts to the new challenge.
It is only in the calm moments that follow our accomplishments that we, like Elijah, can realize the truth of our lives, and the work we have done and the work we have yet to accomplish.