It was strange seeing that graceful structure of 2008 Summer Olympics fame-the Bird’s Nest-looming out of the Beijing smog, majestic in its pride.
That was today’s big outing, solo, part of a homework assignment that involved interviewing people, an adventure in and of itself. Funny how the littlest things-like an innocuous trip to a track- can get your thoughts as jumbled as the Nest’s loosely woven façade.
The sight of the thing did just that, leaving me somewhere between awe and complete and utter sadness. “This is the thing that was on TV constantly four summers ago? This? Wasn’t it just new?” I thought to myself, unable to ignore the melancholy that stuck to place with as much determination as the dust. It’s a lonely thing; gorgeous, but a testament to faded glory. It’s only at night, when the red pulsates through the overlapping coils and into the inky sky, that it seems to transcend its status as mere relic and regains its regal air.
I had arrived too late to be able to actually go in, but I took the time to have a long walk around the building’s circumference. It was strange, because at times I found myself completely alone, hearing nothing but traffic, seeing a few security guards if I was lucky. It was so dead still that I contemplated sneaking in from under the fence, but after mulling over what must constitute the insides of a Chinese prison, I thought better of it.
But I digress. I just can’t shake this feeling, of seeing tangible and irrevocable change. I feel the need to talk it out, to purge. Do you know how eerie it is to stumble upon a pocket of silence in the jumble of noise and dirt that is a Chinese city? How strange it is to see, just beyond the gates, the silent eyes of empty stadium seats, thousands upon thousands, staring at you? To imagine the ghosts of great races, lingering, vapors visible only after dark? As I tried to take artsy pictures with the black and white function on my camera (Facebook. Soon.), the tarnished veneer of the whole building seemed to sigh. It wanted, I think, to hear the cheers that died four years ago. Does it realize that the spectators are never coming back?
It got me thinking, remembering things I hadn’t for awhile. It awoke in me that sensation that I always experience when near a track. It’s a sensory cocktail; I’m deliciously nervous and pumped and ferocious, long since out of 400 shape but still eager to prove myself. As I recall those high school feelings and the longing with which I watched the Olympic runners, I feel St. Paul’s and hot sunny summer, and cross country, and I just want to run.
Just run. Literally, figuratively? Both. In my mind, nothing is ever “just.” My brain functions much like those magnets with which you could compose a ditty on your fridge (mmmmm adjectives). I love metaphors, pretty poetry, stodgy prose (and it’s for that very reason you are smack dab in the most self-indulgent, bloated piece of writing I have ever composed, ever), and it’s through Tolkien’s or Rowling’s or even Austen’s magnificent use of these very things that I have seen more of the beauty of God than I ever have in a sunset.
But I digress. Again.
So running is not just running. It’s Bible passages comparing faith to a race; it’s pink waffle flats; it’s a metaphor for everything I’m feeling right now, a big important thought, one that brings me once again to the magic that was running the 400 meters for nearly four years in high school.
The 400. These memories feel as ancient as the Nest is starting to look. But oh, I learned a whole lot about myself because of that race, the good and the bad. Yet the one lesson that I have been considering of late is the difficulty I had-have- finishing well. I had a coach bring this to my attention once-“I think you’re afraid of putting it all out there,” was something along the lines of what she said- and they’re words that I have never, ever been able to forget.
Afraid? I’m not afraid of anything. Okay, hyperbole, but watch me kill it in the first 300 meters and maybe you’ll understand why I tend to peter out when I see the finish line. Okay, you’re right, my logic is flawed. But can you excuse me for feeling this way, may it be on the track or off?
So. What does this mean? Where I am I going with all this? (I told you my thoughts were scrambled today!) Allow me to spell it out. My reflective and somewhat depressing sojourn to the Bird’s Nest got me thinking: I need prayer.
Friends, I’m literally at the 300 mark of my great big Chinese experience; I see the finish line. As of Wednesday, I have exactly two months until I arrive in Logan Airport at approximately 11:30 pm on April 22nd (but who’s counting). It’s not that much; I’ve only got a quarter left! But in any good 400 run, it’s during the last 100 meters that are the hardest.
Let me be clear: I. Adore. China. If I may quote the illustrious Mr. Darcy, “it has bewitched me body and soul.” I want to work here, live here, and return here often. It’s my home. I love the culture, the people, and the places I discovered and made my own. I’m obsessed.
But I’m also tired. The past eight months have been incredibly wonderful but also incredibly exhausting. Sensory overload doesn’t even begin to cover it. As senior year, my summer plans, and returning home are coming closer to lovely reality than far off dream, I suffer more and more from trailhead fever.
I can hear my coach. “You’re afraid to finish.”
She would be right if I was still a 17 year old girl, but I’m not. I’m a 21 year old woman, and I feel as though I have slightly more at stake than a PR. I don’t want to lose my cool, my focus, my drive, here at the three quarters point. Because in any good 400 run (or any run at all), it’s during the last 100 meters that the race is won.
I know this. As an ex-athlete, it’s been ingrained in my brain since forever. It’s just that the strength of my weakness is at times overwhelming, and again: I need prayer. So that I could take the next two months and enjoy them. To continue to rely on Christ for comfort and strength. I’ll say that again, because I suffer from a “let me do it all!” tendency. To continue to rely on Christ for comfort and strength. To have the courage to do what it takes to sit on a plane in two months, Boston bound, knowing that I didn’t sacrifice the gift.*
To those who have made it this far, thank you for being so patient. I would like to take a second to let you know that I am praying for you, because I realize that you can probably identify with all this in some way or another. Allow me to provide you with some encouragement from one of my most favorite of movies about one of my most favorite of men, Eric Liddell (Scottish Olympian (gold, 400 meters) and Christian missionary to China):
“And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the …Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”
Love you. Miss you.
See you in a little over two months.
Until then, xo always.
*Much love to the WHS 2008 Boys Cross Country team, whose mantra that fall I will never forget.