Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday my alarm goes off at 5 o’clock in the morning. By 5:30am, I have run by John's place to meet him and we both run to Blair House, a homeless shelter in NE DC. Almost a year ago, we joined a "running" group called Back on my Feet. This group pairs homeless “residents” with “non-residents”. Each resident member is given running gear to get kicked off; after that, it is up to them. After every 30 days, if a resident has 90% attendance, they qualify for career training, and can apply for grants or housing assistance.
Selfishly, I joined last March when the group began in DC. I figured, I like to run, sleep is for the weak and I can get out and better my community doing my good deed for each day. With this decision, I convinced myself that I was guaranteed to have people proud of me and my good heart while introducing these guys to running and get them in some races.
On our first day, in 35 degree weather, our group circled up, did 40 jumping jacks, 40 push-ups and went through a basic stretching regimen. Amidst the clapping, we all tightened the circle and put our arms around each other. We then recited the serenity prayer. While simple in form, the prayer is quite complex.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
We then headed out into the dark and ran a mile. One mile. I run 3 or 4 days a week in some cases for hours on end, so one mile wasn’t much of a big deal. What I didn’t expect was how the events following the mile would affect me.
We circled back up clapping for one another. We recited the prayer another time and got ready to leave. I turned to head home and was stopped instantaneously by others in the group as everyone began to hug goodbye. I am an army brat; the son of a former green beret…I am not a big hugger, especially with complete strangers. Within moments I was hugging people I had met only an hour earlier.
As I walked away I watched some of the shelter residents leaving the shelter for the day. Every single gentleman was carrying a duffle bag, suitcase or even a plastic garbage bag, containing everything they owned. Against everything I was taught as a child, I stared. At that point, I realized my make-myself-feel-better-about-myself-ego was being taught a very powerful lesson.
I look forward to my runs each week. I love clowning around with Bing, Ellis, Carolyn, Amanda, Brian, Kristen and Chris, smiling with my morning energy burst before the sun rises. I have heard incredible stories about failed businesses, addiction and thieving family members. I have worked with guys who had never even owned a pair of running shoes and watched them increase their mileage and run in local races. No one in our group is homeless…no one has a permanent residence; we are all just a bunch of insane early morning runners.
I have never once felt good about myself for what I am doing…I don’t need to. The effect this program has certainly involves assisting the residents with basic needs, but the greater effect is on all of us, not only as human beings, but as equals. I have some great new friends who I just love being with.
So why do we do it every week? Long story short, for an hour or two every couple of days, no one is homeless and no one is unemployed...we're just runners trying to out run the cold air in the darkness. So bring it on National Marathon, we are ready for you.