These shirts where all over the place!
I was standing in a crowded subway on a Sunday morning surrounded by nicely dressed people, many of them holding pussy willows. They were bringing them to the Orthodox Church to be blessed. Today is what Americans call Palm Sunday, but since we don’t have palm branches here we use pussy willows.
I was feeling a little awkward because I was in my jogging pants and jersey. I was on my way to run 6.2 miles in the Kiev marathon! Out of the train I followed the flow to the exiting escalators. This metro station is particularly deep so I had a long ride. Once street level I started off toward Michailovski polshad (St. Michaels Square). I noticed many people wearing these T-shirts and wondered where they got them. So I decided to ask. A girl was walking in front of me and I caught up to here and said something like, “I like your shirt, where did you get it?” We talked the whole rest of the way to the race, unfortunately we switched between Russian and English because she could speak English very well.
We were met with a line of over a hundred people. She told me this is the line I needed while she went to lock up her things. Okay, the line did not move!! I was wondering if i was just standing in a group of people. was she sure this was the line?? I was thinking, I guess I’m not gona be able to start on time. When Natasha came back she said the man on the loud speaker instructed those in line to just run and then when they are done they can come back and get the t-shirt and bib number. I decided that I did not need to know how fast I will run the race and left the line. Natasha and I again split up so she could go find water and for me to go use the restroom. As I saw a group of very fit looking people begin to form at the start I realized we were about to start. But not everyone was going in so I knew it was just the marathon runners. We watched them off and then the rest of us were let into the starting area. As we gathered in the start I looked over and saw Natasha! We just kept running into each other (I mean that figuratively of coarse, we hadn’t started running yet). I heard some people around me speaking English and asked them where they were from. New Jersey, cool. We were ready to go but the man with the mic wanted to keep talking, so he did, and we anxiously awaited.
The gun (or whatever) shot and we were off! Encouraged on our way by cheers and clapping.
Note: cobblestone is not the easiest thing to run on, but with a little bit of care you can do it without twisting your ankle.
At the next square a big stage was set up and we heard encouragement and music from that direction. I enjoyed it while it lasted… That was it for encouragement from the sidelines. There where barley any onlookers after that. Except the guards posted at the edge of the sidewalk every 20 feet. I wonder if they felt useless? I was glad I was running instead of having to stand there.
As we rounded the corner of the first street I could here church bells. I thought, oh, how neat the whole city is coming together to cheer us on, even the church… As we passed the church there were two lines of people from the road to the church, facing each other. Kind of like when you send of the bride and groom at the end of the wedding. Okay, my first thought was, hu, it’s a little soon in the race to be offering a place of rest for weary souls… Then reality hit me. It was pussy willow (I don’t think they call it this)! People have brought their pussy willows to the Orthodox Church to be blessed. And here I was thinking the bells and people were for us… Yah, no, the Ukrainian world does not revolve around this race!
At the second turn stood some guys in red shirts. One of them was singsong yelling, “Pyat leva, deciet priama.” This is we’re we leave the 5k people and venture out to face the road alone. No turning back! By this time I realized that I had been smiling the whole way. I decided to make that my goal for the rest of the race, don’t stop smiling… Yah, I eventually forgot about this goal.
Around the next turn my goal was to keep my legs in a running motion. I only stopped to gulp a tinny sip of water. I could hVe been holding a basketball and it not be a travel with how many walking steps I took. So yah, I ran the whole way! Part of what helped me was a song I have been learning in Russian. The song is a reminder to keep going because God is with you. Towards the end of the race I began singing it out loud. Yes, got some strange looks but I felt entitled to sing after running all that way. One time when I was barely hanging on a man lame up beside me and said in Russian, “only a little tired.” And then gave me a thumbs up. Thank you! I will take any bit of encouragement right now, in any language! When there were a few onlookers they didn’t really cheer us on. So every once in a while when I would here someone clap or cheer I would join them. I clapped and hooted and cheered, trying to encourage those around me and myself.
I made it to the end, and who was standing on the side waiting for me? Natasha! She had run the 5k. I couldn’t find her after through the crowd but it was cool to wave to someone as I crossed the finish! They gave me a bag with water and apple and banana. I went and got my shirt and bib number and then slowly made my way back to the metro. As I was led away from the crowed I praised God for the strength and health to be able to accomplish something like that.
Down the street a ways I passed a piano on a little platform on the sidewalk. Odd, I thought. But what was even more out of the ordinary was that painted on the back in big white letters it said, “play me.” In Russian and English! I walked passed it and read the same thing on the front. I could not resist. There were some police officers standing near and I asked, “Modjna?” (May I?) they said something and it wasn’t no, so I thought okay. Then another man said something from near the restaurant that I think this piano belonged to. It didn’t sound like he was saying no either. So I did what any normal person would do, I played a chord to see if it was in tune. It was! So I sat my sweaty body down on the metal chair and began to play. I hadn’t played the piano in so long, it was wonderful! I played a praise and worship song and sang with renewed strength. After I was done a couple that had stopped to listen clapped for me. I sheepishly thanked them and left.
In the metro on the way home I was so grateful for forward motion without me having to work for it. As I rode I noticed a woman across from me smiling at me. Should I smile back? Why is she smiling at me? Not knowing what to do I just ignored her. When my stop came and I excited the train someone called out to me. It was the woman. She asked me if I ran in the marathon and if I live in this region. I said yes. And she said that her daught loves to run and asked if I would like to run with her daughter sometime. I said an emphatic yes and she asked for my phone number. Ah! I didn’t have my phone and don’t know my number by heart! She didn’t have a pen and so we could not exchange numbers. I am going to memorize my number!
What a morning! When I arrived home it was only 11:45 am. What other divine appointment does God have in store for me? I am realizing that I need to be more prepared in practical and spiritual ways for who God puts in my path.