By Patrick Burns
Community - it’s one of those fun terms that if you ask ten different people what it means, you’re almost certain to get ten very different answers. To me, community means a variety of things. When I experienced it in a practical sense as a Jesuit Volunteer, it meant sharing material resources while living simply in a shared space. When I experience it through advocacy, it means recognizing that everyone is my brother and sister and should be treated as such. When I experience it in a more personal sense,
it means belonging: feeling fully alive through the love of those around me.
It’s that personal experience of community which seems to take hold of me the most. The personal experience of community resonated with me again very recently, as I decided to take an opportunity running the Rock CF Half Marathon in Michigan, which I had become aware of in recent years through The Living Person movement. I’d also been inspired by my friend Jimmy who, despite living with Cystic Fibrosis, has completed the 13.1 mile course multiple times now; truly embodying what the living person is all about. So last March, after seeing a few photos and hearing from friends who participated, I decided I’d be all in for 2017.
I was pretty excited for this race, especially since I decided to tackle it with a few close friends and former teammates who I ran cross country and track with at John Carroll. I love running and I love the experience of community. So for me, a combination of the two was sure to be a good time. Just thinking about it was awesome: I get to run with former teammates again, I get to see other friends I love, I get to take part in the wonderful living person movement, it’s for a great cause, and I was in fairly decent shape again!
Well, not only was it a good time, but it ended up moving me in a way I could have never envisioned. Having run competitively for quite a few years through high school and college, I’ve been lucky enough to experience many uplifting and even emotional races. However, I had never before experienced a race quite like this.
It was the best race I ever ran, and I definitely don’t mean that in the sense of time. I am much slower than I was in college, and I was pretty slow in college: one of the slowest runners on the team, at a DIII school.
It was the best race I ever ran, because for me it ended up having nothing to do with racing.
It was about community. It was about running in community, fully alive. I couldn’t help but hug those I finished with, and I couldn’t help but smile while watching others finish their race after us. I was especially moved that many of those who participated through The Living Person, even after they finished their run, circled back to be with a giant group led by Jimmy as they completed the last leg of the course together. I loved every minute of it. I loved the sweat, the joy, the pain, and the powerful sense of belonging shared by hundreds of people fully alive. It was beautiful.
Now, much like running, my personal experience with community can be a challenge at times too. Mainly, in the sense of distance. People who I grew with and who have shaped me so much as a person are now spread out across every time zone in this country. It’s inevitable of course and the struggle I have with it is in no way a denial of that reality.
Rather, the challenge is simply learning how to live with it.
But, I do. I live with it, and it’s moments like the half marathon which remind me that the struggle in itself is something I’m incredibly grateful for. Because, the beauty of community is that even when it is a challenge, it still yields wonderful blessings: I’m reminded of the beautiful relationships I’ve developed, how time is so precious, and in this case, how 13.1 strenuous miles can unite people in a very special way. It doesn’t get much better than that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Patrick is from Buffalo, NY and currently works for Habitat for Humanity in Cincinnati. He loves working for Habitat, because it enables him to truly live out his passion for social action daily. In his free time he enjoys exploring Cincinnati, running, cooking, and planning new adventures with his wife.