This essay first appeared on The Daily BS on January 20, 2024.
It came, as many lessons have, on a cross-country course. In the blazing sun, beneath a summer sky, a pack of high-school boys leaned forward, nerves fizzing. At the pistol’s roar, they charged, legs stretching long, long over Hoosier ground.
Behind the running boys and the assembled fans, a hill. Its grassy slope and slow, langorous grade inferred an easy ascent. Many had been its victims, mistaking its benign appearance for a “somewhat challenging” climb, only to find themselves, after a windmill of elbows and knees, retching at its base.
“Suicide Hill,” other schools called it, and the name was apropos.
The Cub, our last-but-not-least running boy, was in the pack that day. He had completed the entire circuit once and was somewhere in the woods on round number two. I was waiting for him beside a long, tree-lined stretch when I heard those words.
It was a sweaty, heaving runner from an opposing school, encouraging a struggling teammate. Worn from the pace, the heat, and the difficulty of the course, they ran together. Then one of them, running on, spoke courage. “You’ve got one more hill left in you!”
In my life, there have been countless times when others did for me what that high-school boy did for his friend. At key points in the “race,” they came alongside to speak a timely word that helped my tired feet keep running. I’ll share a few stories, and you will see what I mean.
As a young couple with a toddler, my factory-worker husband came home with surprising news. He was thinking about moving us out of state so he could attend college to better our situation. At the time, we were in a very conservative church that viewed higher education with suspicion. Plus, we were poor, and I could see no way that we could afford college.
Thinking over all of these obstacles on the way home from work one day, I was overwhelmed with fear. I cried out to God and said something I rarely say. “If this is your will, give us a sign.”
When I got home, my husband told me that an elderly couple from our congregation had invited us for dinner. As we sat with them that night, pouring our hearts out, the bearded gentleman with an eighth-grade education himself, looked at both of us and said firmly, “Do it while you’re young.”
Instantly, peace flooded my heart and mind. We took his advice, and it was a decision we never regretted.
When I was panicking, drowning in worry over a prodigal son, an older woman came along. She had had not one, but two prodigals; two bouts of cancer; and a failed business. “I can give you some shortcuts to help you get through this thing,” she said, and she did. What she taught me over coffee one night at Starbucks changed me. Since then, I’ve had the lovely privilege of passing it on to other struggling mothers.
When my husband and I were suffering from betrayal and abandonment of the deepest kind, a tiny group of people who were running the same stretch of hill came along. We ran together for a time, and the things they taught us during that painful chapter will never be forgotten. They showered us with love, and that, too, changed us.
When I was an exhausted 39-year-old mother with a newborn, three other growing children, and a demanding job, Grandma Lee appeared. Having raised three sons of her own, she saw my plight and adopted the lot of us. She loved us all real good and hard, and to prove it, she came over once a month to bake and cook, filling the freezer and leaving that night’s dinner on the stove. There in my own kitchen, she said it, too. “You’ve got one more hill left in you.” She just said it in her way.
Such is the beauty of love. There isn’t a-one of us that isn’t running our own stretch; not a-one that doesn’t get tired. We’ve all wound up, doing time on “Suicide Hill,” and we’ve all found ourselves at the bottom, retching in the heat.
We are fellow runners, you and I, members of the human race. It is our precious privilege and joyous duty to help our fellow racers on their way. To say and to keep on saying, “You’ve got one more hill left in you.”
If you have received a scrap courage, pass it on. If you’ve received wisdom, share it. If someone’s hands have helped you, then use yours to help another. This is how sorrows are divided and joys are multiplied.
May God bless America and all of his creatures everywhere. May he help us to run strong and fast and well.
Every Saturday morning, America’s small, caffeinated mom joins James Golden, aka Bo Snerdley, on 77 WABC. You can hear her lively commentary laced with wit and wisdom at 9:45 a.m.