Straight Paths

Cora enrolled in our outpatient hospice program with end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cora lived adjacent to her daughter, Tammy. Cora’s living room window faced the Ohio River, only a few feet from the downward slope of the riverbank. Cora shared, “I love to watch the barges go up and down the river. I also enjoy watching HGTV, but I’m kinda burned out on “Fixer Upper”, so now I watch, “The Property Brothers”, and “Love it or List it””.

One afternoon Cora reflected, “I decided that if I ever had kids that they would know I loved them. My kids are really close to each other. Tammy’s two older brothers always looked out after her; and Tammy loved to go to Bernard’s track meets. When Bernard first told me he wanted to join the track team I tried to talk him out of it; because I didn’t want to have to take him here and there. But he wouldn’t be talked out of it. Looking back, I’m so glad he wouldn’t, because those were the happiest days of my life. I sure loved to watch that boy run!”

As Cora and I thumbed through her scrapbooks of newspaper clippings chronicling Bernard’s track career, Cora proudly pointed out, “Bernard was an All American miler and a candidate for the Olympic team. He was ‘Athlete of the year’ three years in a row at Rio Grande College and he placed third in the nation in the 1,500 meter. We traveled all over the country going to track meets. Those were the best days of my life.”

Bernard recalled, “Mom was my biggest cheerleader. Mom always came to our track meets with a cooler stocked full with sandwiches, cold drinks and cookies and everybody flocked to Mom. She was like the track mom. When I was at Rio Grande we packed Mom in the van with the team and took her to Arkansas to the nationals with us. The college even paid for Mom’s hotel room. Mom was in hog heaven.”

A couple months before Cora departed this earth, she reminisced about watching Bernard compete in the high school state track championships at Ohio State’s stadium. She recalled, “Bernard was so far ahead of everyone that he wondered where everyone was, so he looked back. He won, but if he hadn’t looked back he would have broken the state record for the mile.” I suggested to Cora that it would make a great story and that I was eventually going to write about it. She responded, “You need to”. I think Cora would be pleased that I’m making good on my commitment, that I’m crossing the finish line.

Last week I called Bernie for his account of the story. Here’s Bernie: “I made it to the state my junior year and placed seventh. I was excited just to be in “The Shoe”. We had grey hoodies, no sweat suits. I had cleats but I didn’t even have training shoes. I wore high top Converse to train in. There were some wealthy big city schools there that had matching uniforms. It was kind of intimidating, but I learned after the first year not to look at what they looked like.

“I made it to the state again my senior year. The coach always told me, ‘never look back’. Nothing good can happen if you look back. You can start to worry and get off your stride. You can even run off the track. When I was coming down the home stretch I couldn’t feel anybody around me and one of the track officials that I knew yelled, ‘You’ve got a forty yard lead’, and then I looked back. When I crossed the finish line I was excited because I’d won the state, but as my coach approached me he had a disappointed expression on his face. He asked me, ‘Why did you look back? If you hadn’t looked back you could have broken the state record’. The state record was 4:21.2 and I ran a 4:21.4. That’s just one breath away. I never looked back again after that.”

Bernie’s story reminds me of the words of Apostle Paul: “Do you not know that those who run in a race run all, but one receives the prize. Run in such a way that you may obtain it… (I Corinthians 9:24-27); “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended, but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 3:7-14). And the Author of the Book of Hebrews wrote, regarding the saints that have gone before us, “…if they had called to mind that country (Egypt) from which they had come out…”, if they had looked back, “…they would have had opportunity to return,” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Oswald Chambers wrote in “My Utmost for His Highest”: “God never has museums. The only aim of the life is that the Son of God may be manifested…” (May15th); “Never live on memories; let the word of God be always living and active in you,” (May 14th); and “Beware of harking back to what you were once when God wants you to be something you have never been,” (June 8th).

In times of changing weather, when life becomes difficult and the future uncertain, it’s human nature to look back and want to go back to a place and time when our life was more predictable, comfortable and familiar. But in the words of Bernard, “Nothing good can happen when you look back.”

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…(Hebrews 12:1-3).

Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at lorenhardin53@gmail.com. You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course”, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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