A [Gratis] History Lesson

When I was 15 years old, a sophomore in high school, I signed up for my first advanced placement class.  AP European History.  While most of the other 10th graders were taking world history, I and about twenty of my classmates sat in Mrs. Drasser's class for, what would be for many of us, the first actual challenge of our academic careers.  I had heard the horror stories from those who'd endured this class before me.  "Just don't do it.  She's intense.  It's way more work than it's worth."

Well, that was just motivation for me.  Because that's how my twisted mind works.  I guess I like a challenge.  (That and I felt the need to take every AP class offered because I was obsessed with my high school GPA, but that's a whole different blog post altogether.)

A challenge it was.  We had to read.  And outline.  And read more.  Then outline some more.  Write essays.  Write another essay.  Write still another essay.  What did she think we were doing?  Preparing for college?  Oh.  Right.  Yes.  We were.

The homework was awful.  The reading was torturous.  But there is something about a history teacher who is passionate about the subject matter that can turn what would be a boring lecture into a living, breathing story.  Mrs. Drasser had this gift.  She was pretty ill in the years prior to me entering her class, and she would leave a couple of months into the year to be replaced with a long-term sub because she had to go on dialysis.  While having her as a teacher kicked my butt, I will never forget the power in the way she conveyed history to us through her words.  And I am grateful for the brief time I had her for a teacher.

I remember reading about the Greco-Persian war the night before in the text, all the while I painstakingly outlined the material, for what reason, I'm still not sure.  When we got to class the next day, Mrs. Drasser took her spot at the front of the room and began to talk.  On this particular day, the story she presented to us was told with such conviction that she shed tears. 

Obviously, I will never remember the exact words she spoke to us, but I'm going to give you the Jennie-paraphrase, as I had the privilege of studying this with my children just a couple of weeks ago.  

At this point in history, there had never been a more expansive and powerful empire than that of Persia.  They essentially ruled over the entire known world with the exception of Greece.  As history tends to show, those with exceedingly large amounts of power tend to crave more, so Persia set their minds to conquering Greece.  For the first time in Greece's history, the city-states united to fight against the Persians instead of fighting against each other.  The war raged for about twenty years beginning in 500 B.C.  Around 490 B.C., the Persians set their sights on attacking the little seaside village of Marathon on the coast of the Aegean Sea.  The Athenians panicked.  If the Persians landed there, they would march straight to Athens and take the city.  The best runner in Athens, Pheidippides was sent to plead with the city of Sparta to come help them fight.  (The Spartans were the trained soldiers who dedicated their lives to perfecting their bodies and minds in order to become superior fighting machines.  Spartan children were not educated in poetry and philosophy and music, like in Athens.  They were taught how to fight and fight well, how to be brave and stoic like warriors should be.)  Unfortunately for the Athenians, the Spartans were in the middle of a peace-requiring religious festival and would not be able to help until the next full moon, ten days later.

The Athenians were grossly outnumbered by the Persians, facing what they thought was sure annihilation either way, but marched forth with valor and self-preservation as their goal.  They arrived in Marathon before the Persians.  As the Persians closed in from the sea, they fired thousands of arrows at the Athenian troops, but the Athenian troops charged forth and attacked.  The Persians were so caught off guard that they ended up losing the battle despite the imbalanced number of troops.  It was a tremendous victory for Greece.  A Cinderella story.  They went in facing sure defeat and marched out the decided winners. 

The news was so fantastic they called upon Pheidippides again to let the people of Athens know that Greece had been secured.  He ran.  Up and down the hills, across the rocky terrain with one goal: to deliver the good news.  He ran the 26 rough miles from Marathon to Athens and as he reached the city gasped out, "WE HAVE WON!"  As legend goes, those were his last words.  He died from sheer exhaustion.

This is the part of the story that brought tears to Mrs. Drasser's eyes.  This is the part of the story that caused me to well up as I shared it with my children.

This is where the modern marathon got its start. 

Men and women today run the marathon, 26.2 miles, knowingly or not, as an homage to the brave Athenian who ran it first with the good news of victory. 

People run (at all) for a lot of different reasons.  Health, general fitness, to push themselves to new limits, to prove to themselves that they can, for the endorphins (the runners "high," if you will), because it is a great way to clear the mind, it's a chance to talk to God, it's an opportunity to think about nothing at all.  While I've never been a true distance runner, it's something I dream about.  Some day...when I have the time...  There is something about running that just gets people.  In a good way.

People who run marathons are an elite class of runners. They push the human body to a limit that, some would argue, shouldn't even be pushed.  Distance running of that caliber is superhuman.  I am told it's more mental than physical at that point, but I cannot even imagine.  It transcends comprehension for those of us who've never been there and done that.  It is, in a word, amazing.

The Boston Marathon is for the elitist of the elite.  Your run-of-the-mill marathoner can't just walk up and register.  You have to qualify.  It's an international event.  A bucket list item for a chosen few in this world.

I cannot fathom what would make this event a target for anyone.  They're just runners.  Crazy, amazing, committed runners - from all walks of life, running for all different reasons.  I cannot fathom the depths of hatred or insanity that would motivate a crime of this nature.  I cannot fathom the terror of innocent spectators who were simply there to encourage and to witness dreams coming true.

To all of my running friends, I salute you.  I support you.  I will continue to encourage you as you pursue your goals and dreams.  Just like Pheidippides, you are brave.  Now that these attacks have occurred, by continuing to run, you are delivering a message.  And when you cross that finish line, whether after 1 mile, 5K, 10K, 13.1 miles, or 26.2 miles, you are victorious.

“Human beings are made up of flesh and blood, and a miracle fiber called courage.” -George Patton


Anonymous said...

As a teen, my Dad was stationed in Greece, and the beach we frequented every summer for 3 plus years was at Marathon. Each year the Boy Scouts of America, who lived in Athens area, would hike from Marathon to Athens, I think it was the Temple of the Winds. One year I insisted on making the hike with the Boy Scouts, but had to drop out halfway through because of bleeding blisters on my feet. Such glorious memories!

Sharon said...

Beautifully written, and this brought a tear to my eye, too. I am so distressed by the tragedy in Boston. But you are right. Runners are brave...and to the extent that we are all involved in this race called life...we are all brave.

Thanks be to God who gives us victory - we are more than conquerors through Him.


Debbie said...

I love this.
Believe it or not, I was a runner pre-motherhood. I married a runner and raised two runners. There is just something about those who push themselves that they that I love and admire. I like the reminder that the lesson of the first marathon runner was victory. So appropriate today!

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