In September of 2017, at a time of year when I typically would have returned to school, instead, I traveled to Berlin and ran the Berlin Marathon.
It was my first year of retirement and I wanted a big event to distract me from sad thoughts of the end of my teaching career after 31 years.
I injured my hamstring training for the marathon but at the time, I didn’t think the injury was serious and I was able to complete the race using a strategy of running and walking.
Even with the walking thrown in, 26.2 miles is a long way to travel. As I approached the end of the race, I was gassed.
The Brandenburg Gate, which I knew marked the end of the race, is a huge structure. I could see it beckoning me from a distance.
I passed through the columns, slowed to a walk, and stopped my watch.
What I didn’t know was that the gate wasn’t the very end of the race.
When I looked around, everyone near me was still running. The actual finish line was 200 yards ahead. I rolled my eyes, restarted my watch, and shuffled through the final painful fraction of a mile to the real finish line.
In 2012 Abel Mutai, a Kenyan Olympic medalist, made the same mistake, only with potentially more significant consequences.
Mutai was winning a cross-country race when, thinking the finish line was 10 meters before it actually was, suddenly stopped running.
Ivan Fernandez Anaya, the Spanish runner in second place, realized what had happened and, rather than passing Mutai and claiming victory, told the Kenyan to keep running.
Mutai, however, did not speak Spanish and did not understand what the Spaniard was saying.
Fernandez pushed the Kenyan toward the finish line, gesturing to make him understand he needed to keep running.
Mutai won the race.
When asked after the race why he did it, Fernandez told reporters Mutai deserved the win. He was ahead by 20 meters when he stopped running. He didn’t let the Kenyan win, he was going to win when he stopped.
Besides, the Spaniard asked, “What would my Mom think of that?”
When I was a teacher, many of my students wore a bracelet with the letters “WWJD” inscribed.
At first, I didn’t understand the significance of the letters, until one young woman explained to me they stood for “What Would Jesus Do?”
She wore the bracelet as a reminder to ask that question if she found herself in a morally ambiguous situation, she explained.
“Ah,” I said, thinking it was used mostly as a deterrent against pre-marital sex, which, of course, Jesus would never condone.
I don’t know if those bracelets are still in vogue these days, having been out of the classroom now for three years.
I like the sentiment behind the question, but for me, it’s sometimes too hard to imagine the answer.
Are we talking about the Jesus who humbly washed the feet of the Apostles? Or the Jesus whose first reaction, when approached by a Caananite woman to heal her daughter, was a hard pass?
The Jesus who preached “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy“? Or the Jesus who raged through the temple overturning tables and scattering money?
While I appreciate and understand the message of love, grace, freedom, and humility, I sometimes think we sanitize the man, the human being Jesus so undeniably was.
If I am realistic, I must admit there are many situations where I honestly don’t know what Jesus would do.
I, like Ivan Fernandez Anaya, find it easier to ask myself “What would my mom think of that?”
My mom was a confident, self-assured woman who did not waste her time with worry or second-guessing. She had the ability to figure out problems for herself and to try new things without fear of failure. Mom knew that even if she failed at a particular task, she herself was not a failure.
While no one could accuse her of hubris, she certainly had no patience with timidity.
When I sometimes find myself following my natural inclination to dither, fret, and dwell on minutiae, I ask myself what Mom would do in a similar situation and find the resolve I need to act decisively.
My mom was the most generous person I know, picking up checks, buying presents, slipping cash to her grandchildren, and giving her time to others without hesitation.
When I find my generosity lacking, I channel my mother’s spirit for the needed impetus to loosen my purse strings or enthusiastically offer my time.
What I remember most about Mom was her loving nature. My mother taught me not to hold grudges. Transgressions were forgiven completely and swiftly (after an appropriate punishment, if warranted). Mom let those close to her know how precious they were.
I first learned love and grace from my mother.
I have no problem with teenagers asking themselves “What would Jesus do?” if the question helps them to make good decisions.
Me, I think I will get a bracelet inscribed “WWMD?”
What Would Mom Do?
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