Two world’s ran into each other on New Year’s Day near where I live.
It was a hot morning down at the river where I was heading to do the New Year’s Day 5km Woodbridge parkrun event. There were about 160 other people milling around warming up. I’d gotten up early, for a warm up run, although it was already 31C by the time I was down there. Warm enough to need a cool down first I reckon.
I love parkrun. And so do hundreds of thousands of others. What started as a London event in Bushy Park in 2004 has mushroomed to hundreds of timed 5km runs in parks and along tracks every Saturday around the world.
Parkrun has become a place of community, and a place of transformation for thousands of people. So many of the parkrun testimonies – for that is what they are – recall the self-loathing of weighing too much, or the worry as middle age approaches that too little has been risked. So many of the stories have the stardust of salvation about them. Parkrun has taken them from the miry clay of obesity or depression or whatever.
The language is about community and love and a sense of acceptance and transformation. At times it feels like church without Jesus. Indeed this very week the parkrun Australia webpage has a story entitled “How parkrun saved my life”. And the Wiki page for Bushy Parkrun says this:
The event has become a pilgrimage for parkrunners attracting entrants from across the globe.
So there I walking down to the river for New Year’s Day parkrun, about to join so many others who were setting running and personal goals on day one of the year. Another step in our personal pilgrimages.
It was only as I walked past the playground to the start line, that I saw a soaking bedraggled young, slightly built indigenous girl stagger past, with a haggard look of despair on her face.
Fully clothed, shoes on and sopping wet. She’d obviously been in the river. And then someone loudly yelling out a name (her name?), running after her There was anger in the voice, and a look of chilled despair on the young woman.
Next thing, police sirens and three cop cars coming screeching into the parking area. Runners looking around them, wondering what was going on. I half expected someone to jump the gun and do a runner, and then we’d know who the culprit was that the police were after.
But no culprit, just a victim this time. Someone had called the police. She’d thrown herself into the river, the same Swan River that less than four months ago, in early spring, cold and dark and surgingfrom heavy rains, had swallowed alive two young indigenous boys running from the police.
I wrote back then of the sense of despair that episode gave many people in Perth; of young lives gone off track and then lost.
And now cop cars, sirens blazing and, six police jumping out. No one wanting a repeat of September. But that was hardly going to happen. The hot dry summer had sucked the life out of the Swan, as it does every year. This section in particular is low in summer, tannine stained and tepid as a cup of forgotten tea.
If you want to drown in the Swan River at this time of year, you’re going to have to want to. Someone had managed to drag the young woman out in the nick of time though, so in the end the police were not needed. There were a few conversations, but the rest of the event was obscured.
Besides parkrun was starting, and we had to get on with it. The rules were read out, parkrun visitors from as far away as the UK were greeted and applauded, as were milestone runners (100 parkruns!), and then to the start line.
Five boiling hot kilometres later we were all finishing and falling in a heap in the long grass under the eucalypts as the temperature soared, one or two blokes stripping down to shorts for a dip in the river themselves.
And lots of chat. Chat about plans and holidays and new years and that sort of stuff. Good stuff, parkrun stuff, the stuff that parkrun is built to foster. And especially on a day of new beginnings. A year in front of us that promises personal bests, or parkrun milestones replete with celebratory tee-shirts.
Eventually we all peeled off to cars, or to local cafes for further chatting, waving goodbyes, or happy new year handshakes. And we get on with it. We get on with 2019.
But somewhere in the suburbs around parkrun a young indigenous girl, by now probably in dried clothes, is going through in her mind the circumstances that led her to throwing herself into the river at the exact spot that parkrun begins.
A young woman for whom the first day of 2019 is no different to the 365 days of 2018. A young woman who has no better hopes and no personal bests written down somewhere which she intends to achieve in thenext 365 days.
It all felt like a clash of two worlds; the world of self-improvement where we throw ourselves into our next venture, our next goal; and the world of self-doubt and despair where someone spirals into a place where their only goal is to throw themselves in a river.
And as 2019 begins, I wonder just how fine the line is between those two worlds. They never seem to meet do they? Well not, at least, until they do. And there’s no telling, going into 2019 what circumstances might conspire in the next year to push any one of us to taking an action like that young girl did this morning.
I drove home from parkrun, grateful for the event itself, loving the run, and happy for the friendships I make at it. But I was sobered too that anything without Jesus, especially a 2019 without Jesus, just wouldn’t touch the sides of what could be thrown at me this year.
We wish for a happy new year, and a happy middle of the year, and happy end of the year, but that’s a big wish (and I wish for a 5km personal best!). But whatever world runs intoour world this year, whatever our world becomes this year, it’s great to be going into it knowing that the resurrected Jesus will rule and sustain 2019 by his all powerful word.
And I’m sure at least once this year someone’s world – which desperately needs Jesus – will run into my world this year, and I want to be able to offer them more than parkrun, and the salvation and hope it offers.