The Reinforcement Squad

I’ve never run a marathon.

But I lived on a street that had a lot of them. One biting gray day, I walked to the corner to watch. On the opposite corner was a man with a neon green poster that said, “YOU RUN THIS TOWN, MICHELLE.”

And he was bellowing. “YOU OWN THIS, MY FRIEND. LOOKING GOOD, LOOKING REAL GOOD.”

I’d caught the moment Michelle ran by. The man held nothing back.

But after a minute, he showed no signs of letting up.

“THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, 12,265. BRING HOME THE BACON.”

And I realized that the neon green poster was for Michelle, but the man was for everyone.

He didn’t know the runners. But he did know these ordinary people were doing this extraordinary thing. This extraordinary thing that must be reinforced.

In that moment, I loved that man. That man who got that the human experience is shot through with cramps, grit, and glory. And nothing refuels the tank like a little support.

I wanted that man around all the time.

We might each be running this race alone, but we can have the wind at our backs. We can have a reinforcement squad.

In the 1970s, Etta James was struggling with heroin. One day in rehab, the singer got a letter from Keith Richards. As she told NPR, Mr. Richards wrote:

“…We would like to have you on tour with us. We love your music…But what you’re doing right now is more important than what we could ever do with you but we’ll be sure to come back and get you when you’re ready.”

And in 1978, after she finished rehab, Etta James opened for the Rolling Stones.

A reinforcement squad holds us when we’re down. Holds us when we’re out. And never stops expecting that we give all we’ve got to give.

Let’s populate our lives with these big people. People who reinforce the total expanse of who we are, who we can be.

People who are in our corner with a neon green poster.

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