To be a cheerleader goes against every bone in my body. I think of myself as a coach, and if you have a problem that needs solving I’m your girl. Overly effusive and encouraging, I am not.
And yet two things happened this week that made me rethink that. I have a dear friend who writes me the loveliest letters. Often she includes passages or readings from her daily devotions that might be of interest to me. This letter included the intro chapter to a book entitled Born Only Once: The Miracle of Affirmation by Conrad W. Baars, M.D. Basically, affirmation is a great gift we can give to others (especially children). To affirm someone is to recognize their goodness and worth without desiring to fix or change or improve that person. That may come later, but a child needs to know she is loved without conditions. The author compares affirmation to water surrounding an object immersed in it. The water doesn’t change the object but accommodates and supports it.
Then today I literally got to be a cheerleader. My friend was running her first marathon, and I Cheered for her (and ran with her) at mile 7. And then I got to cheer her on at mile 22. While waiting for her at mile 22, I decided to put my book down and cheer for all the marathoners. It was a small race and no one else was cheering along the trail. I have three phrases that I use, “good job,” “looking strong,”and “you got this.” “Almost there” at mile 22 feels like a lie, and everyone is working so hard I would never dare to offer advice. Basically, affirmation is all that seems appropriate. And people smiled and waved and high-fived. And I tear up because running is hard, and everyone is more than a conqueror. But I also get overwhelmed by how freeing it is just to cheer and not coach. I was texting a friend about this earlier, and she joked that I needed to write a memoir titled “Running: A Renaissance” about how running has led me to change my personality. That’s hardly true, but it has given me glimpses of a different self or maybe a truer self that I could aspire to become someday. Maybe cheering along a dirt trail on a Monday morning is where that starts.