Expansive Hearts

“Running is without doubt something that I love, and I sometimes think people underestimate the power of love. I don’t love running because I am good at it, I’m good at running because I love it. It is something that brings me joy because I am passionate about it.” — Shelby Houlihan

When I read Shelby’s remarks in a feature posted to the IAAF website, I was reminded of a wonderful song called “Hello My Baby” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo with Oliver Mtukudzi, the wonderful Zimbabwean singer, sharing the lead vocals.

I was at 24 Hour Fitness, running, very bored, on the treadmill when I heard “Hello Baby” for the first time. A smile came to my old mug, my ennui vanished, and my pace increased by a minute and a half per mile. When the song ended and the sullen environment of the gym and monotonous gray track of the treadmill once again intruded on my consciousness, my pace fell and my torporous mood returned.

When I lived on the San Juan Ridge, just outside Nevada City, in the early 1970s, there was a guy who drove a Toyota 4×4 and wore only a loincloth — not some fake, modest Western version but the real deal which dangerously threatened to provide no cover at all. He was a helpful, open-hearted guy who would always pull over and give me a ride when I hitchhiked to town. When I thanked him and stepped out of the truck he would say, “Love is everywhere, man!”

I believe it’s true; we just need to know where to find it, and not get sidetracked, in the words of the Johnny Lee song from Urban Cowboy, go lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.

Okay, okay. If you think I’ve wandered far enough from the theme of this website, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. But rest assured, it’s all got to do with sports and running. Love is everywhere, and for those who can find it, it’s a powerful ergogenic performance aid.

Yesterday I wrote the following for a little tithing newsletter that our church distributes to its members. See if it doesn’t pick up your pace. Fair warning: I don’t plan to stop going off topic here anytime soon. It’s all connected: life, sports, relationships. And the glue that binds it together is…


Paying it Backward:
Stories of Everday Generosity in America


Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

I was at Stanford from 1959-1966. I did well in school, until it began to be clear to me that nobody at the University seemed to be able to tell me the meaning of life. Whereupon I cruised in my courses and began self-educating by reading books outside the curriculum and discussing philosophy with a short circle of pals who were also seeking meaning.

For a time I dated a Jewish girl whose family lived in San Francisco. Denise was a freshman at UC Berkeley, but she was already making a name for herself in the Bay Area’s counterculture – she was friends with Wavy Gravy, Mario Savio, Ken Kesey, and many others. If you’ve read Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, she was “Mary Microgram.”

Although our paths would part, I remember Denise’s generous spirit. Crossing the Bay Bridge, she would always pay the toll for the car behind us.

It was a prank that made us feel happy and that I would reprise for years afterward. It seems perfectly natural behavior in America, but I reckon it would be rare in other parts of the world. When I remember Denise’s spirit, my thoughts turn the generosity of the American spirit.

Here are some simple examples.

– o –

When Eileen Taylor pulled up to the counter in the drive-through lane at Starbucks, the counter clerk announced that the guy in the car ahead had paid for her coffee. Even though she was fifty-five and had just lost her job as a physician’s assistant, she was inspired to pick up the $12 tab for the family in the car behind her.

What she didn’t realize was that her kindness would go viral. Over the next two and a half hours, fifty-five drivers paid for the order of the person behind them. The coffee shop workers told a newspaper reporter that the incident was not rare, but that the customers had set a new record on that day.

Having found another job, Eileen visits the coffee shop on Saturday mornings and always pays for the customer behind her. (Adapted from a story in Reader’s Digest.)

– o –

James Robertson is a fifty-six-year-old Detroit factory worker who had to walk twenty-one miles and take two bus rides to get to his $10.55-an-hour job.

Hearing about James’s hellish commute, the Detroit Free Press published a story about his plight. Whereupon a nineteen-year-old college student started a GoFundMe.com project to buy Robertson a car.

Donors ended up giving more than $350,000. A Ford dealership gave James a new Taurus. James chose the model because “It’s like me: simple on the outside, strong on the inside.” A financial consultant donated his time to help Robertson learn to manage his new fortune. (From CBS News.)

– o –

When Larry Clark stopped at a Texas Chicken Express drive-through, his credit card was declined. It seems he’d done so much shopping earlier in the day that the credit card company put his spending on hold.

A young cook pulled out his credit card and paid for Clark’s meal. Several weeks later, Clark invited the cook and his parents to a thank-you dinner. Besides picking up the tab, he gave the cook a $50 gift certificate “just to tell him don’t stop being a good guy.”

– o –

A stay-at-home mom in Oklahoma was about to pay the grocery tab for her family’s Thanksgiving dinner, when a customer tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Ma’am, I’m going to pay for your groceries.”

The woman stepped in and swiped her card, paying the $214 bill, then left.

– o –

Hazel, age two, was admitted at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to be treated for a fast-growing tumor in her abdomen. To lighten the mood in her hospital room, the girl’s mother spelled out “SEND PIZZA” on the window with masking tape.

A photo of the sign made its way to Reddit, where users ordered more than 20 pizzas to be delivered to the little girl’s room. The hospital finally had to request that the deliveries stop.

A better surprise came months later, when doctors confirmed that the girl’s scans were clear.

– o –

“Too many people admire America for its material accomplishments,” Swami Kriyananda wrote, “but not for its spirit, though many do admire its spirit of openness and generosity.”

In these days of pandemic cynicism and selfish obsession with material wealth, it’s inspiring to reflect on the generosity of spirit that has made this country great.

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