What If

I’ve always marveled at a marathoner’s staying power. I watch them, especially the Kenyans and Ethiopians, how they start off on an easy trot, as if on a jog in the park, their feet going, step-jump, step-jump, carrying a light body-frame round and round the tracks, overlapping those who cannot keep up without ever changing rhythm, not a drop of sweat on their brow. And just before they get to the finish line, they lurch forward with a sudden surge of power on their heels. They win and walk off the tracks as if they just came from visiting the next-door neighbor.

It’s amazing, really is. An astonishing work of art. Seems so easy, until you take a pause and think about what got the marathoner to winning the race. Years of practice, defeat, frustration, getting up from a fall, and running again and again. It all started with the question, what if? A young lady sitting by the fireside with a bowl of porridge, tired of the humdrum in her life, knowing there must be more to existence, and while looking intensely at the burning embers, she feels a certain itch in her feet and goes, what if I ran? That simple what-if becomes the Olympic triumph of a villager.

You’ve probably answered to a certain call yourself. What if… A dream you got to work on, daring to tell the world about it and got an audience to watch you as you built it. Then things didn’t go too well. You ran out of bricks, got bruised building it, started sliding back into the lonely darkness of your struggles to face the frustrations, fear, defeat, rejection, and you decided to readjust the size of your dream, cut it in half so you can survive. Some saw the failures and pitifully laughed at your stupidity. You should have listened, started small, not started at all… they said.

Those who grasped what you were trying to achieve thought your effort was excellent, gave you applause, awarded you, but it was a far cry from what your mind had conceived, a mere drop of water where you had promised a full calabash. You still need to get back on track and finish it. It’s never a one-shot deal.

Life on earth is very short. In the blink of an eye, we’re come and gone. We depart from this world in mid-step, mid-sentence, half-way through our marathons. No one ever says, “I have finished life, I’m ready to depart now.” We usually just keep on moving from one task to the other, hoping to live long enough to experience something spectacular. Departure is a certainty, and life as we know it is totally meaningless unless we imbue it with meaning. Let your slice of life on earth not run out before you give your what-if a shot. It’s spectacular really, just daring to make a what-if become what-is.

Einstein asked, what if I moved at the speed of light and saw the unseen? Mother Teresa asked, what if I touched the untouchables and defied a religion? Gandhi asked, what if I fought against an empire’s tanks and guns with my mind? Wangari Maathai asked, what if I spoke for the trees and stood up to brutish rulers? Jesus asked, what if I became the son of God and dined with outcasts? Ordinary humans with feet of clay just like you and me changed the world spectacularly. They had a marathoner’s staying power and did not care when their lives would end.

What if I told a story true and gathered a nation to listen to it?

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