A Letter to a Runner Gone Too Soon

Dear Meg,

I’ve never written you before, which makes this a bit awkward. Mainly because I’m not sure if people in heaven get letters. Well, there’s that and the minor consideration that you don’t know me. I suppose that adds to the awkwardness. But then again, if you get this letter there’s then a good chance you’ve heard me talking to you the last few years. Hopefully you’ve decided that even if that makes me a bit crazy, I’m a harmless kind of crazy.

To be fair, it’s not like this comes to you out of the blue. Tomorrow marks the 3-year anniversary of the day you moved. The day you moved away from all of us to go live with your heavenly family. Some people will say it’s the day you died, but I have a hard time looking at it that way. You’ve added so much light to my life that it’s really hard to think or talk about you inside the dark shadows of death.

I realize that’s easy for me to say. I didn’t know you. When you didn’t know someone it makes it hard to miss them when they leave. I hope you understand that. Trust me, the more I learn about you the more I’m positive this letter would be about nothing other than heartbreak if we’d been friends.

But we weren’t.

Besides, I know you’ll be overwhelmed with heartbreak letters this week. A lot of people who did know you really miss you. Still.

Your mom is one of them. One of the beautiful things that came out of you moving — part of the light added to my life — was me having the chance to meet your mom. We’re actually friends now. Not the kind of friends you two were — because Lord knows she does carry on about the special kind of friendship you two had — but even so, we’re friends enough for me to know she really misses you.

One of the cool things about being friends with her is even though I didn’t know you, I’ve really gotten to know you. It’s funny, the more your mom describes the kind of woman you were — thoughtful, gentle, giving, and loving — the more I feel like I’m talking to you when I talk to her. I don’t know if you all have that whole apple doesn’t fall far from the tree saying where you moved to, but I do think of that saying when your mom talks about you.

Enough about that. If I’m not careful this will turn into one of those heartbreak letters. I’m actually not writing to talk about your mom; I’m writing to thank you.

You see, your mom, with the coaxing of some influential friends, decided she was going to run a marathon last year. A very long story short: that led me to decide I needed to run one too. Maybe you were watching all this going on. And laughing. You were likely saying, ‘Keith, running a half-marathon for Meg was plenty enough tribute for me. You really don’t need to — aaaand, maybe you really shouldn’t — run any further than that for Meg.” Hey, no kidding Meg. You think I don’t know 230 pound slow men have no business running marathons?

But I did. I ran one Meg. I know, I know. But hey, I had to do it.

You already knew that, though, didn’t you. You had to. You and I both changed our minds about what this big and slow guy should or shouldn’t be doing at the exact same time about mile 20 of that Richmond Marathon. That’s the point in the race when I realized thoughts and proclamations of “I’m going to run a marathon” are easier pulled off than the 50,000 or so strides required to actually finish one. It’s there when I cried out, “I’ve gone as far as I can go,” and it’s there when something came over me assuring me, or threatening me maybe, that I was about to run 6.2 miles further than my self imposed limit.

And I did. I ran another 6.2 miles.

Tell me, I’ve got to know, that really was you at mile 20, wasn’t it?

And it was you at mile 23 when a friend I’d never had before you moved away stood on the side of the road, by herself, cheering me on. I know that was you.

It was you at mile 24 when a friend I’d never met before you moved away came running up the center of the course in my direction. This after running his own marathon, and for no other reason than to run next to me. He told me funny stories. He didn’t tell me I could do it, he just ran next to me like he knew I would.

I’m sorry, that just sounds too much like something you would do.

Tell me it was you, Meg, at mile 25 when two friends I’d never met before you moved away joined us for the 1.2 mile homestretch. They didn’t come with inspiration, they came with love. Like brothers. I guess if it was you they would have been more like sisters, but still, I swear that was you.

And answer me this, was that you at the top of that hill when one by one friends I’d never met before you moved away, including your mom, , came to join me and run (OK, quit chuckling and cut me a break Meg. It was almost running!) down that hill under the finish line as I completed one of the most physically challenging and fulfilling events of my life?

Did you send my two young sons out to greet me, maybe thinking about your own 3 little kids, knowing just how special that would be to me. When they got by my side and under my arms where I could feel the full blessing of their pride, were those your tears, Meg, or were they mine?

When my wife Katie joined us and it was a family finish line photo, was that your voice I heard, begging me to treasure my family like a momentary gift and not a lifelong promise? Was that you Meg?

Of course it was. And I’m sure these are my tears now, but thank you Meg.

I really have no right — I’m not sure why any of us do — to the beauty that’s come to my life since you moved away. I want you to know, though, I’d give it all back if you decided to move back home.

But I know you can’t do that. Something tells me that being in the presence of Glory in your new home, and with all that you know about the difference your moving has made in hearts and homes of thousands back here, you wouldn’t if you could. I didn’t know you, Meg, but I’ve come to know that’s just the kind of woman you were. Your dad once said, “It’s not how you run, it’s how you run your life.” I just want you to know you’ve inspired a bunch of us to try to do both just like you did. And that’s a race we’ll keep running.

I don’t know if people in heaven get letters, but I sure hope they do.

Thank you Meg.

Your friend,

​Keith

Read more of my articles at A Life of Gratitude