Thanksgiving morning. 23 degrees Fahrenheit. We line up in the starting corral, more than seven thousand of us. Shafts of sunlight are just beginning to pierce the shadows between the tall buildings.
Some are wearing turkey hats. Some, whole turkey costumes. There are runners who look ready for a marathon. Others are pushing strollers. A few wear shorts and no shirt. There are always some in Minnesota who take on the responsibility of demonstrating what sort of stuff the people who live in this climate are supposed to be made of. All of us are in motion, jumping, shivering, trying to generate a little heat. Few of us are dressed warm enough to be standing still on this cold morning, as we wait for the Turkey Day 5K to begin.
I’ve been running this Thanksgiving Day race with my kids for years. Today, it was my son and I in Minneapolis for the race. I had number 9638 safety-pinned to my chest. He had number 9639. We like passing people better than we like being passed, so we lined up with the 10-minute-mile crowd.
The rock & roll blaring from the loudspeakers paused, and the announcer told us that he knew it was cold, but it’s traditional to remove your hat during the National Anthem. This was the first time I’d been at an event where the anthem was being played in quite some time. I didn’t even make it to a baseball game last summer. I hadn’t thought through what my own take on the whole kneeling-in-protest business would be if it came up.
The crowd in the street got quiet and took off their hats and so did I, just like I always have. Then the singer finished and everyone cheered. This felt right. It felt really good. The anthem is about us coming together for one another. If the people alongside me had taken a knee, I would have knelt in solidarity with them. Today we were just being happy and thankful together and that works, too. The only wrong answer would be to use the response of people to the anthem as a way to try and divide our fellow citizens.
I’m still pondering this when the runners around me start moving forward. Somewhere ahead, out of earshot, the starting gun has gone off. We shuffle ahead, picking up speed at the same rate as the crowd. The whole mass of us passes under the banner marking the start and into streets of Minneapolis, and there we are running our hearts out. It’s a crazy attempt at balancing out the turkey and stuffing and pools of gravy that will soon be clogging those same hearts. But it works. Five Kilometers isn’t far, but at 23 degrees it’s enough to work up a good appetite for the meal to come.
As we near the finish line my son recognizes the guy we’re about to pass. It was one of the fellow runners from his cross-country team, back in high school. Small world.
But right now it’s a good world. The year couldn’t have been more insane. And yet here we are. The missiles haven’t flown. Our institutions are holding together. The haters have shown us their best tricks and so far we’re not playing their game. I’m surrounded by more than seven thousand people of every sort, and all we’re doing is running and smiling and feeling thankful. I could keep running like this right into the new year.