The other day I was watching this football game on TV. They were kicking the ball around, running up and down the field. I’ve heard that football players, or soccer players a they’re called in some parts of the world, are the best-conditioned athletes there are. I had an acquaintance once that I worked with that was a semi-pro soccer player. He asked me casually to participate in an upcoming marathon with him. Being a dumb high school kid at the time, I readily agreed. I thought it would be fun. He, being the semi-pro soccer player, was in fairly good shape, so running a marathon wasn’t a problem for him. Me, on the other hand, despite being a dumb high school kid, wasn’t quite as prepared, as I should have been.
Personally, I like the story behind the marathon. Some Greek guy ran 40 kilometers after the Greeks, led by the Athenians, defeated the Persians at the battle of Marathon around 500 BC. He ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to tell the Athenians that they were victorious. This wasn’t just a celebratory run. Had the Greeks lost at Marathon, the Persians would have marched straight to Athens and sacked the city, burned the temples, killed the men and raped the women. That was what happened back in those days. So the Greek guy who ran the 40K to tell the city was doing them a great favor. He was telling them they weren’t going to be killed and raped and then all their property destroyed. It would be a terrible thing to be sitting around hoping that a foreign army is going to come marching on your city in a couple days to make your last moments of life a new experience in suffering and pain.
The story goes that when this Greek guy reached Athens, he said the word “Victory!” and then fell dead. And of course, “Victory” in Greek is “Nike”, which is where the brand name comes from. Maybe if the poor guy had been wearing a pair of shoes, he wouldn’t have fallen dead. But I’m not so sure if that was the whole story, or the motivation for this Greek guy was merely to let the poor Athenians they were saved. You’ve heard the old saying, “Don’t shoot the messenger,” right? Well that saying is around because they actually did used to shoot the messenger. If somebody arrived with bad news, they generally were so angry that they killed the guy. I’m sure you seen or heard about the famous scene where the guy shouts “This is Sparta!” and then proceeds to kill the messenger and all his co-messengers by kicking them down that long well.
When the messenger arrived with good news, they did the opposite. He was treated like a rock star. Food, women, anything he wanted for a couple of days. This wasn’t really an official procedure of the city; this is just the way it worked out. Some guy would return from a big battle, and let the city know their men had succeeded, which meant that the other cities army wasn’t going to come and destroy everybody. Naturally, everybody was ecstatically happy, and the center of all this happiness was the lucky messenger. So of course, he got invited to parties, and orgies and whatever other celebratory customs were around.
So I don’t know if that Greek guy, who gave birth to both a very traditional Olympic sport and a world famous brand of athletic wear, had anything on his mind other than all the insane partying he was going to do for the next two or three days. Of course that version is not the most romantic version, but a funny things happen to stories over time. They get repeated and changed and take on whatever the current belief system that rests in the cultural consciousness. Because current western culture is still very steeped in traditional religious beliefs and sexual taboos, that part of the story is kind of only snickered at or not taken very seriously. Because, like it or not, a large part of the western culture is firmly rooted in the Church, namely because the Church was the major governing power until only recently. Stories from other cultures are either rejected, or filtered through the societies collective consciousness to mold to whatever messages we’d like to read into a story of historical event.
True power and choice comes when you can choose your own set of beliefs and filters through which you can see the world. If you can take a true objective view of the current values and priorities of the society you live, and only choose to take on those beliefs and values that serve you and the choices you’ve made for what you want your life to become, then you’re a step ahead of most other people. The sad fact about living in modern society is that most people are content to let others do their thinking for them, and dictate to them what is important and what isn’t. When you can truly learn to think for yourself, and decide your own direction in life, you will as victorious as the Greeks were at Marathon.
My friend finished the Marathon in around three and a half hours. I finished in barely under five. It took a huge amount of focus to keep going and not throw in the towel. I realized at about mile ten that I was in way over my head, so I had a tough choice to make, and both choices would have it’s own set of consequences. The next 16 miles proved to be a horrible. One of the things that greatly helped me to finish was all the people standing along the course cheering the runners on. It is one experience that I will never, ever forget.