In the Catholic Church, the regular ceremony or “mass” is centered around a reenactment of “the Last Supper”, or the last meal before Jesus was crucified to later rise from the dead. My favorite part of the mass happens immediately before that and, regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs, most people would agree is at least “nice” if not a fundamental part of their belief system. The priest says, “let us offer each other a sign of peace,” and everyone turns to the people around them and shakes hands, hugs, kisses, waves, or extends 2 fingers in the familiar “peace” sign. In fact as children we are taught to give the peace sign to our friends rather than climb over each other to shake hands with our friends sitting several rows away. As a child, I thought the point of this exercise was to put aside any quarrels we might have with our neighbors or siblings or parents (which were many as a child) and extend a sign of “peace” – assuming the context of the opposite of “war” or “fight” or “quarrel”. I was wrong.
Practically anyone who spent any significant time in Gainesville, Florida as either a resident or a student the University of Florida knows “the running man”. Having gone to school in the 90s, when he sported dreadlocks, we called him “the Rasta Runner”. He was a mysterious man who could be seen running, seemingly constantly, hands extended in front of him making the “peace sign” with both hands at as many passers by as possible. We wondered if he was homeless, if he was mentally ill, but we didn’t ask. He was just a fixture of the town and was clearly interested in “offering a sign of peace” to as many people as possible, while running. My first (late) wife worked with him so I learned his name was Tinpothy and he was (not surprisingly) a nice guy.
Fast forward to today and I was on my normal 5 mile run: about 1.25 miles to the lake, about 2.5 miles around, and 1.25 home. As I was about 2 miles in, I passed an older gentleman who was running in the opposite direction. He didn’t seem to notice me at all. I thought to myself, “Why run on a paved trail full of people if you are not going to be friendly?” Then I thought about Tinpothy. I’m not sure exactly what my full mental process was. The nice thing about running is your body starts consuming all of the oxygen your brain normally uses for less useful things and lets you focus on one or two things (or just lets your mind go completely blank). Somewhere in that process I decided to channel my inner Tinpothy. At first I just started saying “good morning” but then I started adding the “peace sign”. I found out that holding up my two fingers got people’s attention and then when I said “good morning” something interesting happened: most people smiled (and said good morning back).
I said I was wrong about what the sign of peace meant. As an adult, I now understand that when we say “peace be with you,” we mean peace as in “quiet”. The peace that is mentioned so many times in the Bible is the same peace of many philosophies and religions: “inner peace”. So as I was running and sharing a sign of inner peace with those I passed, I found myself running “harder” (my heart rate went up by about 10 BPM) even though the effort felt the same. I hope the smiles I got in return were a sign that those I connected with on my run recognized for a brief moment that some random person recognized their existence and wished them well and that in some way gave them a moment of peace.
As I was finishing my lap around the lake, I saw the older gentleman who seemed to have ignored me before. This time I held up my 2 fingers to get his attention and smiled and said good morning, and he smiled and said good morning back.