Monument Avenue 10K: “Long May You Run”

On the morning of Saturday, April 22, I had orders to be at the home of our son and his wife by 7:15. Our daughter-in-law and their five year old daughter were runners in the Monument Avenue 10K. Their daughter was a participant in the kids one mile fun run. Her mother was running the full 10K/6.2 miles.

I made it to the house by the appropriate time. Soon we were loaded into the car driving toward the start line. Our daughter-in-law squeezed into the back seat between the two car seats holding their daughters. Along the way, we searched for out of state license plates and counted overpasses on the Downtown Expressway.

Our son’s pre-race search for parking put us in a VCU lot with a reasonable fee and a tolerable walk to the start area for the kids run.

Crossing the busy intersections on the walk to Monroe Park, we encountered friendly City of Richmond police officers who were patiently directing vehicles and pedestrians. The parents of our son’s wife met us in Monroe Park. This city landmark was a mass of humanity from corner to corner.

All types of vendors were stationed in the park for the post-race celebration and a mass of blue and white port-a-johns were positioned at the end of the finish line. No matter the direction, people were in motion.

We made it to the start area for the kids run, photos were snapped, an announcer offered encouragement, and in a blink they were off. As we started our walk back to the finish line for the kids run, I ran into my friend, Jonathan Austin. You can’t have a Richmond event without Jonathan sharing his magic, juggling, and humor.

Near the finish line, we positioned ourselves with good sight lines to see the runners as they completed the run. Race organizers had wisely created companion bib labels so that parents could run with their children. Soon we saw, our twosome coming into view. Their sprint to the finish line revealed two happy faces.

Our two runners(Photo by Bill Pike)

More photos were taken of our finishers, and now the logistics shifted again. As she walked off to the start line for the 10K, her daughters wished their mother good luck.

A long time ago, I ran in the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K. I still have the t-shirt from the race. The front of the shirt has beautiful artwork created by children and youth who had been impacted by childhood cancer. I still miss the customer friendly Ukrops grocery stores, and sadly, despite our efforts, cancer is still an unwanted demon in all age groups across America.

My old t-shirt (Photo by Bill Pike)

We worked our way to the median just passed Stuart Circle and found a good spot on the curb to wait for the lead runners. Behind us, on the the other side of Monument, spectators cheered for the runners who had just started.

I’m sure many people will disagree, but as a runner, I always felt one of the best things about a road race is this— for a few hours part of a city is shutdown. It is quite a feeling to scamper down this still beautiful avenue knowing that for a short period of time runners have no worries in the world except to make it to the finish line.

It wasn’t long until we could see the flashes of blue lights from police vehicles and the pace car in front of the lead runners. Two male runners were in a tight side by side battle for the lead. More fast paced runners began to appear, including the first woman in the group who was sprinting at a blistering pace.

All kinds of humanity rolled by us. Neon colored running shoes were quite a splash of color as they pounded across the faded gray brick pavers. Some runners showed weariness in their faces, while others looked fresh, undeterred.

Our son spotted his wife in a crowd of runners, we all cheered and waved in support. We regrouped and started the walk to the finish line.

Along the way, we admired the architecture, the variety of music being offered, and the enthusiasm of the PA announcer cheering runners across the finish line.

It isn’t easy to stage this 10K. The logistics and planning details are endless. Richmond Sports Backers, the corporate sponsors, and all of the volunteers must be commended.

This whole event pivots off people. I want to know— why are we so considerate and compliant in this setting, and at other times, we are the exact opposite.

We found our way back to the car and headed home.

Thanks Richmond for another successful Monument Avenue 10K.

And to borrow the title from a Neil Young song, “Long May You Run.”

Disrupted By The Beatles

On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 11, I was surprised that my brain was replaying songs from the Beatles’ album Abbey Road, and scenes from the movie Let It Be. That movie captures the Beatles at work in the studio recording an album also to be titled— Let It Be.

One minute, I could see and hear Paul McCartney teaching his bandmates the chord changes for the song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”

Minutes later, I’d hear John Lennon playing an acoustic guitar and singing a demo for his song “Mean Mr. Mustard.”

And, I love recalling the Let It Be scene where Beatles’ drummer, Ringo Starr, introduces his song “Octopus’s Garden.” At the piano, Ringo plays a few chords and sings the early lyrics.

His bandmate, George Harrison, likes what he is hearing. George walks over to the piano with an acoustic guitar matches the chords Ringo is playing and offers suggestions for finishing the song.

And while the entire Abbey Road album is special, I’m not sure there is a better sequencing of songs starting with “You Never Give Me Your Money” and concluding with the cleverly placed twenty three seconds long—“Her Majesty.” The Beatles called this section of songs “the long one.”

For my teaching partner, Joe Vanderford, and I, our class, Let It Be, and Get Back To Abbey Road, presented for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Richmond was the end of another “long one” for us.

Let It Be, and Get Back To Abbey Road marked the sixth class that Joe and I have developed for Osher. Once our proposal has been accepted, we start our work. Our template for developing a class is usually linked to a documentary about the recording artist. We offer a screening of the documentary the night before our class. The following day, we present our class with a focus on significant recordings by the artist.

Our class presentation depends upon rigorous research including reading books and articles from assorted periodicals, and careful scouring of the internet for videos to help tell the story. Months before our presentation, we develop a working outline that is used to create a PowerPoint program. For us, the key to not dying by PowerPoint is to incorporate a balance of the obvious and not so obvious. A seldom scene video or a rare outtake of a song can help to engage a class.

On the evening of Monday, April 10, as the class watched Let It Be, it occurred to me that The Beatles were very skilled at disrupting lives.

January 30, 1969 was a gray, cold, windy day on the rooftop of Apple Records headquarters in the Saville Row section of London, England. But on that day, John, Paul, George, Ringo, and American keyboardist, Billy Preston, played a forty-two minute set of songs.

From that rooftop, as soon as the first chords and vocals began reverberating off the sides of buildings and the wooden plank platform where the band was playing—a disruption occurred.

People scrambled to adjacent rooftops to see and hear what this sound was. The same scurrying was happening on the street below. Necks were craning skyward trying to catch a glimpse of the famous band.

That spark of sound spread quickly, and soon the sidewalks and streets became crowded and at times impassable. And as you might expect, London’s police “the bobbies” appeared. The placement of cameras in every conceivable place by film director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, was magnificent in capturing this disruption.

The Beatles were no strangers to disruption.

On February 9, 1964, the Beatles disruption in America started with their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

When the Beatles toured America in the summer of 1966, the tour was overshadowed with a disruption—John Lennon’s comment about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus Christ. And it was on this tour, on August 29, 1966, that the Beatles played their last concert in San Fransisco’s Candlestick Park.

The next four years proved to be a roller coaster for the Beatles.

Their much acclaimed album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released. They journeyed to India to learn about Transcendental Meditation. Apple Records was started, and a collision of substance abuse, the undertow of their personalities, and the pressure of trying to run Apple Records contributed to their breakup in 1970.

Many fans and critics blamed the 1970 breakup of the Beatles on the clash of their personalities over business matters. Some point fingers at John’s new wife, Yoko Ono, and the show business attorneys of Paul first wife, Linda Eastman.

Clearly, many factors led to the breakup of the Beatles. But, I think the passing of their manager, Brian Epstein, on August 27, 1967 is an overlooked disruption. Up until that moment, all business dealings for the band had been handled by Mr. Epstein.

In a blink, business decisions fell to the Beatles to determine. Unlike the familiarity of being in the Abbey Road recording studios, the Beatles were blindly thrust into interactions with accountants, prospective business managers, and attorneys.

For Joe and me, April 10 and 11 arrived quickly. We both engaged in a flurry of last minute activities to ensure that our planning had a chance for success.

Finding that success hinges on three key pieces—weaving our research into a competent Powerpoint, our individual skills in delivering the content, and Joe’s introductions to the movie screening and the class. Joe is a master at writing the introductions. His extensive research provides the framework.

Luckily, I received good, practical help from the students at the university’s Technology Learning Center. These students were very patient in reteaching an aging geezer how to download videos into our PowerPoint.

Also, the leadership for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute consisting of Peggy Watson, Nell Smith, Catherine Taylor, and Amy Edwards is exceptional. Joe and I valued their attention to detail, technology skills, and ability to schedule our class in the delightful Ukrop Auditorium.

And there is another benefit from teaching these classes—the Osher students. In every class, Joe and I enjoy the interaction with our generational peers. In those exchanges, we learn more about the subject matter in a variety of ways. That learning might come from the different angle of an insightful question, or some deep thinking that sheds new light on a much discussed point.

Many times in our pre-class preparation, Joe and I reflect about growing up in Burlington, North Carolina. We were lucky. Thanks to our parents, we experienced few disruptions.

I’m glad that our mutual love of music disrupted our lives. I feel very fortunate that music for a few months each year still disrupts the normal flow of life for Joe and me through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Gradually, the snippets of song and film fragments from Let It Be, and Get Back To Abbey Road will subside in my brain.

And yet, I wonder if George Harrison and John Lennon had lived if the Beatles would have reunited in the studio or on a concert stage?

Life is full of “what if” questions.

And here is another one to ponder.

In our constantly chaotic world, what would it be like if we had followed the Beatles advice as they closed out the “long one” on Abbey Road? Remember these lyrics: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Doesn’t our world deserve to be disrupted with love?

After all, the Beatles reminded us a long time ago— “all we need is love.”

Author’s note: Joe and I thank our wives for supporting this annual journey, and a special thanks to our youngest daughter, Elizabeth Pike, who at the last minute figured out how to load in a stubborn video.

Holy Week: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

At the church where I work, the staff has been forming Holy Week plans for months. A lot has been considered.

We’ve discussed the merits of banners on the front lawn to advertise our Easter services. Personally, I think you could display a banner upside down, and no one would notice.

Cars out on Forest Avenue are zipping by our church at speeds ranging from 35 to 45 mph. At those speeds, I don’t think drivers nor their passengers are paying much attention to a church banner. But, I’m sure the companies who make the banners love the blurred vision of churches.

For the sunrise service, we talk about hospitality. Chairs become part of the discussion. Should we have chairs for this outdoor service or should we go chairless? My guess is no chairs were around at the base of the cross or at the tomb where Jesus rose from the dead. But, we decided to have chairs available, just in case someone has a need.

In the life of the church, Lent and Easter, like Advent and Christmas are significant.

As a lifelong whiner, I wish Easter was on a standard date— like the first Sunday in April.

But of course, I’m assuming that long established ancient church formulas are used for calculating Lent and Easter dates. Clearly, there is no chance of changing a template that has been chiseled into a stone tablet for centuries.

My biggest concern for Sunday’s indoor Easter services are the whims of erratic human thermostats. God and his weather pals in heaven are not making this easy. For example, tonight, Wednesday, April 5, the low in Richmond is forecast to be 67 degrees, Saturday night 39 degrees.

Unlike Christmas, Easter is a tough sell.

Christmas has the joyfulness of the birth of Jesus, and Easter the heart-rending death of Jesus. These are two challenging extremes for pastors to wrestle with in prepping their sermons.

And yet, I wonder if a pastor has ever stood before a congregation at Christmas or Easter, and said, “Hey folks, I have three degrees in theology, I’m 50 years old, and I’ve been preaching the birth and death of Jesus for over twenty years, and in my heart, I’m not sure I really understand these scriptures.”

In truth, at this stage in my so called Christian life, I would find that honesty from a pastor’s heart refreshing, because I’m not sure that I understand either story, especially the death of Jesus.

From Matthew 27:46, I struggle with these words spoken by a disgraced Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I think Jesus is asking a fair question.

Right now, somewhere in this world a person is asking the same question of God.

This week, an oncologist told a husband that his wife of a lifetime has three to six months to live. The husband wants to know why God has forsaken this loving couple.

Families in Nashville, Tennessee want to know where God was when their loved ones were gunned down in a school building.

The homeless person asking for assistance at the intersection of Broad and Parham must in some ways feel forsaken. The greater question is— why have I forsaken this person at the intersection?

I wonder how God felt when he heard Jesus ask: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I imagine those words penetrated God’s soul just like the harshness of the wounds on the body of Jesus.

And you know what else is troubling to me about the death of Jesus is the mentality of his crimeless conviction.

Today, no matter where we look our world is a mess. Our division, our hatred, our fears driven by the quest for power, and the lack of love are troubling.

Despite this messy world, I do find the occasional smidgen of hope when I sense that prayer has worked.

I love the story from a neighbor who tells me how her teenage daughter has found her way as a high school freshman.

At a family gathering, I see the slightest shift in the heart of a frustrated father and his youngest daughter.

I love the servant heart of Ray at a local food pantry. Clearly, life has tested Ray. But on Thursdays when I drop off food, Ray’s energy, compassion, and dedication are inspiring.

Yes, my heart will continued to be troubled by—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But maybe I can counter the sting of those words, and the injustice of the cross by never letting go of the hope found in love and prayer.

This Easter, Bill, the grumpiest of whiners, prays that you and your family find hope and love.

The morning of Good Friday, April 7, 2023 (Photo by Bill Pike)