Cook: The girl who keeps running

Cook: The girl who keeps running

October 20th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Aren't you sick and tired of this word "shutdown?" Government shutdown. Political shutdown. Here a shutdown, there a shutdown, everywhere a shutdown.

It's an insult to the human spirit. William Faulkner once said man won't just survive, but will endure and prevail. But to look at Washington? Like the old Bill Cosby line, I wish they'd pull their bottom lip up over their head and shut up about the shutdown.

Because all across this land, people don't shut down. They fight, magnificently, against great odds. Poverty. Illness. Family struggle. Addiction. For them, shutdown is no more an option than living on the moon.

You know people like this. You may be one yourself. I keep thinking about this one girl, in particular.

Her name was ... or, rather, her name is Christian.

And she was ... or, rather, still is a runner.

This morning, more than 2,000 runners from 37 different states -- and China and Canada -- will race the 7 Bridges Marathon and accompanying half-marathon and 5k. Out of all those runners, 150 or so will run in honor of a girl named Christian Moseley Bryant.

Why?

Because she never shut down.

I first met Christian in 2006, when she walked into my seventh-grade American studies classroom. She was 12, quietly funny, and wanted to change the world.

Over the years, we chewed on big subjects together: human nature, democracy, evil, God. She was a student in three of my classes, but really I was the one learning from her.

You could define her in all sorts of ways: her desire to become an environmental engineer, the way she stuck like Super Glue to her friends, her classroom brilliance, the way she moved through the world like the best kinds of dancers. Subtle, graceful, powerful.

Above all, she ran. Cross country, in fact. And to be a runner is to struggle -- and prevail.

In 2011, days before her senior year began, Christian was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She fought like hell, and beat the monster into remission within days.

But complications -- multiple and rare -- would never let her go.

Even when she couldn't eat or as her hair began to fall out or her legs could barely carry her, she ran. Maybe not with her body, you see, but with her spirit.

She did her homework in the hospital. Showed up for English class after chemotherapy. Decorated the children's oncology floor for Halloween. Started a recycling program there. Never complained publicly. Pity? Please.

She read her Bible like a best friend, found ways to crack jokes, even when speaking was hard. Teamed up with her doctor to send used First World medical supplies to developing countries.

To her classmates and teachers, she became a flower of sorts; we were drawn to her. In her illness, she became larger than life.

As she lay across the river in a hospital bed, the school community at Girls Preparatory School came together to pray. Blue balloons were released into the sky, rising up in such lightness, like we hoped Christian could do.

Days later, on May 26, 2012, she died.

In the weeks to follow, her family created the Christian Bryant Foundation. It's since raised more than $80,000 to help local families struggling with cancer. Transportation. Gift cards. Mortgage payments. Research projects. Hope.

This morning, her friends, many coming home from college, will be at the starting line, wearing Team Christian Moseley Bryant race shirts. Her nurses and doctors, too, even strangers who never knew her but heard of all she did.

"Why don't you explain in your column why you're running," her mom Robyn said to me last week.

I'm running to honor this beautiful girl who lived life so sweetly well, who excused the word shutdown from her entire vocabulary, who took her bitter cup and turned it into such perfect wine.

I'm running because the words I wrote on her college recommendation, which she never saw, are still true: "Christian is someone I admire and hope my own children can emulate."

I'm running because humans are deeply good at heart. I'm running to reject the un-Christian notion coming out of Washington that we cannot abide together, or act in solidarity, or work through tension with truth.

I'm running to remind myself that she's not gone, just way far ahead of us in the race. Like the old folk tale, she scatters things along the trail for us: faith, generosity, bravery.

So we follow her footsteps.

God, what giant shoes she wore. Or, rather, still wears.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.