We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. – Henry David Thoreau

My toes are cold. Like, verging-on-frostbite cold.

I wake up at the ass crack of dawn to volunteer for the Hartford Marathon. I am a cheer station. Great, my status of existence is demoted from human to “station” – AND I have to wake up early on a Saturday for it? I roll out of bed and get dressed in enough layers to make an eskimo look naked in comparison. I shuffle into my freezing car and head out to Hartford, getting lost at least four times while avoiding police blockades set up along the marathon route. I finally make it to the street I’m supposed to park on. It’s at mile 19 out of 26.2. I set up my TNT sign and gear – cowbells, bam bams, Mardi Gras beads, the works – all while shimmying back and forth between spots on the frost-capped grass where sunlight falls through the tree canopy, in hopes that the rays will warm some life back into the ten ice cubes in my boots. Here I am – Mile 19 Cheer Station – feeling anything but cheery.

And then the first marathoner emerges up the street. In a wheelchair. And a giant smile.
Then the next few marathoners appear behind him and pass by me, wearing inch-long shorts and a skimpy sleeveless racing jersey. Giant smiles included.
Then a group of boys no older than 8 years old (collectively) sprint by, poking each other and laughing as if they’re just merrily  trotting about and it’s not 30 degrees and they’re not in t-shirts running mile 19 out of 26.2.
And then a man who looks old enough to disintegrate into ash at any moment passes me with lopsided, pigeon-toed steps. His face is so wrinkled that his eyes have sunken into their sockets, but their brightness belies his age. He flashes me a brilliant, toothy smile as he mouths “thank you” to my cheering and cowbell ringing and trots along, his grin showcasing a sense of purpose verging on ownership.

Suddenly, my toes aren’t so cold anymore.