Can love save us from ourselves?
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
Sometimes I imagine the room they found him in. The sheer linen shades pulled across the windows. The sun coming through them creating soft white light across the room. Shadows in the corners created by the bed, the desk, and his bags. Stillness. Rimini, Italy outside the window. And Marco Pantani, the athlete he was, laying face down on the white sheets.
Marco Pantani was an Italian cycling legend. He was the last man to win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year. But he was haunted. Doping allegations followed him for most of his career. The short of his story is that Marco Pantani couldn’t shoulder the weight any longer. It was all too much for one man. He was a hero to an entire country. But on February 14, 2004, they found him dead of acute cocaine poisoning. No longer able to go on. Alone in a hotel room.
I became interested in Marco Pantani because of the way he climbed mountains. Lance Armstrong called him “more of an artist on a bike than an athlete.” That idea intrigued me and I wanted to feel that way. Like I was expressing something through my body. That was before I started writing again.
He was a rebel leader who battled the doping authorities on behalf of the entire peloton. He could blow an entire race to pieces with a single acceleration on the steep slopes of mountains. That was his art. His expression of love through suffering.
As I learned about Marco, I started to learn about him as a person. The little boy in a the small Italian coastal village called Cesenatico. I read about his childhood, his parents, his grandparents. The long days Marco spent riding his bike in the hills near his home. Fame eventually followed.
It’s a sad story.
There’s no glory in a man dieing by his own hand. A drug overdose isn’t an enviable demise. But Marco Pantani the athlete isn’t the point, really. I loved the way he rode his bike. But there was a boy in Marco. The child that his mother carried. The son that his father talked to about becoming a man. The grandchild.
That’s the story. That’s potential in each of us. Greatness. And intense tragedy.
Some days I sit in traffic and glance at the drivers stuck in traffic around me. The woman applying makeup. The teenage girl driving a luxury sedan. The unshaven man driving the truck with ladders and shovels attached to it. All of them. I wonder about their story. The great sadness of their lives. What makes them really happy. Their dreams. Their anonymous journeys that will never be turned into books or movies.
I wonder what story each of them is living. And if anyone besides God will care. I wonder how many people asked Marco how he felt. If anyone hugged him like a child and let him weep. I wonder if it would have mattered. If perhaps love could have saved Marco from the hurt of allegations and doubt.
Sometimes I wonder if anyone besides God cares about the story that Mommy and I are living. Sometimes people ask. But mostly they do not.
Take time to learn about the people around you. I’ve been so caught up in my own world lately, that I’ve stopped caring or asking about other people. I guess that’s even true in the way I treat Mommy. I need to change. Sometimes just asking someone to really share their story will make a huge difference in the life – at least for a day – and that’s all we have.
Triathlon isn’t my story. It’s a short chapter in the greater story God is writing through me. Don’t remember my accomplishments. Remember why I pursued them. And how I loved you through the writing.
God wants us love each other. That means knowing each other. Ask people about their lives. And live your own.
I love you,