Joseph Cramer, M.D.: Life's race against time: How to move life's finish line

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 7 2012 3:39 p.m. MDT

Arguably the best part of any race is the finish. It can be as simple as a line drawn in the dirt a tape pulled across the finish line. In that way, the first-place finisher can “break the tape,” emphatically demonstrating the triumph.

In large community events like city marathons, the finish line often is painted on the street. There are all kinds of decorations, banners and clocks marking the termination. For children at play, the finish may be the tree at the other side of the yard.

In long road races, the finish line is often not visible from the start. It could even be in the next county. However, in sprints, the goal is in sight, and in competition, the laps are known.

One of the certainties in running is that you know there is a finite distance that needs to be covered. Finish lines don’t get up and move. Nevertheless, there are sayings about how as humans we “move the goalposts.” The agreed-upon objective is changed midgame.

Our lives are often compared to a race with a finish line. The analogy of moving the tape is how we can lengthen our personal duel of life. Like marathons, the end of life is most often not in view. But we can make it longer. We can better expand our life’s clock the earlier we start. Closer to the finish, it is tougher to buy even a few minutes.

One problem is that many people don’t believe there is anything past the finish line.

Understandably, they may make desperate deals to move the line, but what about us who state a faith in a life beyond?

Life-lengthening tips are not new. However, since many of us don’t apply the lessons the tips can be repeated without redundancy.

  • Decrease caloric intake
  • Don’t use tobacco
  • Exercise. (Where have we heard that before?)
  • Be happy
  • Get married and love often
  • Stay active and care about others
  • Schedule routine screens as recommended, such as colonoscopy
  • Choose to consume fruits and vegetables over animal proteins
  • Get sunlight but not too much

In training, runners are told to sprint through the finished line. There is no quitting. You push through pain. You do the toughest exertion at the end.

This is true in the human race as well. As we approach the close, the real challenge of living begins. Since the finish is different for everyone, it is the conclusion that matters. There are both those who make the final push fearlessly and many others who attempt to move the finish line just an inch or mile more.

The toughest part of any competition is the completion. In sprints, one extends to break the tape. In distance runs, we talk about the kick, the afterburner of energy that is turned on. In the marathon, breaking through “the wall” and crossing the line consumes the last ounce of strength and courage.

However, there is this common belief that more medical procedures, drugs or more tubes or machines will move the finish line. Sometimes it does. But for so many others, the line is etched in stone. Part of the challenge is to know when and what interventions are pushing against sand or stone.

Therefore, when the line won’t change, letting go is winning. This allows the eternal course of nature to fulfill its purpose.

Exhilaration comes when someone completes a race. There is a release of enormous relief. So it should be in our personal lives.

We all will cross our unique finish line. We can do much to make the contest longer; we can enjoy the view along the way; we can do the toughest work of all; we can accept the race is over. The victory is won.

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