I always felt kind of bad about never playing a group sport. I wanted to belong to a team that accomplished something together, or lived through a loss together. I wanted that camaraderie. I just didn't have the skills to make it happen. Plus I have an innate fear of harming someone else with my clumsiness. Then my friend Jeff told me about hash, a sport for drinkers with a running problem. This, I could get into....the only requirements: be able to run and enjoy beer and pizza. Done.
Tonight I went to my first hash. On the surface, it's a simple sport. Someone designated as a hare marks out a course with chalk signs on city pavement. Courses can also include subway stations, departments stores, dirt trails. At one point we were scrambling up some rocks in Morningside Park. There are some false signs that may lead you on a wild goose chase for a bit. That's all part of the fun. For a more in-depth look at the sport, check out this link: http://web.hashnyc.com/index.php?option=com_receding7&Itemid=34. The group ends at a bar for some rousing, beer, pizza, and community.
I am built for LSD: long, slow distance, and yet I always have a desire to keep up with the pack. So I went out too fast tonight and got pretty slow by the end. All of the hashers were terrific - funny, friendly, welcoming. Some were first-timers, "virgins", like me. And some have been hashing for a decade, all over the world. They were all supportive, all wanting others to enjoy the event.
I ran the Chicago marathon a month after September 11th, and it was a very life-affirming event. I still have an intense love for Chicago and its people because of it. They came out in droves to support the marathon runners, many offering signs, whistles, and shouts of encouragement, along with orange slices, popcorn, and water. You could feel the love going along that course, at a time in our nation's history when we desperately needed to support one another.
Though on a smaller scale, my hashing experience was similar. Our course tonight took us from 125th and Lexington, into the Bronx, and back down the westside, ending at 106th and Columbus, soon to be my new neighborhood. Everyone we passed cheered us on, kids ran with us for a block or two, high-fived us as we passed them huffing and puffing. It's amazing how much that little encouragement can help to lift you up and over a slump. It's incredible how the support of another person we don't even know and will probably never see again can make all the difference, even when we feel we are tired and worn out.
We don't do this enough. Some times I think I get so wrapped up in what I'm doing that I forget that being a cheerleader for anyone trying to accomplish anything is just as important as doing something myself. Yes, we need to get in the game, and we also need to stand on the sidelines and lend support to those on the field.
As I was running, I found myself thinking about the Nash equilibrium, the theorem that would later constitute the basis of game theory. (I have warned you of my nerdiness in previous posts.) The theory was the main subject of the movie "A Beautiful Mind." Stated very simply, the Nash equilibrium is a point at which two people make the best choices for themselves, taking into account the decisions of the others. The Pollyanna side of my brain likes to state this as "we accomplish better outcomes for all not by thinking just about ourselves, but thinking about everyone impacted by our choices." We get to a better place when we take others with us. And that's hashing. Now that's team spirit - let's go have a beer and celebrate.
**Incidentally, if anyone is interested in joining me for a hash, just give me a shout!