Many of us are blessed with one or two people — rarely more — who have seen us at our worst and, nonetheless, love us enough to keep helping us be our best. They are the enduring treasures of our lives, these soul mates who come, and stay: the family we discover, not the one to which we are born.
But there is a fleeting form of friendship, too, that can feel strangely meaningful: The woman who intentionally, gently, catches your downcast gaze and gives you a smile. The man who offers an unsolicited kind word when you most need it. The stranger who recognizes herself or himself in you and has the grace, when you don’t, to lift both of you up, and erase the distinction.
I saw both kinds of friends last weekend at the Thelma & Louise Half Marathon, a women-only race that wends along the Colorado River deep within a jagged canyon near Moab, Utah.
As the name suggests, the event commemorates the 1991 film of the same name, which captivated women theatergoers of a certain age with its powerful blend of friendship, feminism and, ultimately, freedom of a transcendent sort. If you’ve not seen it, do — not just for the potent, Oscar-winning storytelling of screenwriter Callie Khouri, but for the engaging performances of titular leads Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, as well as a young Brad Pitt. Film critic Roger Ebert’s empathic and astute analysis of the film’s resonance for women is also worth a look.
The race models itself memorably on the movie, beginning with place: The film’s provocative final scene, though ostensibly the Grand Canyon, was filmed at nearby Dead Horse Point State Park. Runners wore either a “Thelma”or “Louise” bib; two-woman relay teams donned one of each. The pre-race warm-up featured a country music line dance that recalls a scene in the movie; the dance was led by two young women dressed as Thelma and Louise. The first — and last — water station on the out-and-back course was the Brad Pitt stop, manned by a posse of sweet-talking young cowboys modeled on Pitt’s character.
There was other support, too, including a local drumming troupe, Moab Taiko Dan, whose exuberance energized runners on their way out, and then powered them through the home stretch.
Being at the race as a spectator rather than a runner gave me a chance to appreciate again — in a more focused, less road-weary manner — the value of encouragement. Many of us were there to cheer on a particular person, but even the runners who didn’t have a cheerleader present were met by abundant good will and steadfast support all along the course. Among all those strangers were friends of the heart.