Ganapati is pictured here kneeling second from the left as part of the 1976 Liberty Torch Team.
A Oneness Journey
"In 1976 the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team undertook the "Liberty Torch Run". It would be the first time the Centre did a Run through all 50 states. I remember being so inspired by it, and wished that I had been able to be a part. So in 1981 when they proposed to do a Run through the original 13 states, called "Salutations to America", I couldn't wait to sign up. There would be two vans harboring a day-crew and a night-crew that would leap-frog each other down the road, each running for 12 hours at a stretch, with each runner covering 14 miles a day or night. I knew I had to get in shape for this and I had a few months to do so. Unfortunately my hopes were dashed as Tarak, the organizer of the Run, turned me down. With no such lofty goals, and the pressures of academe weighing heavily upon me, I maintained my miserable output of roughly 3 to 5 miles a week.
Two weeks before the Run, in a conversation with Vijali, the RI Centre leader, I mentioned having been rejected. She was surprised, as she was aware that they were still looking for Runners. She offered to inquire on my behalf, and to my joyous surprise and equal horror, I was accepted! I now had two weeks to go from 5 miles a week to 98. I knew my body couldn't make the adjustment so this was going to be all Grace and Grit! I was terrified and thrilled at the same time. And thus I departed...
I was lucky enough to get the day-van and had a clear view of the gorgeous terrain throughout the journey. The weather too was immaculate. The trip was punctuated with many a peak moment. Like on top of Bear Mountain, when Sri Chinmoy caught up with us, and gave such a blessingful meditation. It was as if the skies had opened up and unleashed a torrential rain of Gratitude. But as the Run crossed the Mason Dixie line, or somewhere thereabout, I became concerned as to how I might be received. You see, there's nothing quite like the Antebellum South, the land of Dixie, and what I knew about the South was mainly from the 6 O'clock news and hearsay. And most of that, wasn't too inspiring. In my mind it was the land of Bull Connor, and George Wallace; Neo-Nazis and the KKK. I was also the only person of color in my van.
On one occasion we came running into a small town. The local residents, for about a mile, had dotted both sides of the road with paper lanterns whose glow gave such an ethereal feel to the occasion. It was exquisitely beautiful. The townies had prepared a feast for us in their meeting house that was atop the firehouse. As we decanted from the van, a white elder lady stood waiting, placing a garland around each neck and giving the runner a warm hug. I was the last to exit and I approached with uncertainty. Without the least hesitation she garlanded me and gave me such a warm hug, and genuine smile. I felt much relieved.
To many, such a thing is an act of little consequence; easily forgotten in the greater flow of events. But I have never forgotten it. It was a small act of oneness. But it is just such acts that knit together the fabric of our society. It is such acts that inspire my optimism and encourage my willingness, to believe. I believe that America is an evolving reality; that what makes America great is that she constantly strives to transcend herself, to reinvent herself. America wants to be better tomorrow than she is today. We may stumble at times and sometimes walk backwards, but the story of America is one of pioneers undertaking the difficult journey of human progress. That determined will, is a ray of light in what may appear to be dark times that we are going through. For that will, that light, America, my heart will always salute you, embrace you, and cherish you. Namaste!"
Grace, Grit, & Gratitude,