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Twin Cities Marathon: Surfing the beauty with Buddha at Mile 8

Last summer, after the late, great Beat Street bar/restaurant Bali went under, the staff of the place gave my neighbor Pete a 3-foot tall statue of Buddha that had been perched in the back lounge. We’d spent several nights there eating, drinking and listening to great chill-out trance-pop after playing or listening at The Music Box theater across the street, and I’m sure the Bali kids gave Pete this anti-icon to living in the moment and paying attention as an acknowledgment of their more-than neighborly business bond.

“All wrong-doing arises because of mind. If mind is transformed can wrong-doing remain?” — Buddha

Soon after, Pete carted Buddha down to The 2009 Twin Cities Marathon, and parked Buddha on the side of the road. After the race, he came by my house with reports of rampant widespread joy and euphoric sights of runners peeling off to rub Buddha’s groovy golden glistening belly. The week after the marathon, Pete offered Buddha up to the owners of Kings wine bar, and for the past year the lovable little guy has sat just off the back lounge, keeping silverware-rolling workers and diners alike company in the good karma corner.

So it was with great anticipation that I woke up Sunday morning and met Pete at under-construction Java Jack’s. We chatted with stressed-out but amiable owner Jerry Nelson, the pretty girls behind the counter and a few other neighbors, then headed down to the Minnehaha Parkway. Pete carried Buddha, I carried the coffees and my dog Zero’s leash, and we found a spot in the shade.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.” — Buddha

We settled on the immaculately manicured parkway, and I thought about the conversation Pete and I had had the other night about his cyclist friend who believes that Detroit, bombed-out downtown Detroit, could be the next great crazies haven, on par with Antarctica, Amsterdam, and the City of Lakes. Of course, the parkway is a far cry from Detroit; it is in fact more like pre-Civil War Gettysburg, what with all the mansions and good-life money spilling out onto the sacred shores and hallowed stomping grounds of Lake Harriet.

There was a chill in the air, perfect marathon conditions. A yard party was going on, replete with food, drink and a big inflatable castle in which kids tumbled heels-overhead over each other, collapsing the thing at one point and prompting one well-scrubbed dad into an out-of-control freak-out (“You’re not supposed to have that many in there!”). A group of annoying I-get-paid-to-smile cheerleaders set up camp down the way on the parkway, and at the end of the race when I joked with them to stop cheering and go home, one of them said, “Why are you being like that?” Sigh.

“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.” — Buddha 

We snuggled in at around mile eight of the 26-mile course, having arrived at the same time as the first peloton of the color guard, wheelchair racers, and elite runners — the lot of whom all ignored Buddha, who was partially hidden by a cloister of onlookers, so we moved up the road a bit. Pete wore his pioneer hat pulled down over his ears in defiance of the looming winter, and emanated the sort of artist’s calm that comes from knowing a perfect id-hits-the-fan storm of love is on its way.

“Watch,” said Pete, who served as my play-by-play guru and color commentator for two hours. “The first runners won’t even look. Elite runners have one focus. It is not the Buddha. And that can mean enlightenment. They’re present to their moment and focused.”

He was right. Type A after Type AA after Type AAA blew by with eyes uniformly fixed straight ahead, making for a vista of blank thousand-yard stares and shark’s eyes on the prize. No, this group had no time for a statue of Buddha; they were busy being Buddha.

“These are the people who run things,” laughed Pete. “The Buddha [statue] won’t get any love until the next group.”

“An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind.” — Buddha


The brilliant sun rose over the houses of South Minneapolis, a few of which sprout “Emmer for Governor” lawn signs. The stunningly sunlit red, yellow, orange, brown and green leaves blazed down on the sweating, panting athletes, survivors, strivers, mouth-breathers all.

A wonderstruck East Indian man ran by taking pictures of the mansions with a digital camera. A woman in bunny ears ran past three Marines. A woman in a “Colon Cancer Survivor Since 2007” T-shirt ran alongside people in shirts touting the NYPD, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Twins, Bob Marley and various hospitals, colleges, dreams, and desires.

“Here we go,” said Pete, just as his family joined us, and just before the first wave hit.

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.” — Buddha

It happened in a rush, and lasted a total of 20 minutes or so. Runners, feeling the pain, smiled in relief when they saw Buddha. Some said his name out loud, like they’d just seen a long-lost friend. Some cut off others so as to rub Buddha’s tummy for “good luck.” Infectious smiles radiated from beautiful, beaming, primal people of every color, creed, goal.

A man dressed as “Pumpkin Man” patted Buddha on the head and cackled off. A woman clasped her hands in front of us as she ran by and bowed a silent “Namaste” to Buddha.

“It makes you want to cry,” said Pete, taking the words out of my mouth, a tear running down his cheek a split second later.

“The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.” — Buddha

The panorama was so magnificent, so rare, and so unmanufactured that I started worrying it would all end too soon. Then I got with the moment and surfed the beauty, knowing it would never end if I truly took the time to take it in and keep it in my heart for good.

I told complete strangers I loved them, that they were better than us, the mere observers. Strangers encouraged strangers. Eyes met. Laughs were traded. Pete kept thinking about the verse, “If you meet the Buddha along the path, kill him,” and wondered if someone might try it.

“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.” — Buddha


We watched the race until the very last stragglers passed. We clapped our guts out for the last runner, then parted ways. I headed home, where my daughter’s overnight slumber party was wrapping up. One of the girls, Anushe, whose family hails from India, told us she wants to go to Stanford to study to be a heart surgeon, which reminded me of the group of 10 kids I watched spill into The Fresh Wok the night before.

The were all shy sweetness, bright eyes, and curious minds encased in Somali-, Japanese-, Hispanic-, and European-American skins. They moved around the place with great spirits and confidence: the Wayzata high school debate team, post-match and loaded for whatever comes next.

“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?” — Buddha

When she came to pick up her daughter, the future Stanford student’s mother was thrilled to hear about Buddha’s many adventures at the marathon, and recounted that a friend of hers from India recently told her that she’d read that Minneapolis was voted the third most spiritual city in the United States, due to all the Zen retreats and meditation centers it supports. And that was before the latest miracle at Mile Eight.

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” — Buddha.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Sieglinde Gassman on 10/04/2010 - 11:19 am.

    Thank you! You captured the spirit of all whom you described.

  2. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 10/04/2010 - 11:51 am.

    Thank you, Jim, for yet another heart-warming treat.

    This one kind of reminded me of that other gem of yours, “Curse of the tiki doll”, from back in 2008. I still get a chuckle out of that one.

  3. Submitted by Brian Simon on 10/04/2010 - 03:30 pm.

    I did not pat the buddha when passing, but appreciated his presence. Peace.

  4. Submitted by Pat Backen on 10/04/2010 - 10:56 pm.

    Write more.

  5. Submitted by Dan Wo on 11/28/2010 - 09:42 am.

    Was there a particular Bob Marley shirt that stood out?

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