I’ve just spent a week in Alaska. Juneau first. Sitka next and Ketchikan to round it out.
Last night I attended the season-ending Girls on the Run 5k in Ketchikan.
I’ve learned a lot about Alaska. It’s about one of the friendliest places you’ll ever want to travel. It’s also, hands down, one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever been. The moment I stepped off the plane in Juneau, the air just felt…different.
Alaska is also located in what’s called a temperate rainforest. THAT means it rains a lot. As in a whole lot. It had been raining off and on all day in Ketchikan…mostly on. The temperature had dropped into the mid to high 40’s. A bit too cool for this Southern girl’s taste.
So…I decked out in the closest-I-could-find in my North Carolina spring attire to keep me warm. Ill-prepared for the weather, I was extremely grateful, that as a parting gift in Juneau, one of our fabulous coaches had knitted me a beautiful hat. Warmed by her spirit, I put it on and headed out into the rain and the chilly air.
Not like any other GOTR 5k venue I had ever been to, the Ketchikan course was beautifully tucked under a luscious canopy of huge trees…majestic trees that spoke of spirit, magic and grace. Three covered huts, each complete with burning firepits, kept participants cozy and warm while we waited for the run to begin. Pictures were taken. Faces were painted. Hair was sprayed with glitter and rainbow-bright colors. The energy, despite the cold and rainy weather, was warm and radiant.
The run begins and unlike other GOTR 5k’s I decided to run one lap of the two lap course. The soft pine needle-covered path under my feet…the cool air…the rain now reduced to small drops of floating moisture there beneath the arms of those nurturing mother-trees.
I stopped after lap one to cheer on the girls behind me, when he caught my eye.
The beauty of him…a smile as soft and gentle as warm-summer-breeze, crinkles around his eyes and mouth…telltale signs of a life hard-lived…a life well-lived with laughter and love.
…And dirty. Covered in the stuff. There was so much dirt on his face I wanted to laugh out loud…the boy-like wonder, mischief and joy there in the body of this man…strong yet vulnerable.
I wandered to the finish line…to cheer on the girls.
After the race…some of the girls were gathering…when he and his daughter walked over. She and her team had a box full of cards…each one decorated with words of gratitude for the “founding of Girls on the Run.”
He patiently and humbly waited there, while a group of us giggled, read through each card and shared stories.
The day was done. Kids scattering. Fires extinguished. Darkness approaching.
They were walking away.
“You are…well…you are a beautiful dad for being here. Your daughter, Dyllan will remember this forever.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
My phone was dead. “Could I take a picture of you and your daughter? And then would you send it to me? I just…I just don’t know what to say but something about you and your daughter really touches my heart.”
“Sure.” He hands me his phone.
I snap the photo.
We embrace that kind of hug that isn’t anything but appreciation…one for the other…real big love…the kind that changes the world, opens hearts and empowers. The kind that says “I see you.”
“You are a special man.” His daughter by his side, the three of us smile.
“They call me Joe Dirt.”
The three of us laugh out loud.
“Joe Dirt is a perfect name for you…just perfect.”
His daughter snuggles up next to him…his arm around her. She looks up at her dad…proud he is her father. Proud of the man she sees. Proud.
The photo shows up only moments later in my messages. The message with it…Joe Dirt.
I followed up with a text today, thanking him for allowing me to take the photo. I wanted to let him know that the photo of him and his daughter had received more “likes” on my Facebook page than just about any other photo, I had ever posted. He called right away.
“You are fast becoming a social media sensation!” I smiled. “There’s just something about you Joe Dirt.”
He was silent for a moment and then it comes…I could hear the emotion in his voice.
“This program…Girls on the Run…it brings out a very positive attitude from my daughter. It’s been hard to be positive lately. I work 65 to 80 hours a week…am going through a tough time. She makes me very proud to be her dad.”
I listen…want to cry for reasons that even now elude me.
Joe Dirt may be a superhero, but Joe Borer…now HE is a beautiful, beautiful man.