I can’t fully explain why I’m crazy enough to start running marathons when I’m sixty. It’s partly to control my diabetes (a shorter distance would do!) it’s partly to make up for how useless I was at sport at school; it’s largely the pleasure of sharing, whenever possible, an activity with my son Mossy. And running in Jerusalem is a tribute to my father, who was here from 1937 – 55, in charge of keeping the blood banks cool during the siege in the War of Independence in 1948. It’s a tribute, too, to the history of our people, the Jewish People whose dreams and destiny have been intertwined with the fate and spirit of this extraordinary city for three thousand years.
Most importantly, I think of this as a marathon of hope, an HaTikvah marathon, that this remarkable civilisation of temple, synagogues, spires and minarets will one day be fully and completely Yeru-shalem, the abode of shalom, peace, the town shechubrah la yachdav, the city whose faiths and peoples are united all together. However grim the politics, I can neither count nor adequately appreciate the people I know whose lives are courageously and tenaciously devoted to just this vision.
However, I can explain why I’m running for Israel’s guide dogs. Yes, I am stupidly sentimental about animals. Yes, I love dogs. But it’s more than soppiness; it’s the feeling of oneness in their company, how the spirit of the God of life flows quietly through us all. It can’t be by chance that our black-and-white border collie came with his own tallit. We humans have to put it on as an extra garment; on occasion I’m foolish enough to feel – selectively of course – that animals and trees wear their spirituality naturally.
As for the ‘guide’ aspect, I’ve seen how these remarkable dogs, beautifully trained, can restore not only sight but independence, confidence and joy to their human partners. Today dogs guide blind people, assist those who have physical disabilities and become companions in trust, affection and resilience to civilians and soldiers with PTSD. It’s not just primary schools who have a resident hound to calm childrens’ – and teachers’ – nerves. In exam term certain universities have puppy corners too.
‘It’s not so much what he (Napal, a black Labrador) does for me physically – the assisting, the service,’ writes Jason Morgan in A Dog Called Hope, ‘so much as what he does for me socially and psychologically…he was my bridge to the outside world.’ Jason was severely wounded in an accident while on a mission with an elite US military unit. He would wake up at night screaming with physical pain and mental terror. But now ‘with Napal among us we feel like a family again.’ The children are once again ‘blessed with a dad who smiles.’
If I can contribute to at least one such canine-human partnership of faithfulness and love, I’ll be happy. Last year people privileged me to raise enough funds to sponsor half a dog, from the tip of the tail to the centre of the heart. This year I’m hoping to manage the other half; from the heart to the tip of the nose.
As for guide dogs in Israel (I support guide dogs in the UK as well, and wildlife projects in many places) I can do no better than echo what the young man said on the promotion film when asked why he didn’t import a ready-trained animal from America: ‘If my dog hadn’t been educated in Israel, how would he have known to go straight to the front of every queue?’
‘Be my eyes’ is not in fact the recommended greeting when owner and guide dog first meet. It’s a quote from the Torah. For there are many kinds of eyes and many ways of seeing. Animals, perhaps dogs especially, have often helped humans to see with the heart. I can’t count the number of people, animals, gardens, wild places and wild flowers which have enriched my sight and deepened my insight.
Today I’m stocking up on vitamin C to get rid of a cold and food for energy. Above all I’m storing in my thoughts the love and support so many people have given me. Thank you for your encouragement! When my stamina runs low (somewhere or everywhere between 18 and 35k – after when I hope I’ll feel that even if I have to crawl I’ll make the finish) I know that my friends and community are behind me, saying: ‘Treat as a sermon; just keep on going for four and a half hours.’