Running of the Balls

img_1690Since the election, I’ve had to grapple with my own powerlessness, an uncomfortable but necessary experience we all must face at times in our lives. With each new cabinet appointment I frown as I watch the progress our country has made on climate change, human rights, and expanding healthcare coverage recede. Our recent election serves as a reminder that each of us is a very small person in a big empire. But this knowledge, depressing though it is, needn’t cause despair; I received a happy reminder over the weekend of the goodness of humanity.

About twenty years ago in Greensboro, a man’s daughter was home from college, and she told her dad about a lighted ball she had seen. They re-created the ball out of chicken wire and Christmas lights and hung it in their yard. The ball received attention, so they made more of them. A neighbor joined in, then another neighbor. After a few years, their entire neighborhood was covered in these lighted balls! With all the additional traffic flowing through during the Christmas season, the Smith family decided to use the decorations to draw attention to hunger in our city. They placed a giant trailer in front of their house to collect food and donations for our local food bank, Urban Ministry. Last year the Today show covered the annual Sunset Hills ball-making party, and in recent years other neighborhoods in Greensboro and even other cities have begun decorating with the balls.

But the fun doesn’t stop with decorations. Just last weekend, my family ran in the fifth annual “Running of the Balls” 5K in this bright neighborhood. The race is not for the ultra-competitive. The distance is 5K-ish; it is dark, there are walkers and strollers and dogs, and did I mention that it is dark? Runners wear warm clothes and string themselves with Christmas lights, glow sticks, and sleigh bells. At the start, 3,000 people bounce through the gate sounding like Santa’s reindeer heading off into the night. Several bands play, interspersed along the course, both official bands on stage and random groups of carolers and solo singers. Residents who aren’t running invite friends over and cheer on the runners, standing by fire pits or bundled up in lawn chair clusters. It’s a blast! And it’s one of my favorite seasonal traditions.

My kids enjoy the end of the race the best: the hot chocolate and cookie station. Like I said, this is not a race for the serious competitor! It takes awhile to get through the starting gate, and you end with hot chocolate. I saw groups wearing white tutus (with lights, of course), lots of Santa hats, and reindeer antlers. Proceeds from the race benefit Second Harvest Food Bank, a regional organization that supports local efforts to end hunger.

Shivering with my husband and children before the race began, my heart gushed with emotion. The excitement was palpable as the band played, energizing the crowd. Everyone seemed happy to be there, despite the 30 degree temperature (cold, for Southerners). What had started a few years ago with one lighted ball had become before my own eyes a moving display of love and charity. I do not live in the Sunset Hills neighborhood, but I’ve been a witness to this spread of wholesome cheer, and with each successive year I’m blessed again. As Jonathan Smith said to the News and Record last year, “This is one of those ideas that has become 100 times better than we thought. It makes me see the power in taking one step, in building one ball, in doing something in collaboration with others.”

We might not feel our small actions amount to much globally, but small acts, when multiplied can effect change, while warming hearts and spirits along the way.

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