There was space below the race number to write a personal message of inspiration. Phil entered the words: “For Elizabeth – I promised!”.
They had grown up together in the same small village as best buddies – always being there for eachother through the good times and the bad. Elizabeth’s wry sense of humour and irony had been a comfort to him, making sure life’s challenges were never as overwhelming as he had initially presumed.
And now that they were both in their twenties, their friendship was facing its biggest hurdle yet. Phil could never forget the heartbreak of the news, not three months ago, that his best friend, so full of life, was afflicted with terminal cancer. Amidst feelings of powerlessness and desperation, he had made her a promise.
“There’s a 10k race being run in the village, to raise money for cancer charities. I’m going to enter it.”
“You?” Elizabeth said, sitting up in an armchair at the village hospice. “You’ve never run a race like that in your life.”
“I know,” he said. “But what’s happened has given me the inspiration. I promise you I am going to do it!”
“Ok,” she said, nodding. “Then I’ll make you a promise in return. I’ll get up from this armchair, out of the hospice, and come to cheer you on!”
They laughed. They both knew that her condition was deteriorating, and that that probably wasn’t going to happen. But it was a lovely moment for them to share.
The morning of the race arrived. With the sound of the starter’s pistol, Phil set off amongst a couple of hundred or so other runners, each wearing a vest emblazoned with their own personal message to someone dear. It took a while for the bunched field to thin out, but around about the 7k point Phil found himself alone on a section of the route that trailed through the village woods. It was then he saw her up ahead – now pale and gaunt, a shadow of her former self, a wig having taken the place of those dark locks now lost to the chemotherapy. But it was unmistakably her.
“I don’t believe it!” he said, slowing down as he approached. “Thanks for coming along.”
“I told you,” she replied. “I made a promise to come and cheer you on, and I always keep my promises. Now carry on – you’re doing great!”
Phil smiled and pushed on as she’d advised. The moment sustained him through the final stages of the race, and soon he was crossing the finish line.
His first thought was to ring Elizabeth to tell her he had completed the run. Switching on his phone, he dialled, but there was no answer. Maybe she had tired and gone back. He rang the hospice.
“Hi, it’s Phil, can you put me on to Elizabeth? I want to tell her I completed the race.”
“Hi Phil, it’s Mary here. We’ve been trying to get hold of you all morning but your phone’s been switched off. I’m afraid we have some sad news. Elizabeth died in her sleep last night.”
The phone trembled in his hand. He felt his eyes welling up. And yet, somehow, in a moment of clarity, everything was understood. Life would never be the same again, but he would always remember the special way his dearest friend had kept her promise.