Searching for some info for another blog post, I stumbled upon the fact that May 6 is an important day for running and writing, our two main topics here on Chalk Creek Writing Outfit & Running Club.
It was on this date in 1940 that John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize. Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes.
I have grown to really enjoy some of Steinbeck’s work over the years and The Grapes of Wrath is really a masterpiece. I love the fact that this work was developed from Steinbeck’s time as a news reporter doing stories on the people fleeing the dustbowl and coming to California in the hopes of starting over during the Great Depression.
The other thing I really love about this book is that it sparked Bruce Springsteen to write the Ghost of Tom Joad, which Rage Against the Machine covered later and really did the spirit of the original story justice. I mean, Steinbeck himself said he wrote the Grapes of Wrath in part because, “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this…” meaning the Great Depression and the foreclosure of homes and farms across the country and the economic devastation that spread across the country.
I still think about that quote from Steinbeck about why he wrote the book. It’s a quote that should haunt us all to this day after going through the 2008 recession and housing crisis. But it hasn’t as we just sort of shrugged off the enormous efforts undertaken to stop that economic catastrophe and have tried to pick up where we left off before 2008. So many people have just accepted that greed is not just good, it is a mark of God’s own grace. It makes you want to cry or rage.
Anyway, I thought it was also interesting that this book, written to fight a corruption within our society and community won the pulitzer the same day that a British man, 14 years later would demonstrate how people could push themselves to higher achievements by mostly setting their minds to it.
Bannister’s record only stood for 46 days, but what I always thought was truly inspirational about Bannister was that he was working as a junior doctor at the time. Which, if you know anything about the medical sector, he was being worked hard. So Bannister actually didn’t train as hard as he might have, and certainly not as hard as the professional runners out there today. It was truly a great feat.
Bannister also had a decent perspective on his feat and its true place in history and his life.
“I’d rather be remembered for my work in neurology than my running. If you offered me the chance to make a great breakthrough in the study of the autonomic nerve system, I’d take that over the four minute mile right away. I worked in medicine for sixty years. I ran for about eight,” he would say in several interviews.
That this writer and this doctor are linked by the fact that they both won accolades on this same day is a poetic coincidence.
These are two men who saw the good of society as a paramount pursuit for all individuals.
Keep running, keep writing.