Near the end of a 3,200 meter race at the Division III girls state high school track meet in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday, June 2, last-place runner Meghan Vogel noticed something strange on the track ahead of her: Arden McMath, the only other runner yet to finish the race, had collapsed on the track with only 20 meters to go. Vogel says that she did what any other runner on the track would have done for her: she picked McMath up and assisted her over the finish line, being careful that she finished behind the girl she was carrying. As you might imagine, the two girls have become instant celebrities, meeting again a few days later for an interview on “Fox and Friends,” this after speaking to media outlets too numerous to count all weekend.
“It’s been crazy,” said Vogel. “I can’t understand why everyone wants to talk to me, but I guess I’m getting used to it now,” she said. “It’s strange to have people telling me that this was such a powerful act of kindness and using words like ‘humanity.’ It’s weird. When I hear words like that I think of Harriet Tubman and saving people’s lives. I don’t consider myself a hero. I just did what I knew was right and what I was supposed to do.” It’s ironic, of course, that Vogel is hearing words like “humanity,” because she did something that no human ever does: put herself second.
Humans only ever invoke their humanity when they’ve done something wrong. When was the last time you heard someone, celebrated for doing a great thing, say, “Well, I am human.” Never. Not once. We say “I’m only human” to apologize for our mistakes. The Human League got it right in 1986: “I’m only human/Of flesh and blood I’m made/Human/Born to make mistakes.” Jeremiah said that the human heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jer. 17:9). Meghan Vogel should have been hearing about her humanity had she taken the opportunity to pass McMath and avoid finishing last. That’s what a human would do. Anything else is a miracle.
Another interesting thing at play here is Vogel’s shock at the public reaction to her story. Any runner would know the inspirational story of Derek Redmond, the Olympic runner who was helped across the finish line by his father. Any rational person should have expected to be lionized for such a selfless (read: gloriously inhuman) action. That Vogel is surprised proves that her actions were completely un-considered. In other words, her left hand didn’t know what her right hand was doing (Matthew 6:3)!
Vogel was so tuned out to the world that the human ulterior motive machine was turned off completely, and a miracle happened in her: she thought of someone else before herself. And in so doing, proved that, for a moment at least, she was something much better than human. Martin Luther talked about sin being humanity curved back in on itself, and that redemption in Christ allowed humans to be what they were created to be: full of true humanity, loving their neighbor as themselves. Of course, he also said that, even as redeemed, we are, at the same time, justified and sinner, so both “humanities” are ever-present. Therefore, to invoke Vogel’s “humanity” is doubly fascinating, both as an ironic comment on what most humans would naturally do and as miraculous evidence of the kind of re-creation that Christ makes possible.