Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On Running

My dear friend, Fiona Ostler, recently posted a question on Facebook asking friends what helps them find peace and balance in their lives.  Up until the last year of my life, I would not have answered, "running."  I always thought runners were a little crazy.  Running was boring and hard and I never enjoyed it.  I don't know what changed.  All of the planets must have aligned perfectly at the exact moment to tip me into this new world, but, because I am me, I have to write about it.

Running helps me find peace and balance because it is boring.  And I don't get enough of that kind of simplicity in my life very often.  So here's a list of reasons I run:

1) It's me time.  I don't take the kids running with me.  I have a double jogging stroller, but I rarely use it to train, except in the most dire of circumstances.  When I run, nobody needs anything from me, and I love that.  It's rare and precious and not to be discounted.

2) I get to take a break from thinking about things too much.  Once I get my body in motion, my legs keep up the running on their own.  For some reason, that continuous movement settles my brain and quiets that voice in my head that is, otherwise, almost constantly churning thoughts.  Funny, though, how much more I sense when I'm running.  I hear insects, birds, wind, traffic, leaves rustling, water flowing, sirens, people talking.  I feel the pavement or dirt beneath my feet, the sun on my back, the wind on my face.  I smell the most delicious flowers, fresh-cut grass, car exhaust, dust, but only when I'm running.  I am part of the outside world almost without being sentient, and I love losing myself in it.

3) I need the daily sense of accomplishment when I finish the run.  It's not just an endorphin rush, although it is that.  I feel like I've done something worth doing.  I've used my time well.

4) Sometimes it hurts and it's hard.  I plan a run that's too far or I get tired halfway through.  Sometimes my clothes chaff and I have to pee and I can't swallow because my throat is so dry from running.  I still get side aches occasionally, although my friend, Kristy, told me they would go away if I kept at it, and she was right 99% of the time.  Sometimes it's too hot or too cold, the wind stings my face and makes my eyes tear up and my nose run.  Sometimes I use up all my energy on the way down and then I really struggle to get back up the hill.  But just because something is hard doesn't mean it isn't worth doing.  Running is a good reminder that the good things in life require a lot of sweat and tears.  Well, I sweat a lot.  And I cry some, too.  And all of that brings me peace.

Baby Steps

       She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.  At the threshold, she began to worry.  The knob felt heavy in her hand.  She couldn’t remember it being so difficult to turn.  Only by gathering all her courage could she twist it just enough that it popped open.
       The mechanism of the door-hinge surprised her.  Who could have guessed it would open so willingly?  She dropped the handle, and the door swung slowly inward, eased by a gentle wind coming down off the mountain and pushing its way past her into the house.  Some papers on the piano rustled, and one sheet fluttered onto the floor.
       She froze at the sensation of wind on her face.  It was a timid wind -- just strong enough to tease the flyaway strands of her hair into brushing across her forehead and cheeks.  It smelled faintly of rain.
       The first step was like walking through water, chest-high, the current running against her.  At any moment, she expected her feet to slip out from under her; then the wind would carry her away.  But the current ebbed as she took another step, and by the time she was out the door and standing on the edge of the front porch, she wasn’t in the river at all.
       She was, in fact, out of the house for the first time in twenty years.  The sun shone down on her white arms and the smooth skin of her neck above her shirt-collar.  She felt she had never known a warm spring sun on her bare skin, or if she had, it must have been someone else in some other lifetime.
       Nobody goes inside with the idea of never going back out.  But one bad day had led to the next until it was far easier to just stay home.  Soon she couldn’t fathom how other people managed the gargantuan tasks of grocery shopping or visiting the laudromat, when, for her, greeting a neighbor required such Herculean efforts.  It was better to avoid them all -- until today.
       She had picked up a thin, worn paperback lying dusty on her bookshelf for ages.  As she opened the front cover, a folded piece of paper slipped out.  It was a letter from her mother, written to her father while he was in the war.  She would have been six, maybe seven.
       “I wish you could see our little Grace,” her mother wrote.  “She is always moving -- from the garden to the tree to the sandbox to the porch.  She never wants to come inside!  I have the hardest time convincing her to eat dinner, take a bath, go to bed.  She is insatiably curious.”
       Did she know that girl? And if she did, then who was this fifty-year-old woman, creeping around the house all day, startled by her own shadow or the sound of footsteps coming up the walk?
       So, in a momentary fit of bravery, Grace had stepped outside her home after two decades of reclusion.  She’d pushed past the current of fear wrapping the house like wood siding, ignored the scorching sun on her cheeks and the wind tugging at her hair and clothes.  But with each step she took, her feet grew heavier and her ears began to ring.
       She made it as far as the mailbox before turning around and scurrying back inside.  And for a year and a day afterwards, she could never pass by a window but the ghost of a warm, spring sun rose up to meet her.