Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The path ahead of you vs. the world around you

In the downtown condo where I used to live, I didn’t have much in the way of a view. At best I might be able to watch the pigeons hanging out on the top of the News-Gazette building, though in fact they always seemed to be watching me, and somewhat disdainfully at that, especially when I tried to do strength training exercises. Yeah, OK, so I nearly dropped the barbell on my teeth trying to bench press, big deal. Let’s see you try to do better, squab.

In the subdivision on the edge of town where I live now, the view out my home office window isn’t that much more awe-inspiring, but at least there’s more than pigeons out there. This morning, for example, when I pulled up the blinds, I saw a Cooper’s hawk on the lawn with what appeared to be very fresh breakfast before him. Something brown and furry, a cotton-tailed rabbit perhaps, lay there looking inert and (I can only guess) tasty. Hawks are not unusual around these parts, but it was still amazing to see one right there in front of me, as they are stunning birds, certainly a lot more impressive than those stupid feathered rats on the newspaper building. I watched the hawk hopping around his meal-to-be before finally moving in, grasping it in his talons, and ripping off the fur to get to the meat.

I’m probably about average when it comes to squeamishness, though that’s a little misleading. I do not particularly like very violent movies, but I’m fascinated by surgery and haven’t flinched when viewing medical procedures. While I certainly don’t enjoy dealing with innards of beasts and fowls, I like to cook, and I like knowing that what I cook is actually food—which sometimes means dealing with innards. My apologies to anyone this offends, but the truth is sometimes you really do have to reach into a slimy cavity and pull out a handful of guts to understand just where your food comes from and what happens to it before you eat it. All of that said, I have to admit there was a point in my little impromptu Animal Planet moment when I had to look away. The hawk was starting with the animal’s head, you see, and at some point the fur had come off and…yeah, you get the idea. Let’s just say zombies would be envious.

Looking away doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and it doesn’t mean I don’t know what happened, only that I don’t want to be reminded of it. And saying that makes me wonder about all the other things I’ve been looking away from lately.

There’s a lot of bad news going around, it seems. Several friends have been dealing with very sick parents, while others have had to deal with the loss of parents. One couple, married decades, has split, while another, just engaged, called the whole thing off. And these are just people in my own little circle; this doesn’t even cover the conflict and strife and turmoil of the entire rest of the world. There is so much going on out there, and so much that needs to be done about it, and what do I do? Oh, I go for a run. Sometimes, I write about my run. Woah. Somebody alert the Nobel Peace Prize committee.

I like to think running is about focusing on the path ahead. But is it just another instance of looking away?

I often tell people that I’m “not very political,” which is another way of saying I’m a lazy selfish chickenshit. I have views, sometimes strong ones, but I hesitate to get involved or take stands on these views. I try to justify this inaction by saying that I want to keep an open mind, to listen before I speak up, to understand all sides before I decide, and while all of that’s true, it’s only part of the story. The rest of the story is about how tired and depressed the world makes me feel so very much of the time. Because it isn’t fun being tired and depressed, instead of writing about issues, controversy, conflict and strife and turmoil, I write about running. Even when it makes you tired and depressed, it’s still just running.

Right now, at just about the midpoint of my training for a BQ marathon, I’m struggling. I feel like I’m not making progress the way I used to; I’m not hitting my paces during intervals, long runs are slogs, and I’m worried about twinges that could become injuries that could derail the entire BQ enterprise. And yet, it’s still just running. The only person who suffers is me, and I’ll live.

Then again, it is just running. Who am I kidding? For all that runners like to gush about the gloriousness of what we do, most of us, if we’re being honest, can admit that we do it first and foremost for ourselves. Sure, lots of races benefit charities, but you don’t have to take up running to help charitable organizations; you mostly just have to take up a pen and checkbook. We who arrange our lives around training and racing, what exactly do we think we’re doing? What, beyond immediate satisfaction, does any of this accomplish? There are a lot of answers I could give, but maybe that’s just more of me looking away, focusing on something I enjoy so I don’t have to look at anything that gives me pain.

I cannot therefore insist that writing about running serves a purpose as divine as the ones motivating my writing acquaintances who bravely and boldly tackle the big, difficult issues. I admire these people tremendously. I have not been able to emulate them. I guess all I have to say is this: maybe I’ve been looking away, but I haven’t had my eyes closed. As a runner I’ve seen some astounding acts of kindness and generosity. Just last weekend a number of my running friends ran a race not to pursue their own glory but to help pace newer runners. This did not bring about world peace. It did, however, mean that the pacers would end up with a slower finishing time than they would have gotten if they’d been running on their own. They knew this. They didn’t care. They wanted to help someone else.

Oh, it’s a tiny, tiny thing, I know. It’s easy to be kind when you have so little at stake. It’s easy to help when you stand in a position of privilege. It’s easy to look at something you love and see the goodness in it. As hard as running can be, it’s sometimes really easy. I would like to think doing this hard-but-easy thing means maybe I can do other, really hard things, I can face the hard things in life, deal with them, take action and not look away. I don't know if this is true. Truth is not always so easy to see, even when you aren't looking away.





No comments:

Post a Comment