July 3, 2013
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Running is the secret’s secret. Marriage, job, house, kids… no, those are the overhyped things we are told we need to be satisfied in life. But no, it’s actually a lot simpler than that. For many of us, it’s running.
As a runner you know this. And because you know this you live in a state of mild, but constant, paranoia of being injured. Which up until yesterday meant knocking up a knee, twisting an ankle, a bad blister. It meant not being able to run for a little while. Not being able to run is the worst for runners. It’s hard on their bodies, but it’s a lot harder on their minds. Runners know this–how much running helps their minds. How much stability and happiness it allows you.
“There are so many people without legs.”*
If you don’t run you don’t understand the moments. Of being alone. Of being in the middle of it. Say mile 4. A good song comes on. A good thought comes to you. About anything, and suddenly stuff is good. Suddenly life is awesome. Suddenly the future is dazzling. And you run. You sprint. You are in the air. You have no weight. You fucking move. And you are grinning. Maybe you are singing out loud. Maybe you are pumping your fists. And you don’t care if anyone sees you. Every single good run has one of these moments in the middle.** Runners know this.
Running is the secret’s secret. Running starts as a hobby on the sidelines of your life, but then it has this way of nudging in–nudging completely into the center. Running becomes the radius of your life. Running becomes your life. You don’t run to live better; you live better because you run.
Runners know this. It’s the secret. It’s why we live in a constant fear of injury—fearing that one day we won’t be able to run. As a runner you know you probably won’t be able to run your entire life. Sure, every once in a while there are the moments when you find yourself running a race and an 85-year old weathered out old bird with bells tied to his shoelaces will just run right on past you, will leave you in his dust, and you’ll think, That’s fucking awesome. But those are the exceptions. You know that running isn’t always that sustainable on bodies. You know something will probably eventually break. The shoe will drop. The knee will go, the cartilage will wear. Runners know this.
But this. Fuck this.
Running is active gratitude. To run means you are healthy. To run means you are alive and able-bodied and physically independent. To run means that you are free. From now on every run, run in gratitude.
*“These runners just finished and they don’t have legs now,” said Roupen Bastajian, 35, a Rhode Island state trooper and former Marine. “So many of them. There are so many people without legs. It’s all blood. There’s blood everywhere. You got bones, fragments.” New York Times
**This Sunday I ran a half marathon in PA. It was a beautiful day with blue skys and sun. During mile 7 or 8 the course took you along a small road in a wide open field. The older runner in front of me had a shirt on that read on the back, “Run On Extraordinary.” I was running behind him and thinking about his shirt. An entire family of deer suddenly appeared in the field and sprinted alongside us. I grinned and I ran.
“Unlike fireflies, glowworms and other bioluminescent creatures, fluorescent corals don’t glow on their own. Instead, they absorb one color of light, and emit light of another color—a process known as fluorescence.”
Fluorescent Corals remind me of this tree that is on a narrow street in southern Thailand. The roots are cracking the pavement and an old weathered prayer flag is wrapped around the trunk several times. Five years ago I was jogging down that road, something I did nearly every day then, and a thought struck me so suddenly and with such weight, and from seemingly out of nowhere, that it stopped me right there—on the side of the road, hands on my knees, breathing heavily and staring up at that tree.
“If that tree wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be here.” That was the thought. But now I am no longer able to recreate the weight of that thought in my mind. I can just remember the actual words.
Have I forgotten the depths of Buddhism in the same way I have forgotten how to speak Thai? Or in the same way in where it’s hard to run even 3 miles when I take a break from running every day—when there are times my body can run marathons? Can the under-used muscle of the spirit go slack like the mind and the body?
Fluorescent Corals remind me of my diaries from when I was a girl. Now I read them in wonderment. I read them standing up by the desk in my childhood bedroom dressed like an adult because I am an adult. I read them and am proud and embarrassed and filled with infinite marvel all at once.
Who was this girl? And what’s even more confusing is where did she go? This girl in my diary, sitting on her bed in her pajamas who had so many feelings. This girl who was just writing and writing and writing and trying to figure it out—and by “it” I mean trying to figure herself out. And her parents were just downstairs, those foreign creatures, her parents watching television and passing the popcorn just oblivious—oblivious, she imagined, of ever understanding the depths of this girl who was sitting in her bedroom right above their heads with thoughts that blow around inside of her so violently, so perpetually they are like a wind vortex spinning a pile of dead leaves in a cyclone on the street in front of her suburban home.
The girl’s pen dries up. Me, the adult, shuts the diary. I’m busy and have to go somewhere else. I’m not at my parents’ house to read my old diaries after all.
“Why are we afraid of death,” I ask later high or drunk one night in my adult bed. “When we have died so many times? When people we once were are dead and gone right now and they will never ever possibly come back in the physical form as we knew them? But their presence, their essence and lessons are with us—invisibly alive inside of us always.”
“Haven’t we already died, died as we understand it—like physically just gone forever—so many times before?”
If that girl in my diary wasn’t there, then I wouldn’t be here now.
I understand it then.
Fluorescent Corals remind me that we are all just products of the people and environment that have and do surround us throughout our lives. Fluorescent Corals remind me of a poem or story I want to write but can’t think of anything better to say then what they are and what they do. They remind me that I’m not alone. That I’m not special. That I am part of you and you are a part of me and if that tree wasn’t living and breathing that time on a narrow street in the South Thailand I would not be here, writing this now, in this moment—which is the only moment in which I, as I am right now, is and will ever be alive.
Baby’s got dry mud caked all over his butt and a fringy sailor top on. Squirming on his back like he’s having a baby stroke, heaving his tummy up and down. I’m in a metro station in Old Delhi. There are students and dogs and garbage and shit tons of people and baby and me. I’m looking at a map. Baby’s momma is lounging on the street outside with her lady friends. Her elbow’s on the curb, hand resting her head. She’s gabbing.
I thought that baby was having a stroke until I felt a tap tap tap on my knee and looked down. Little baby with his dirty little finger, smirking baby toothed smile and dry mud caked on his arms too. Motioning his baby hand to baby mouth, baby hand to baby mouth. He has a sneaky smile in his eyes and he’s got his skinny girl arm planted on his jutted hip out with his baby balls hanging and his left foot tapping. What I’m saying is baby’s working it.
Ughhhhhh. I think. Is there anything else to think right now really? Is there anything more profound that I am missing? This baby is a riot. This baby is funny. This baby is hustling. I say to baby No, I shake my head to baby No. Baby loses his sneaky smile in his eyes, he tips his head to the side, nods, and then prances his naked butt away, plops flat on his back down on the ground and starts pumping his tummy up and down. Baby stroking for someone new.
If there’s a God—dude is twisted.