Reckoning, The first one
When I was studying English as an undergraduate, we studied the old masters and there was commonly expressed desire (obsession?) for immortality. For centuries these great literary minds were writing in order to leave a bit of themselves behind, so that they may continue to live in the minds of readers for millennia. So concerned were they for their own legacy that they were essentially writing to impregnate as many generations as possible with their genius so that they could, in some sense, live forever.
At the time I read and listened to lectures about this I was a bit perplexed, but ultimately not bothered by this fixation with immortality. Now I think about this concept and it fills me with a disgust. How incredibly privileged and frankly, pompous, to be so assured of your own genius that you not only work to get your words in the hands and minds of everyone currently alive, but those who haven’t even been born? All the while the rest of humanity is basically just trying to feed and house themselves. Ew.
I absolutely do not think about my legacy when I write, at least not consciously. But I have been much more aware of my own mortality as of late. I suspect this pernicious awareness of my health and wellbeing might be brought on by this pesky bug we’re all contending with. But I also think my recent entre into my fourth decade has also pushed me to take a hard look at my health and lifestyle. And while I have no desire to live forever, I am steadfast in my desire to live a while longer, healthy and robust.
All that to say, basically, I started running again.
I was not a runner in high school; I didn’t start jogging until I was an adult. I vividly remember the first time I went for a jog—I was twenty-two or so, forty pounds overweight and stuck. I’d graduated from college with big dreams and ambitions, but without any idea how to achieve them. I’d gotten married to my high school sweetheart right after graduation and the decision was dubious at best. I suffered from debilitating migraines and my doctor said I was pre-diabetic, both of which I simply ignored. I was, in all aspects of my life, immobilized.
I don’t know what possessed me to throw on sweatpants and running shoes that late fall evening. I was very much in denial about my weight and my stuckness, but perhaps there was a voice in my subconscious that I was listening to suggesting that if I moved in this way, perhaps I would find ways to break free in the rest of my life.
What happened was far from inspiring. I got about five blocks from home, gasping for air and my toe caught the edge of a sidewalk square and I went face-first into a puddle, right on a busy street. I was mortified. There I was, lying on the side of the road in a puddle, my fat ass splayed for everyone to see, bloodied and bruised. I summoned the shred of self-respect I had left, picked myself up and marched right back home and didn’t run again for another couple years.
When I finally did decide to run again, it wasn’t any easier. But it was cheaper than a therapist or a gym, and as a newly divorced young woman trying to pursue the oft underpaid career as a writer, cheap was what I needed. I also needed a gym and therapy, but that’s another story. I wasn’t stuck anymore, but damn the running was still hard as hell.
It took years of running before I found it fun. Like, ten years. I trained for marathons and somewhere in that excruciating amount of mileage I logged, I found some joy in the distance runs. I loved those 8 or 9 milers—long enough for me to get into a groove, for all my systems to sync up. Somewhere in the first few miles of trying not to trip, adjusting my sports bra, trying to avoid traffic and just trying to remember to breathe, I was forced to stop thinking and focus on my body. What do you know, when you are forced to draw attention to the present moment and damn the rest, it feels pretty good. I got used to it. I didn’t listen to music, I mostly ran alone with my dog, and I didn’t think, I just ran.
It’s been a while since I’ve been a regular runner. We moved to Minnesota in the winter and despite my best intentions, running on ice in subzero temperatures was harder than I expected, so I found new forms of exercise. And I never quite got back to running.
Then 2020 happened and I decided it was time to run again. Let me tell you, it was NOT like riding a bike. It was fucking hard as hell.
One day, after a particularly difficult workday, I strapped on my sports bra and running shoes and cranked out a three-mile, thirty-minute run. Which sounds like, meh, no big deal. Let me tell you, a rage fueled three-mile run can be detrimental to your health. I was in so much pain the following days I could barely walk down the stairs.
And so, a new plan emerged.
I’d been talking to my students about embracing wonder in their world. This is akin to the idea of being in beginners mind. When we let go of what we think we know and approach the world from a place of curiosity, we let go of ego.
We often teach what we need to learn, yes?
I’ve been chanting the mantra “I wonder what would happen if…” over and over.
Weeks after the disastrous three-miler, I thought “Okay. I wonder what would happen if I approached running like someone who has never run before?” What if I set aside my pride (ego) and self-judgment (ego) and the voice in my head that sneers “you used to run marathons, look how far you’ve fallen.” What if I just started anew?
I found a plan on the internet. It started with running 1minute, walking 1 minute for twenty minutes. It was agony to admit that even this was challenging in the beginning. But I stuck to the plan. I am following it religiously.
Today I ran three and a half miles with a walk break in the middle. Winter has sailed in early in Minnesota, and it’s almost too cold to walk for too long. I run to stay warm.
But I have let go of the outcome: how many miles I log a week, my pace, my heart rate. I simply move. And it feels full of ease. Even as I push myself through moments of discomfort, I do so with compassion. I am less resentful, less prideful, and more resilient.
I don’t think I need to point out the metaphor here, but I will humbly admit that I needed this reminder to be blatantly dropped in my lap. The application to the rest of my life continues to challenge me, but I am prodding myself to ask the question “I wonder what would happen if…” with more frequency. And to suspend my inclination to guess the answer.