On the Road Again, For Now

A week ago, last Wednesday, as I took off for my morning run, a sharp pain in my knee. A few more steps and more sharp pain.  

Runners run the edge of pain. There’s the pain that we learn to run with and the pain that we need to stop and pay attention to. I’d like to think that running has helped me listen to my body better but I’m not so sure its true. On days like last Wednesday, I recognized it was another kind of pain – the sharp kind that warrants a stop and a stretch or a rest day. But I had plans. A route I wanted to run, a morning I’d wanted to start the way I wanted it to start.  

So I did the run and the pain subsided and yes, I was laid up for the next few days with an ice pack on my knee. Good advice that I finally heeded from the camp nurse who said I needed a few days of rest and to listen to my body.

Injury is part of the edge that runners run. Every runner I know has dealt with some minor or major injury that has slowed them down or taken them off the road, its part of the game. I read once that these knees of ours have only have so many miles in them. Running is a time-sensitive sport and the day will come for all of us to finally hang up our running shoes for good. It took my father until 80-something to finally say goodbye to what had become a steady slow jog on the treadmill. I hold out hope that if I am fortunate enough to live a long healthy life, that running will be with me for a couple of decades to come. But we’ll see. What mattered for me last week was that I recovered from my injury and that running wasn’t done with me yet.

Lately I’m aware of more and more people in my life who have had to hang up their running shoes. A heart attack, COVID, illness, injury and yes, age – that steady, slow and relentless competitor that comes from behind while we weren’t looking and overtakes us. 

On days like last week, laid up with my ice pack, I wondered how they do it. I mean, on days like last week when I couldn’t run, I struggle to clear my mind, to find that good breath and pace to the start of the day that running helps me find. A kind of presence that nothing else gives me like running does.  

It’s a week later and I’m ever so grateful to be out on the road again. Whatever was up with my knee is not up anymore and so I took off up Bean Hill, the grandmother of all hills near here that goes up and up and relentlessly more up. Every year I’ve run it and every year I find that it isn’t as bad and yes, IS as bad as I imagined. 

I have friends that because they can’t run the Bean Hill’s in their lives anymore live in the memory.  They tell me they’ve made at best but a restless, uneasy peace with the way things are in their lives today. They struggle with the present moment being enough and find that it is not. All there is, is the memory they tell me.  

There are so many things that I am no longer. Sometimes I too let the “not’s” or “no-longers” of my life, what has been taken from me by choice, by age, by life, define and deplete me. Diminish me in a way that I need a good run to shake out of. And sometimes I find that the “not’s” and “no-longers” in my life expand and grow me as well. Brings forth a particular kind of empathy and compassion for others in their lack and losses. I wish I could more readily bring that same empathy to myself, to heed the wise elder in all of us that really does have a clue, who knows and understands. That one who lives in a wider perspective, holds a deeper wisdom, knows the way to a deeper peace and serenity. 

I think of others I have had the privilege to know like Jim who after a life of many races and much running around found himself in his final years spending most of his day lying on the little cot in his room. He would tell me about all he was learning those days about “being” when there was no longer anything needed to be running after and about. I was and am so in awe of how he lived with diminishment and loss. And yes, am sure it wasn’t always easy for him just “being” as being a human being with our relentless minds and aching bodies aren’t easy to live with.  

At the top of Bean Hill, a cardboard yard sign, “God’s Got This.” The other day, Iost in a moment, a spiral of sadness or dislocation or some nameless kind of out-of-sortness, a passing cloud of feeling that had no answer and that longed for some empathy, I saw the sign and felt a release, a kind of peace. A certain kind of hope that perhaps the folks who put out the sign in their front yard hoped I’d find. 

I imagine that the folks who put up the sign have a very different understanding and relationship with this “God” than I do. On the other hand, that’s just my own made-up story and indeed gets in the way of my taking in the gift of this simple reminder that a wider love and understanding is holding all I cannot imagine in my own small life being so held. 

Someday, if I am so fortunate, I may have the privilege of being an old man sitting on a porch at a cabin like this on the lake looking out on the Belknap Range, mountains that have been in my sight and heart for all of my life. Mountains that I will remember with fondness and joy skiing, climbing, picking blueberries. 

And perhaps as well I too will have the gift of visits, as we have these past weeks, of young people I will sit here and watch out swimming and running, doing the very things that made me feel like me and so very alive when I was their age. I might well be nodding off and napping on the porch, perhaps taking a gingerly step down the dock and into the water for a short dunk. And I’d like to imagine that I might as well hold a memory and hope, a present gratitude that God’s Got This – what was, what is, and yet to be.

All of it, no matter what. 

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