World, Keep Running

Two days ago, I emailed my mom.

“Hi Mom, I have to do a marathon run in the morning on Saturday. Can I sleep over on Friday?”

Two minutes later, she replied: “Do you know what happen in Boston?”

——

As I’m writing this, the Boston terrorist manhunt has ended. The first suspect died late last night in a battle with police, and the second suspect has just been detained. Now they’re busy sorting out the details of the past few days, trying to figure out the why’s behind such a senseless act and the other who’s involved. Boston, and the rest of us for that matter, can rest a little easier tonight.

As for me, I can’t shake this so quickly. I’m running in an event tomorrow morning, and thoughts of terror quickly surface. What if they plant bombs on the road? What if I get shot by a sniper? Could my last day be tomorrow? This is what acts of terrorism do to you. They look to make you afraid. They try to rob you of your freedom. Soon, I am no longer living for today but arrested by the fear of no tomorrow.

The most sobering thing to me, in this whole tragedy, is my realization that terrorism is an immediate reality for some people living on the other side of the world. Random car bombings at the market. Girls targeted for attending school, trying to get an education. It seems like more people are resorting to violence, expressing their anger or ignorance in extreme ways. This is the new reality.

But in the midst of it all, this terribly mad world, I find a weird sense of calm. It’s like these events scream tragedy and injustice but somehow whisper simple truths. I could die tomorrow. Hell, I could die tonight. It could be from a terrorist attack or heart attack or car accident or simple slip in the shower. What are the odds? Apart from some divine authority you could say it’s a dice roll. In a world full of variables there is very little we truly control.

What I can control is what I’ve been given. Namely, my ability to live in the seconds and minutes–acknowledging that every breath is nothing short of miraculous–to be fully there and not elsewhere. To embrace my friends and family and strangers (and sometimes even enemies when I’m not so hung up with minor grievances) and continue to work, eat, drink, write, sleep, pray and worship. This is what I can do, and to do less than this because of the wicked minority is to allow fear into a place it does not belong. To live at all is to risk. To succumb to fear is to die small deaths long before your final breath.

Boston has taught us many things. One, it’s an unbelievably tough and resilient city. Two, you keep wicked calm and carry the hell on. I will run tomorrow. I will appreciate the ability to move my legs and, Lord willing, I will get through the race. And I will remember all those who suffered this past week. Terror has its moment but it will ultimately, and always, come in second place.

——

Later that day, I responded to my mom: “It’s not a marathon…sorry. I meant ‘mud run.’ It’s a shorter run and I think they’ll have tighter security. Don’t worry mom. God is in control.”

Mom: “ok, I’ll make the bed.”

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Run To Break

I’ve watched people do it on TV, and I’ve read stories of those who’ve trekked miles on end, going through hell or high water to complete the course. I’ve even sponsored those who’ve done it for good causes. People who’d run 10, 20, 50 miles for something. Kudos, I’d say, good for them. But as for me? No thanks. Just watching people do it already felt like torture enough.

I don’t know what it is about running, but I was never drawn to it. This might seem kind of funny, coming from someone who’s been active in sports ever since a young age. But I didn’t play soccer, and I hear they do a lot of running, so maybe that might explain some things.

But this one day, I got asked–or more like suckered–by a friend who’s in grad school for Physical Therapy to help assist in a “project.” She’s nice and cute, so I said sure. Little did I know what I had consented to. What this meant was a whole day’s worth of physical tests: crunches, dips, box jumps, and finally, after all of that–running. A mile and a half. I wanted to curl up in a ball and die. Why do I always fall for these tricks?

Before I had time to bail, we were at the Claremont Colleges track. She said I had to do 6 laps, which was equivalent to one and a half miles. My first lap around the track was cake. I made good time, and I was all smiles; I even waved to her. But then my body began to remember that it hadn’t run that much in four years. It began to throw a hissy fit in the middle of the track, and I couldn’t shut it up. My legs began to slow, I couldn’t catch my breath, and my stomach started to cramp. I wanted to quit right then and there.

But I didn’t. I finished the race. In fact, my scores for all the tests weren’t half bad. More than anything, I was just glad that I didn’t faint on the track and end up looking like an idiot. I told her she was funny and that she had fooled me good. She said there’ll be re-evaluations in 2 months. I told her that’s unfortunate, because around that time I would be inconveniently missing in Zimbabwe.

But something started in me that day. This whole concept of running was something different. Something that broke me from my norm, and something that took me away from my fears. And throughout the next couple weeks, I would find myself in these sporadic, sudden urges to jog. So I would. Ten minutes each time, which was also about the time it took my mind to register regret. But funny thing is, I’d do it again another night. And another.

———-

Here I was, after a long day of work. Eleven hours behind a desk. I come home and was initially tempted to shower and sleep, or go right back to my computer, as if eleven hours weren’t enough. Or turn on the TV. But, for some odd reason, I felt that urge again. So I listened. I got home, changed my clothes, and hit the road.

Instead of my usual jog around the block, I decided to run across the main road to the other side of my street. This road was new to my feet; it had a steeper incline and darker paths. But I was digging it. I was lost in the familiar, yet newness of the place. Then it occurred to me, as I was rounding the end of that street. In the past 13 years since I’ve moved to this city, I had yet to see this side of the street. Thirteen years. I felt a sort of pathetic sadness come over me; it was just the other side of my house. But then I realized another thing: tonight was a new night. I didn’t have to live out my past, my history. Life was handing me another page, telling me I had a chance to rewrite my days. But only if I wanted to–only if I’d choose to take my life off auto-pilot.

I came back and showered. It was a settled satisfaction that met me in the water. The sort that painted a new color to my life this night. For many it would have just been a jog. Deep inside, though, I knew it was more than that. I ran to break monotony that night. I ran to break the comfort that I had so easily resigned to. I ran to break my fears. And I knew, if I would only run to break more often, then my life would be the sort of life I’ve always wanted and longed for it to be.

———-

I watch less television now. Instead, I try to run. I try to tune into the night’s revelry of stars and violet haze, the trees and the smell of season’s freshness. I am entertained by what they all have to say. It is a beautiful episode.

I couldn’t believe how often I had traded this in for the next rerun of Sportscenter. But that’s in our nature, isn’t it? Sometimes, we live our lives and go through the routine, expecting no more and aiming no higher. We can’t imagine what it would be like to live a different story, to run a different route. All the sights you’d find, all the paths you’ve never imagined your out-of-shape body could travel. So, we opt for more gadgets and more sitcoms and more drinks to forget.

We spend half our days living in fake worlds. Then we spend the other half wondering why our lives are boring.

———-

It’s funny. In what I had once dreaded I have now found refuge. I don’t know if I would have ever discovered it if it weren’t for that one day. But I’m glad I did.

Now I see a little more how God speaks. He speaks in my risks, my struggles, my pains. He speaks in my runs. And he tells me wonderful stories of peace, adventure, and fulfillment.

Keep running, he’d say, because there is so much more you have yet to discover.

needed to run to break the monotony, the patterns, the comfort that only numbs my life until it is sucked dry. So I laced them up at 10:15, usually 45 minutes just before my bedtime, and went for it.