“The obsession with running is really an obsession with the potential for more and more life.”
The house is frighteningly empty. I lay on the sofa, with my eyes closed just hoping to get a sense of peace. A sense of calm. I feel the gentle breeze of the ceiling fan against my skin and the deep soothing sounds of my breath escaping my body. I focus solely on my breath, as I try my best to keep still and not allow my overbearing thoughts to speed away from me. I could no longer rest, I needed to go. I needed my mind clear. I had been planning all afternoon for this predictable moment. Coming home from work to a Caleb-less house is always painful, but I have reached a point where I have no more tears to shed. I knew what would happen the longer I sat there, and I needed to follow through with my plan.
I was worried. Actually, no I was frightened. But I had made up my mind, the risk was well worth the reward. I needed to climb back up and just for a moment, a brief moment, be me again. A me that had been lost over a year ago, and with the fear of God running through my veins, I stayed away. I no longer resembled who I had cherished. I was not the person that people loved or remembered. The hanging lanyards of accomplishment hung on my living room wall, reminding me of my past glories. But they too laughed at me, showing me what I will never be again. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I had nothing to prove to anyone, but I needed to get back a piece of my life. As I paid attention to the possible warning signs the doctor gave me, I started down the dark, familiar streets of my neighborhood. Hoping.
I did something that I had not done in over a year… I went for a run. My breathing was the only real thing that resembled my former self, as my pace and distance traveled no longer come close to the marathoner I once was. I remembered my breathing, my rhythmic breaths kept time and allowed me to take my mind off the world that would be waiting for me when I returned. I found my pace, slow and steady, but a velocity that I could maintain for seemingly forever. I immediately remember this feeling, and for once I remembered who I was.
I listened to my newly favorited station on Pandora, with musical reminders of my younger days. I grinned at the lyrical geniuses of Cake and Beck, and I lived out my college years with the occasional R.E.M song. Eventually, the music blended into the background of the movie of my life. It provided my journey with an emotional intenseness that it deserved. I worked hard to stay at this speed, but I so wanted to just fly again. I knew my journey would be a long one, but one that I wanted to take to get back to me. The me that everyone loved at the beginning of 2016.
The night landscape was a magical mixture of angry, dark clouds and open, clear sky. I made out dozens of constellations, that normally don’t shine through a night inside the city limits. The stars cascaded the heavens as I made my way around the many sub-routes within the neighborhoods around my house. As I weaved in and around trying to get my miles, I could see a multitude of lightning bolts dart across the the southern sky. We were safe for now, as the electric show was only intense over the gulf, and I was blessed with God’s amazing artful glory.
The night air was thick with moisture, as it is almost every summer night in southern Mississippi. The heat of the day, mixed with this humidity made for the crazy amount of heat in the air. This was the kind of night I dreamed about for months. I need this oppressive heat, I need the suffocating humidity. I need to sweat all the toxins out of my body.
I kept running. No need or want to stop.
My mind was clear, empty; only focusing on my breathing and keeping my feet moving and landing at the mid-soles of my shoes. Nothing in the world mattered. Everything was great until, I realized in the middle of my run, that I was happy and that I was no longer thinking about all those thoughts that weigh me down throughout the day. I was so proud of myself for making it those first few miles, that the one thing that I knew would eventually happen, I re-entered reality. I pushed further, but my body was no match for my ever-powerful mind. The thoughts and fears rushed through me, and I had to stop to catch my breath. Check to make sure I was still alive.
I was happy but disappointed.
I was angry at myself for stopping, for letting go of that feeling of numbness. After catching my breath I started again, to only fall victim of this painful routine a half-mile down the road. My internal, calm encouragement turned to angry ridicule of myself for letting my brain win. I started again, vowing to get back the happy calm. I would make it home.
I could feel the pain. I felt alive.
The last tenth of a mile is a clear path to my house. I have done this countless times before, but this time it was special. With a big grin, I took off in a dead sprint. I knew it wasn’t the speed of days past, but I could feel the wind against my face, the kick of my legs, and the intense expansion of my lungs. I was flying again. I found myself.
As I crossed the crack in the pavement that I keep as my personal finish line, I frantically tried to catch my breath. Sweat was flowing off my hair and covering my glasses so I couldn’t see any more. Beads of salty liquid formed across my arms, all while my shirt had become a towel, soaked with sweat like it was held under the water’s surface of the bathtub.
I smiled my goofy big smile, as I desperately tried to calm my breathing.
I completed the last few steps of my ritual and walked over to my driveway. I gently sprawled my weary body across the concrete, allowing the sweat to escape my body. With every drop, I knew that the part of my past that I wanted gone, was leaving me. I knew that each molecule of liquid represented the weight of my world that was holding me down. During these miles, I looked through the window of the past and found me, and by the end of it all, I got back that part of my soul I so sorely missed. I sat in the driveway, listening to the music of my life, getting reacquainted with a long lost friend.
I closed my eyes and just laid there.
My problems didn’t go away, but they were waiting inside my house. What I gained though was rest and a means of escaping reality, to allow me to gain strength to carry the burdens of my world. I absolutely needed to run alone tonight, and I will need to run faster to escape the demons that are clawing at me. However, I know as I get stronger, those monsters will work even harder to tear away the strength and courage that I have worked so hard to acquire. I will need friends and people that I love to be with me on my runs, to help push me, to keep me motivated, and to make me forget that there is even such a thing as a real world.
I may have found myself again in the woods, but I became myself tonight during those few miles in the humid summer night in my neighborhood. I won’t let him leave me again.