Saturday, March 19, 2011

Counting Blessings

It has been a couple of weeks since I last blogged. In that span of time, I have visited friends across the country and been awed by nature on a gorgeous rainy run and nature's full awe-fullness has been tragically witnessed in Japan with the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis and nuclear fallout. The dark side of human nature too, has been thrust into the foreground with increasing violence in Libya.

I've been contemplating writing about why I run for awhile now. Certainly the purpose of this blog is to garner support for Planned Parenthood--but honestly, that purpose is not what gets me out the door every morning. I would probably also be lying if I said "nature" is what gets me pulling on tights and hats when it's -3 degrees outside. However, running in nature is how I am most able to zone out and meditate. That is why I run. For me, running is when I send my hopes and fears and well-wishes out into the ether. On those cold mornings I tell myself "I always feel better after. Just go, even just for a little bit." Indeed, that extremely simple rationale works for me. I can't think about it too much--I just have to get in the clothes and start out, and amazingly, I always keep going.

But there are more reasons than just balm for my spirit. Once I'm running, all the other reasons come into play. I run to plan my day. I think about my students and how best I can engage them. I think about when I should email an editor, what books I need to add to my bibliography, and other mundane (for me) tasks. Other times I focus on my goals--not just for the day, but for the week, the year, for personal improvement. I think about the world and examine my place in it. Am I practicing what I preach? Am I living according to the ethics and philosophies that I admire and teach to others?

I tell my husband that the two main reasons I run are 1) to have time for me 2) because the nature of my work does not have a tangible product to show at the end of a day. Much of my work is in the hands of others--it's constantly being judged by my "peers," and judged according to their schedules. The structure of training for a particular running goal and the corresponding accomplishment of having completed the training steps and the goal gives me something over which I have some control. I can do the training, and I can complete the marathon. If nothing else "got done" in a day--that there was no visible product to the hours I spent at work (besides the teaching, emails, etc. etc.), I can look back and know that at least I got in a good run. Steve put that feeling into an anecdote told to him by his doctor, and which I have appropriated for teachers as well (add pastors and nurses too!). Both doctors and teachers only hear from their patients/students when things are rough. The doctor prescribes something, the patient leaves, and if it she doesn't hear back from the patient, she assumes her training and what it told her to prescribe worked. Rare is the patient who returns to the doctor's office and says "I feel great!" Similarly, rare is the student who comes to one's office and says "Right on! Your effort in lesson planning/assignments/delivery has really helped me understand the material and myself better!"

Running gives me something for which I can set goals whose outcomes I can (mostly) control. It makes me feel good. Better than if I didn't run. It relaxes me, and gives me a sense of accomplishment on a daily basis. When I ran around Lake Salem in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago, I had one of those great runs that was meditative. I had just presented at a conference, so didn't have all the gerbil thoughts in my mind that often take hold on runs. I had time to check in. I gave thanks for my healthy body and ability to make it 7.5 miles around the whole lake. I gave thanks for the financial stability to be able to rent a car, to visit another state, old friends, and to meet new people. I felt grateful knowing that I would return that day to a loving husband, a house, and animals. I gave thanks for the gift--unearned--of autonomy given me by birth, class, education, and the corresponding ability to make choices about my daily life and goals. I don't live in a theocracy (yet) or warzone. I felt altogether lucky. Who cares if it was raining??

It reminded me of why I run. The poem "The Song of the Ungirt Runners" by Charles Hamilton Sorley, is not a great poem (any poem whose title includes "girt" cannot be good), but it does capture something of my relationship with running. I run because I CAN.

We swing ungirded hips, 
and lightened are our lips,
we do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
nor whitherward we fare,
but we run because we must
through the great wide air.
The water of the seas
are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
and does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the treetops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
'Neath the big bare sky.
The rain is on our lips
we do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
and the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
and scatter it  like sand,
and we run because we like it
through the broad bright land.

(Shouldn't we do what we can to provide the means by which others can also attain a sense of autonomy and self-actualization? Planned Parenthood educates and provides accessible healthcare here at home--but there are countless ways to help.)

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