Saturday, April 11, 2015

Appreciating Mortality

Hawkeye 25K April 11, 2015

Appreciation can mean a lot of things, Some thing can "appreciate" by increasing in value. Similarly, a person can "appreciate," or value, some thing, or "appreciate", or recognize, the value or significance of some thing.

I ran my first trail race of the season, the Hawkeye 25K, in Solon, Iowa. It was a great course. The first 5 miles consisted of a wide gravel path along the shore of Lake McBride. It was pretty and I focused on listening and breathing the cool air. After crossing a dike, runners stepped through rock rapids. That was exciting! The trail continued in the woods, on soft dirt and leaves up and down and all around. I enjoyed it very much, and again focused on the sounds of the woods, the chirping of birds and frogs, the sounds of the lake. I was happy to focus on my breathing to control the ascents as well. I felt strong, pulling the air into my lungs and envisioning it spreading to my muscles, giving my blood and muscles oxygen and preventing cramps. The final four or so miles was on the paved road, up a few long hills. I felt good, and appreciative of my lungs, my legs. I thought about striking the ground on my forefoot, of keeping my turnover going, and breathing deeply with each strike. I felt strong, passing many other runners (to be fair, some probably were 50K runners!).

I am appreciative that my body works. I appreciate that friends and colleagues also enjoy running. I appreciate the volunteers and wider circle of runners who make these events happen. I appreciate nature, and those who care for it.

To appreciate my body and what it can do, I appreciate mortality. Not that I am grateful for mortality, but I recognize its constant presence. Every day I am older, as are family members and friends. Every day, my body ages a little more (depreciates?)--and at the same time, I still do a lot-- and so do so many others, much older than me.

I've been struck reading Being Mortal recently, and reflecting upon a desire to be appreciated. Gawande writes about how important purpose is to make living living--even if one is dying. I'm not (actively) dying, I have purpose and meaning (we create our own) in my life--much of that is from my work, from teaching, from writing. But often my students, young as they are, don't yet recognize mortality, appreciate the gift of education, the brevity and privilege of college, of vitality. Who does appreciate transient moments? Animals, to be sure, and the elderly, and those close to death. Gawande writes about that inverse dynamic. It's not necessarily being older or being wiser or more experienced so much as recognizing-- appreciating the mortality and transitory nature of nature.

So many writers and artists have reflected on this subject, a silly running blog can't do justice to it (Ecclesiastes, Thoreau, Solnit; Pieter Claesz, Nicholas Poussin, Andy Goldsworthy...).

Running though, and especially running in nature, enhancing mindfulness, reminds me of my mortality, in a very positive way.

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