It had been a bad day. I had lost the auto insurance bill and the dog had barfed all over the carpet. I’m sure other bad stuff happened, but these two events had succeeded in smushing me down into a level of grumpy that was cemented and grimy, like the clothes at the bottom of my kids’ clothes hamper.
So, as any rational thinking person would do, I decided to go for a run. I mean, when life is full of pain why not just add on more?
Running and I have a complicated relationship. Sometimes we get along, but other times I think running is a bit of a psychopath. But, it’s usually on these scuttles about town, when I am cursing my life and wondering why my small town doesn’t have a taxi service, that things get real.
And that’s when I start talking to God.
Mainly, I am complaining to God about his lousy topographical planning of our town. I’m on mile two and I have a hill that is giving me heart palpitations, and couldn’t he give me a water slide home, somehow? He never does. The water slide miracle has yet to occur on any of my runs, no matter how much I try to tell him it would be quite a coup for his side.
Other miracles happen, though.
The main miracle is that running makes me slow down. God applauds as I strap on my shoes and start out, and the details in my life start to sharpen. Cracks in the sidewalk come into focus. I notice that the very geriatric cat by the school is still alive and still likes to sit right on the corner of State and Washington. He stretches one tired paw as I pass. It’s like he is cheering me on, in an old kitty kind of way. Or perhaps he just feels sorry for me and wants me to stop running
After mile two I become very aware of the breeze on my face, when most of the time I barely have time to acknowledge any elements, much less a whisper of wind. I know that bees like to congregate around the tables at Tropical Sno, and I remember to run a little faster on that block. These are all tiny parts of the whole, making me lean in and look around. If I don’t, I might fall on my face.
So, I can’t quit this running thing. It’s like a godly mafia. I try to get out, but it keeps pulling me back in.
The final miles are usually the easiest because they hurt the most. I start in on God. I ask him a lot of questions – a long list of “Whys” that gasp out with each exhale. I pass our college. The little white house where I go to recovery meetings. My friend’s house. Our church. Each building leaps into my list of questions because the people inside are hurting, or hurting others. That’s how humans seem to function. We seem to be at constant odds with each other and giving and taking pain is how we respond. Since it takes forever to slog pass each house, I slog through more questions. The air is pulled tight with all my breathing, and finally I can’t do much else but wait for the answers. And for my side to stop aching.
The final miles are usually the easiest because they hurt the most. I start in on God.
When I first got sober I felt like each day was a slow jog through hell. It was a cleaned-up hell, sure, and much more healthy than the last hell I was in. But still. Then, slowly, recovery took hold and I was given the greatest gift ever, an understanding that hell here, on earth, is actually escapable. And every step I took, sober, on good old terra firma, got more steady. That’s when I started running again. I decided to train for a half marathon, and it was exhilarating. I was all “wings of eagles” all over my little town. I even sharpied that verse on the back of my race jersey on the day of the half marathon. And when I crossed the finish line, I felt like I truly was flying. It was a glorious thing.
But glory is short lived on earth. It doesn’t last for long for Olympic heroes, for Emmy winners, or for middle-aged moms who get sober. We all have to go back to life. I haven’t really had the runner’s-high experience since that race, which is kind of a drag. Now, when I head out for a three-mile conversation with God, I get mixed emotions. It’s painful. And it’s a meditation on faith. Cobwebs are cleared and I find gratitude for small mercies, like my ridiculously expensive New Balance shoes and the cool morning air.
God wants me to stop moving around him so much. My running route makes me move with him. He asks me, with every footfall, to listen for him, and breathe. And I thank him, that I can run without falling flat on my face, that the old cat on the corner is still alive, and that, thank you sweet Jesus, the bees didn’t catch me this time.