Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Forget the pain

Between the cry of the train whistle comes the sound patter of rain. A few yellow lights glimmer in the darkness beyond the window and the night breeze is soft and cool. In the dark, the only light comes from my laptop screen. I've been chasing a story about running and the words aren't coming right. I know what I want to say but the words are slippery and elusive. They don't want to settle down and tell the story I want told. They'd rather find another pathway, another story, not this one right now. Or maybe I'm chasing them too hard and like a lover need to be wooed and coaxed.

I hadn't thought about running for a long time, not since the accident that damaged my knees. Time and weight took the rest of my desire for running, putting more time and weight between me and those times. Some days I can barely walk let alone think of running. It seemed that part of my life was over. John brought it back.

We were both chubby kids in sixth grade when we met. I still see him in his boy scout uniform, his knees pudgy like mine, although we both walked everywhere. The distance grew as we moved from elementary school to junior high. Two miles one way to junior high school, two miles to the pool to swim the hours away or dive or dance by the jukebox, nothing was too strenuous, just a hurdle to cross. I had forgotten those times until John brought them back the day he came to the house to see me for the first time in thirty years. All of it came flooding back as he talked about the first time he had to run the year after he graduated from Officer's Candidate School in the Air Force.

"After I ran the mile around the track I wasn't tired or winded. I wanted to keep running," he said his eyes alight. He smiled looking back on those times. "I kept on running. I felt good. I felt invincible. I felt free."

As he talked, his eyes glowed. He talked about his first ultra marathon and the mornings running. When he got back home he sent me pictures of some of his races. He was happy and excited. He was on top of the world, or as close as you can get running the Pikes Peak Ascent. His memories sparked mine and those long ago days came flooding back as if they had happened last week or last night.

I ran everywhere in high school. I ran to school. I ran up and down the stairs at school. I ran home. I ran down the side streets and sailed over bushes and fences, flying, free, and happy. I had no problems, no worries, no complications when I ran. I didn't join the track team because it wasn't important to win a race or even compete, but I took every chance to run when the high hurdles were set up for the track team or for gym classes. Playing flag football was nearly as good. Even as quarterback I took advantage of the chance to scramble, jumping over bodies and hurdling over missed tackles. It didn't occur to me that there would be a time when I couldn't run, when even the idea of walking took every ounce of energy planning how to get up and down stairs or the shortest path from one point to another. I had forgotten how effortless running was, how little thought or planning it took. I just ran.

As I sit here now remembering those flying days and effortless movement through the air as I sailed over anything in my path, I realize I can have that feeling back. It will take time and it will be painful, but it is possible. My knees are damaged and some mornings they are so stiff and sore it takes all my energy just getting out of bed and walking across the floor. One step will lead to another as long as I don't think about it or contemplate the pain because I know there will come a time when once again I can fly effortlessly down the side streets and over bushes and fences in the gathering dark of day's end. I will be able to share again the way John smiles when he talks about those days running in the cool dark before dawn or evenings after work when it is time to leave responsibility and duty in the distance as I forget the pain and run free once again.

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