I witnessed something terrible while running the other day. And by “the other day,” I mean over a month ago—I recognize that it has been a little while since my last entry. There are a few reasons for this, although none of them are valid excuses, not really. Perhaps the most invalid of these (in)excuses is that I have felt uninspired. I recently Googled the definitions of both inspired and uninspired:
Inspired: imbued with the spirit to do something.
Uninspired: not inspired, not creative or spirited.
I know it is (or should be) a pretty obvious root word, but this is really the first time I’m noticing spirit as a significant part of both the word and meaning, inspire. Observing spirit in inspire now makes me all the more frustrated with myself for my claim not to be so—not so much because it wasn’t the case, but because I had allowed a couple of dispiriting circumstances (er, mainly one dispiriting circumstance) to make me feel void of spirit altogether. I think, in general, I tend to identify with being a relatively spritely person, which is not at all to say that I consider myself a bubbly or carefree person, but rather that I’m typically energetic and I tend to be “inspired” even when the circumstances, thoughts, or emotions inspiring me aren’t definitively positive ones.
The other day I’m referring to happened to be the day before my 29th birthday. I woke up early to do the seven-mile run I was scheduled to do on my birthday under the assumption that my birthday would be a rest day (i.e. beer and French fry day). I was listening to “Clementine,” by Sarah Jaffe on repeat. I was listening to the song on repeat not only because I liked it, but because I was fascinated by how a song with such seemingly simple lyrics could affect me so strongly. After a number of listens I began to associate its affect with two repeated words/phrases: “now I feel indifferent,” and “I wish I were a little more delicate.”
Hearing “delicate,” I was associating the word with fragility and vulnerability—with being easily damaged or broken—and I thought the phrase “I wish I were a little more delicate” was a somewhat ironic one. I was interpreting the wish as a wish to be a little more vulnerable or fragile. And what felt personally ironic to me is that I think I spend a lot of my time trying to transcend being both of those things. Running, for me, has become one way of doing this, which probably explains why I typically continue to run no matter how uninspired I might feel otherwise.
While I was running, listening to “Clementine,” and contemplating the words, “delicate” and indifferent,” a cat sprinted out from under a stoop, directly in front of my feet. The cat was determined to cross a street that was becoming increasingly busy with Manhattan-bound rush hour traffic. It hadn’t seen me and might not have seen me had I not become startled and screamed when I saw it. Upon hearing me, the cat looked up, and, terrified, lost its stride for a split second, and then continued on the path it has set out on. And I spent the last two miles of my run trying not to think about whether or not the cat would have made it across the road had I not screamed.
The thing about running as a means of distracting yourself from what you might be thinking or feeling is that sometimes you can outrun (or run out) the thoughts and feelings, but other times (most times) the thoughts and feelings catch up with you once you stop running; no matter how many miles you can run, they seem to have much greater endurance than you do. Although, on this note of endurance, I have discovered recently that while it might not be possible to outrun the things that you don’t want to think or feel, you can run yourself to the point that you are too exhausted from running to entertain them once they catch up to you. The result is some momentary state of indifference.
Like heartbreak. The more I think about it, the more I think heartbreak is less about emotions you feel or the vulnerability you experience than it is about the moment where you seem to have exhausted all of your emotions to the point of emotional defeat. And the scary thing with that is that what used to stir you to fight, cry, etc., starts to fade until what your left with is a strong feeling of indifference. The indifference isn’t the result of no longer caring, it’s the result of feeling you’ve exhausted yourself by over-caring about something or someone that cannot match your feelings. It’s the moment of realizing that you now have to will yourself to let go of something that you’ve put a significant amount of your energy—your spirit—into holding onto.
The other day (a more recent “the other day” than the one mentioned at the beginning of this entry), I was running down the same street that I witnessed and perhaps caused that cat’s death on. I was running on an uncomfortably tight (what I call prickly) Achilles, toward a conversation that I would have much preferred to be running away from. And I started feeling bad for the cat. I had assumed it was stray, but even if it wasn’t stray, it was running, and I started to think that the cat’s death was an even sadder one because it was stray (i.e. unloved) and/or running (i.e. dejected). And then I thought, for a moment, that I was like that cat.
This melodramatic thought (in combination with my increasingly painful Achilles) was enough to make me stop running, and start thinking…
When you Google the definition of delicate the second definition listed is “easily broken or damaged; fragile,” but the first one is “very fine in texture or structure; of intricate workmanship or quality.” The example listed for the first definition is, “a spider’s web, strong but delicate.” Reading this I understand more why the phrase “I wish I were a little more delicate” resonated so much with me. Perhaps it isn’t a wish to be more vulnerable or fragile, but a wish to be strong while being both of those things. On this note, running shouldn’t be seen or used as a device to escape from or exhaust yourself to the point of not having to deal with uncomfortable feelings or circumstances, but rather as a way of proving to yourself that you can move and that you are strong in spite of whatever mentally or emotionally might make you want to call yourself weak and allow yourself to feel uninspired or indifferent.
My self-pitying and melodramatic I-am-like-that-cat moment was a simultaneously embarrassing and illuminating one. I am currently running with and for an organization devoted to giving money and treatment to children who are being forced to face and fight death before they’ve lived long enough to experience heartbreak. When I decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon with a charity there was no doubt in my mind that that charity would be St. Jude. But for whatever reason, when people asked me, “why St. Jude,” I was struggling a little bit to articulate my answer. Surely I should have some specific explanation as to why the charity I am fundraising for is close to my heart when I am asking people to help me raise at least $4,500 for them (writing that number now, it actually doesn’t seem like such a high one considering that it takes nearly two million dollars each day to operate St. Jude). I can now say confidently that my reason is this: if there is anyone in this world that can speak to strength in delicacy it’s these children. I am running and fundraising for St. Jude because they are an organization that provides a platform of support from which the most vulnerable of humans can let their wills to live shine out in spite of something as dispiriting and disheartening as cancer. These children exemplify courage and grace at ages way too young to have to summon either of those characteristics. And there really isn’t anything more inspiring than that.