Accept & Explore

I ran a lot of hills last summer. At first I gutted them out just trying to get over. It wasn't fun and made hills more difficult than they needed to be. Luckily, I talk to myself while running and on as I started up one hill I said this:

Accept what the hill gives you. Give the hill what you've got.

I've been in therapy for more than a decade and am just starting to learn things. My therapist is wise and thoughtful, but I tend to reject most advice and counseling thinking, That's fine for other people... or Yeah, but... About four months after she suggests some ridiculous, wrong-headed idea I figure out that it is spot-on and of tremendous help.

Years ago, discussing a conflict in which I found myself, she suggested that I simply accept what was happening. "You mean surrender?" I asked. She waited for me to think about it. I said, "I can either fight or surrender and I'm not giving in." She waited, maddeningly patient, then suggested that acceptance isn't surrender. The situation did not require me to win or lose.

Of course I resisted. I'm a binary kind of guy. It was months before I realized that entering the battle meant I had already lost and there's a wide expanse between winning and losing.

Hills aren't battles. They're just hills and geology says they've been here a few million years and aren't going anywhere fast. Might as well accept them. And running uphill I have the opportunity to see what I have to give. That's a cool way to think of it. It's an even cooler way to feel.

Feeling open to the possibility that life isn't a battle to be won and there are more than two options available allows me to move up the hills and get over them. I accept and explore. And the view from atop some of those hills goes on and on as if there is no end to what I might see.

Not The Hardest Thing

After the dentist I went home to my daughter who had had trouble with a hawk. Really. Home from school she found a hawk (a juvenile sharp shinned hawk according to a friend who knows these things) sitting in our driveway refusing to move. My daughter was supposed to put the garbage cans in the spot occupied by the hawk but you know how hawks are. I agreed with her not messing with it. No way. She went to have a snack while I changed into running clothes. I had just enough time to squeeze in a run before making dinner.

Ten minutes later I started jogging down the street. The air felt colder than I had expected. Maybe I should have worn the tights and damn, I left my gloves on the kitchen table. I hate running with cold hands. This is going to be tough, I thought.

A quarter mile into the run I felt rain drops. Big ones. Rain plops. Few and far between. Some snow flurried in there too. Wasn't it supposed to be forty-something degrees? Felt more like thirty. The rain plops came harder. The sky was dark, dark grey, like dusk in early afternoon. I had my reflective vest. I wondered if I shouldn't have grabbed my blinking LED lamp. I kept going.

At around three quarters of a mile rain really came down, filling the shoulders of the road and soaking through my vest and shirt. My hat dripped. That rain was cold, let me tell you. It went through me. I blew into my fists but was missing those gloves I'd left in the kitchen. I wondered, how long does hypothermia take? Surely longer than I'd been out, but maybe I should turn around.

I'm trying to accumulate mileage. I want to get in shape and am making a game of how many miles I run this year. I know the average miles I need to run per day. It's not many, but it's more than I had run. A car drove by and I caught some of its splash. I think the driver waved an apology. I waved back: It's fine. I kept going.

I ran through the worst of the rain and what seemed like all of the puddles. By the time I had my miles in the rain had slowed, the sky had turned a lighter shade of grey, and my hands weren't that cold. Maybe it was forty-something degrees again. My feet and clothes were soaked, I was beginning to chafe, and I was still cold. Then this thought came to me:

This isn't the worst thing that's happened to me today. This isn't the worst thing this week. This isn't the worst thing that will happen this year.

Cold, wet, chafed, tired, worried about hypothermia, my job, my weight, and money, I thought, this isn't the worst thing, and felt a little better. I knew I could keep going.

I don't recall the worst thing that happened that day. I don't know the worst thing so far this year. The worst thing didn't happen on that run and isn't happening now. I may never know the worst moment, but compared to whatever it might be most everything feels like something I can survive by putting one wet foot in front of the other. It turns out the puddles aren't that deep and sometimes it's not as cold as it seems.

Sunday Morning, Outside

Reading about how to be healthy, a consistent theme is to get outside. The mind is healthier out in the world, balance comes easier among trees than inside four walls, and we make better choices breathing fresh air. That's part of why I went for a run though I wasn't feeling like it. I put on the tights, shorts, socks, sandals, wool shirt, vest, hat, and gloves (it's a whole rigamarole, running in Syracuse's January) and went outside. Intending a short run I fell into a rhythm and went just over five. Being outside felt lovely, but there is more to being truly outside than just leaving the house for a run.

While running, I got thinking how much of my writing is about the inside of my head. I spend a lot of time and ink exploring the narrow confines of my thinking. Shouldn't I get outside my skull? I wondered.

My friend photographs the natural world without any sign of man's intrusion. The best thing about his work is that he withholds what so many of us cling to. There are no boathouses or docks on the river in his photographs, no church steeples rising through the bare trees, no runners through the forest. Instead there is the natural world captured as if we don't exist at all. I know Chris is behind the tripod but he's not the subject.

More often than not I'm the subject of my writing. Thoreau said — "I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.” — but he was also one of the greatest observers of the outside world. He wrote of his experience, but no one so carefully saw, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted the world as did Thoreau. And he wrote those things down.

This morning's temperature hovered around freezing. The occasional light flurry of giant snowflakes fell and melted immediately. The sky was a special Syracuse grey that is both normal and oppressive. The streets were slick and puddles stretched from the curb to the middle of Meadowbrook Drive. There was no accumulated snow left and hasn't been for weeks. Something about the jet stream. My feet made slight slapping noises on the wet pavement and squished whenever I ran on the grass.

The brook moved fast but was not full. Used to be that it overflowed regularly but the city opened things up. There hasn't been a flood in a decade. Today it was all cliche, babbling and whispering. Out by the high school I ran close enough to watch and really listen. No ducks or muskrats today and not too much garbage. Just water that would be frozen were it not moving too fast to become still.

In the cemetery I passed two above-ground crypts and wondered why we resist returning to dust. It makes sense while we're living, but once we're dead? I shrugged both failing to understand the logic but knowing the feeling of wanting to remain no matter how grey the sky seems.

Down the hill back near the high school a bird circled without moving its wings. "Something on the thermals yanked his chain." It seemed like a hawk. A friend I teach with could tell me all about it and I almost wished he was there, but no, I was outside to be alone.

Three girls ran in the other direction back on Meadowbrook. Two were out front together while the third was well behind. They were across a lane of traffic, the brook, and another lane of traffic and my eyes are no longer so good that I could make out their expressions, but I pasted one on that girl at the back and it looked like me. Did she wish she was running by herself instead of chasing something she might not want? A car drove by and splashed a puddle on me.

On our street the house of a friend had a SOLD sign in the yard. She's moving out. I don't know when or where she's going. I have no idea who bought the house. Her table and chairs remained near the front stoop. Four bags of garbage waited at the road for pickup two days away.

The grey sky let go a few more snow flakes, a nod toward winter, a postcard, or a shaken globe. The hole in our driveway was filled with brown water and a few crystals. The garage door paint was peeling and cracked. I tapped in the code, waited for the door to open, and went inside where it was warm. I stood inside the dark basement, still breathing hard, wondering where it is I'm supposed to be going.