Usually when I go for a run in Chicago suburbs, I find myself enveloped in a cone of lonely exertion. Sometimes this is self-chosen: I’ll admit that some days I enjoy the low-key drama of being a lone runner, bent on some destination whose indeterminacy somehow justifies my athletic hauteur. But often enough, I’m glad to talk or wave or smile commiseratingly towards others whom I encounter on the trail or the street. Most people, though, won’t do much more than nod. They’re loyal to some Nordic code of respect for the travails of the isolate trotter. They maintain a grim quietness, softened only momentarily by eye contact.
Last week, while attending the National Communication Association conference in the Big Easy, I went running every afternoon. I tried to run in a different direction each day—once through the French Quarter, once into the Garden District, and so forth. Running in New Orleans is great, good fun. Restaurants and pubs and shops are always spilling out onto brick sidewalks where you run. Smells of gumbo and hot sausage and stale beer and po’ boy sandwiches and coffee accompany you. Sounds of tourists and proprietors and local musicians envelope you. Running is always a sensuous experience. But in New Orleans, the city that so recently lost itself to a hurricane and now has found itself again, that sensuousness is redoubled.
And people talk to you while you run. At least they meet your eye. One guy in particular stands out, in my memory. He came swinging out of a pub, beer in one hand, caught sight of me, and—instead of ignoring me—addressed me: You’re running for me, bud! I’ll admit I was a little startled to be enacting a piece of substitutionary atonement on my afternoon jog, but I was glad to oblige.
(Besides it was as close as I’ve ever been to being in what looked like a Budweiser commercial.)
It reminds me of all the running that we’re doing around Trinity’s campus these days. Not so much running literally (I’m actually doing less of that than I wish, alack-the-day), but carrying on with the good, long work of teaching and learning, reading and writing. It’s easy to fall into a comportment of grand solitude. You have no idea how hard I’m working, etc. But maybe there’s some wisdom in that slightly bleary word I received on the streets of New Orleans. As you see others pushing hard, there’s more to say than simply, Well, I’m working hard, too or If you think you’ve got a lot to do, you should see my task list. Maybe we should reposition ourselves as admirers of others’ work—and even more to the point, as recipients of others’ work.
You, too, are running. It’s good to see you at it. And, hey, keep it up: I’m one of your beneficiaries. You’re running for me, bud.