Running for Others

Been running a bit with Ben Hoekstra and Trevor DallaSanta these days, enjoying (sort of) the challenge of keeping up with them.  Usually, though, I go for runs by 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 that nobody else knows.  Gives me a kind precarious dignity, a quasi- athletic hauteur.  Most runners I meet 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.    

Next week, I plan to be in New Orleans for an Honors Conference, and I hope to do some running down the brick streets of the Big Easy.  Running in New Orleans is pretty good fun.  Restaurants and pubs and shops are always spilling out onto brick sidewalks.  As you pant and gasp and sweat, you are pressed upon by smells of gumbo and hot sausage and stale beer and po’ boy sandwiches and coffee.  Running can be a sensuous experience.  But in New Orleans, the city that just a few years back lost itself to a hurricane—and has since found itself again–that sensuousness is redoubled. 

The best thing is, people talk to runners in New Orleans.  At least they meet your eye.  One guy in particular stands out, in my memory.  I was running down in the French Quarter of a sunny November afternoon.  And here was this guy, swinging out of a pub, beer in one hand.  He caught sight of me, and—instead of ignoring me—addressed me:  

You’re running for me, bud!  

I was a little startled.  Running as a piece of substitutionary atonement for a pub-trawler?  Ok.  Guess I’m glad to oblige.  Sure, ok:  I’m running for you.  At least for now.

It was as close as I’ve ever been to what sounded like a Budweiser commercial.

Makes me think of all the running we’re doing around Trinity’s campus these days.  Not running literally, though that, too.  No, I’m talking about carrying on with the good, long work of teaching and learning, reading and writing, memorizing and mastering. It feels like running, especially at this fatigued part of the semester’s trail.

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 from that cheery guy with that slightly beery, bleary word for me on that afternoon pounding down the streets of New Orleans. 

As you see others pushing hard, there is something else you can say than, 

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.  Your running is a gift to me.  Glad to be alongside you. You’re running for me, bud, and with me, too, thanks be. 

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