A few weeks ago, I woke up at 5:00 in the morning to go for a run. Yes, you read that right. Five bells. For a run.
I know what you’re thinking. God invented cars so people wouldn’t have to do that sort of thing.
To make matters worse, at 4:59 am, I was having an incredible dream. I don’t remember exactly what it was about, mind you, but it was accompanied by an overwhelming feeling that I could conquer the world. So much so, that my guess is it involved my morphing into some sort of superhero. A pale-white Adonis capable of flight, with biceps the size of a couple of Volkwagen Bugs, legs the size of Greek columns, pecs to rival those of Pamela Anderson, and abs that would make even Jesus himself do a double-take.
Just as I was about to save a hypothetical school bus full of adorable orphans from falling off a rocky cliff, the alarm went off.
Rolling out of the rack, I made my way to the bathroom. Staring back at me from the mirror was a very tired man, still very white. But that was the only thing that stayed the same. Now instead of a super body and super coif, I simply had bad breath, bed head, and mild arthritis.
Cue slap in the face.
I put on my running shoes, hopped in the car, and drove to Edwin Warner Park. And yes, I realize the irony of driving 5 miles to go for a 4 mile run.
I arrived and set up camp at the start of the trail, where I went through my typical stretching routine, which involves a series of awkward bends accompanied by the occasional squeal of pain or crack of bone.
I was looking forward watching the sun come up while jogging among the trees, surrounded by beautiful hills. I had been on this particular trail before, and spotted no less than seven deer out looking for a morning snack. As romantic and idyllic as that sounds, they actually scared the living Tootsie Rolls out of me by springing from the tall grass like a hoard of shoppers at the opening bell of a Black Friday Doorbuster sale at Best Buy.
I inhaled the air, heavy with the smell of dew-covered grass. I felt the cool air on my skin. I listened to the morning music of bird calls. The atmosphere was perfect.
So I ruined it by pressing “shuffle” on my iPod workout playlist – a veritable menagerie of bad 80’s hair band music, some praise and worship tunes, and a smattering of Lynerd Skynerd. This particular mix is my absolute favorite because:
a) anyone stealing my iPod would immediately return it, thinking they had mistakenly stolen the Mix Tape of Loudon Swain from the movie Vision Quest, and
b) true confessions of a 37-year-old dork… this music actually makes me feel faster, stronger, and border-line invincible, much as I did at age 15 when I first heard the chorus of “Kick Start My Heart” by Motley Crue.
First song on the playlist was (and no, I’m not making this up) “Footloose.” I channeled my inner Kevin Bacon and took off like a rocket.
Unfortunately, while the music made me feel faster, the reality is that I did not actually possess the ability to run faster. After 87 seconds, I was wheezing like a chimney sweep. I slowed to my normal pace to avoid cardiac arrest.
The morning was gorgeous, and I drank it in. The first mile flew by like childhood. For mile number two, my thoughts started to wander. That’s how it can be with running. Once you get past the never-ending desire to stop and walk, like normal sane people would do, you can find yourself lost in the moment, focusing on random thoughts, pondering the universe and your place in it.
Look how muddy the trail is this must have been covered by a landslide during the summer flooding the flooding affected so many homes around here I wonder how that guy is doing who we helped it was so amazing how so many random strangers showed up to clear out his house his home was next to those baseball fields just beyond the bridge I wonder if Jake will play baseball signups start this fall and I hear they are free for kids his age but I don’t think he has a glove I need to get new gloves before the winter snow comes I’m getting a bit of a snowy fringe on my temples finally starting to look older than a junior high captain of the math-letes club
And so it goes. I was out among the beauty of nature, but never left my own skull.
After four miles, I arrived right back where I started, only now I was sweatier, smellier, and breathing heavily. The sun was coming up, and the world was lit with a pink hue. Will Smith’s “Getting’ Jiggy Wid It” played in my ear. Fifty yards away from the parking lot I saw a water fountain. I mustered enough energy to jog there, and took my customary seven sips.
(Don’t ask. I can be a bit OCD)
When I stood up again, I saw an older woman approaching about 20 yards away. She had come from the opposite direction that I had, emerging from the hilly trails that start at the edge of the trees. She was walking a dog.
She looked a bit like one of those fast “Mall Walkers” dressed in running gear. In between huffing breaths, I said, “Good morning” in a I-know-I-have-earphones-on-my-head-but-I-will-still-speak-as-if-music-is-blaring-in-your-ears-too voice that was far louder than was appropriate for the hour of the day.
The louder the music, the faster I run.
As I turned back to the fountain for another seven sips, the woman returned the greeting, elaborating. She shuffled past rather quickly.
I lifted my head toward the sky, catching my breath. I reminisced about my run, secretly feeling superior to all those still in bed. I blurted something like, “Yeah. Great morning for a run!” I glanced in her direction, distracted by the sweat ball dripping from my eyebrow.
She hesitated, said something else, and bent over slightly.
I was trying to decide if I should go back to the parking lot, or if I should engage in a bit more awkward bending and work out the kinks. As the woman resumed her fast walk past me I said, “Enjoy the rest of your morning.”
Just as my workout song finished, she was half way to her car. As I put my leg up on the handrail to stretch a bit, she turned back toward me and yelled, “Yeah, I really bit the dust!”
I was a bit confused. Why would she say that in response to my comment about enjoying her morning? Is she a bit nuts?
Then I noticed her leg. She had blood streaming down her shin, from her kneecap to her shoe. Her elbows were scraped up, and she was holding her shoulder. Now I could see that her awkward jog was actually a limp.
“Oh my goodness! Are you OK?” I asked.
Forty yards away, she continued jogging to her car. “I’ll be fine!” she shouted. “I was just running down hill, and my dog got going faster than I could go, and I bit the dust!”
“I have a first aid kit in my glove box!” I called, yet failed to move.
She pulled out her keys. “No. No worries. I don’t live far from here.”
“Are you sure?” I yelled, as she sat down in the driver’s seat.
And then she was gone.
I stood there, replaying the last 60 seconds back in my mind. I had seen the woman approaching, but didn’t really see her. When she returned my “Good Morning”, she was elaborating about her fall. I had heard her, but I didn’t really hear her. I was so wrapped up in my cheeseball music and my own thoughts, that I missed it. In trying to be nice, I was actually being indifferent. I was the guy who asks “How are you doing?” without actually caring about the response.
This woman had given me three chances to notice her. To connect with her. To help her.
And I struck out.
I was left wondering, “How often do I get so wrapped up in my own thoughts, my everyday worries, and my mindless pursuits, that I miss the obvious? The Heaven-sent, meatball, knock-it-out-of-the-park opportunity to be Jesus for someone else?
I wonder what percentage of my day I spend living in my own head? Camped out on a La-Z-Boy between my ears?
Whatever it is, it’s far too much.
I go to the gym in the morning and immediately “plug in.” I go there four to five times a week. There are hundreds of people there, and I talk to a grand total of…
And don’t even get me started on the cell phone. The instant that thing hits my ear, I am immediately enveloped in an imaginary plastic bubble. Nothing gets to me. I notice nothing. Hear nothing. The cashier becomes a robot. The other shoppers might as well be Cabbage Patch Dolls. I am oblivious.
But the worst of all has to be my own inner world. The voices in my head that wonder if I remembered to turn off the iron, if I’ve spent enough time with my kids, if I’ve done enough to show my genuine concern for others…
all while someone I care about is talking directly to me.
Today I’m praying. Praying that I can turn off the music. Turn off the thoughts. Get off the La-Z-Boy. And notice. The world doesn’t need another superhero. It just needs us to be regular folks, living in the present. Living with each other. Listening. Hearing. Seeing.