I went for a run this morning. It's been my Sunday ritual recently. I like it better than church.
I follow the same route: a path through the nature conservancy near our house. It's wooded and quiet and brimming with birds even though right in town: it's my favorite place. I usually take the dog. She bucks and and bounds at first, burning off all her pent up energy and eventually settling into something of a rhythm. She refuses to match my pace, though, preferring instead to run ahead, stop to sniff something, then race like mad to catch up and pass me again.
The hill always gets her, though.
It gets me, too. I usually walk.
But today I felt good enough to take it at a run. The incline forced me to lean forward, to exaggerate my running form. I told myself I not to look at the top of the hill, not to think about the top of the hill. What hill?
My mind flopped about in my skull in the fractured way I think when I'm running. I inhaled images and exhaled ideas. One thing that popped into my head was something I learned in the running/yoga course I attended a few months back.
The instructor showed us how proper running form involved leaning forward, with the action of the legs behind your torso rather than in front. We did some resistance running to practice (you attach a belt to your waist and another person holds the end of this strong rubber band type thing to create resistance while you move forward). We felt proper form. And the instructor said if you ever forget this feeling, just find a hill. You have no choice but to lean forward when you're running up a hill.
And that got me to thinking (this is what happens when I'm oxygen deprived) -- isn't life like that? You work hard to live well. You practice kindness and patience and tolerance and generosity where you can. But sometimes you forget how to do it. You fall into sloppy habits that end up causing injury. But it seems like it isn't long before you find a hill to remind yourself. Some hard thing that you have to hurdle. And then maybe someone extends a kindness to you. Or maybe you fall into instinctual generosity. But in whatever way it plays out, you find your form again. You breathe however hard you have to. You stop if you need to. But you learn again, in another way, how to live well.
As I ran up the hill today, I stopped once, torso pitched forward, hands braced on my knees. Panting. But then I kept going. I made it to the top. And when I got there, the morning sun was slanting all magical and sideways across the scene. Three sandhill cranes stood there at the crest, crossing the path. They croaked their weird and beautiful calls to each other and walked in their regal way into the tall grass before taking flight. I couldn't look away.
There, at the top of the hill, I was already winded. Quite fully winded.
But then? Watching those cranes lift off? I felt breathless.