This is the truth: I went for a run yesterday. This is the real truth: I should never run again. Someone was telling me this week that eventually, they just got used to what their body couldn’t do.
Here’s another thing: I will never be that person. I am constantly working against my body’s limitations, whether willingly, as a challenge, or out of necessity, because I have to go up six flights of stairs to bring in my saggy grocery bags and cook dinner. I wonder if surrender means defeat or if defeat lies in not ever realizing the moment at which I should surrender. I think most of the time, we abide by the go hard or go home m.o. I've often felt that going home is a better direction than going hard.
When Carol and I were talking tonight about whether or not she should move out of her mom's house, she told me that all her relatives in India think the American idea of independence goes in the opposite direction of self-discovery: stay at home until you find what you love and then leave. Or stay. Either way, no need to run away. For me, maybe, no need to run. I asked her if she liked living at home. She told me when she was in St. Sebastien, one of her favorite places in the world, she missed her mom's big green couch.
Last year, I was recovering from two back-to-back knee surgeries (one to replace bones, one to replace the softer things with longer names) for nine months. I used a lot of bendy straws and was better at The Price is Right than most of its contestants. Some mornings, I would wake up ready for a day of reading and other days, I wouldn’t get out of bed. For those couched months, I waved a little white flag that said I will never move fast again or jump rope or dance. I read a 400-page book in one day. I wrote a lot about what guilt is or might be. I decided I wanted to go back to school for an MFA in Writing. I decided the next day that I was a bad writer and that going to school to learn a right-brain thing was like teaching an albatross how to land.
One afternoon, Pizzo and Paco brought me to Bonnie Brae ice cream and I sprawled out on a pink felt blanket in the park, not really caring if they could play and I couldn’t because I had pralines and cream and a comfortable place to lay and think and rearrange the direction of the grass. I was orbiting in the pink cloudland of soft blankets, waffle cones, and percoset. When I told them I might throw up, they brought me home, and then there I was again: me and the books, the books and me, my broken knee, my burgeoning belly, doubt to the left, more to the right, pain killers that made every inadequacy at once reduced and magnified.
I did my physical therapy religiously, warmed my muscle memory back to its proper level of movement which is hard because muscles, unlike the mind, cannot touch, smell, taste, or see their potential. They only max themselves out and fatigue. The fiber-building comes invisibly. I thought physical therapy was preparing me for strenuous hikes over Alaska’s misty, jagged peaks. Then, last May, the day before I left, I tore my other knee all up. I left Denver under the weight of heavy resentment and self-accusation.
A kind therapist in Alaska showed me how the hip is connected to everything, which is something I’ve always thought anyways because it is from there that everyone hinges in the direction of things they need or away from them. Carol, Teenie, and I have matching tatoos on our hips from a tough time in all our lives that mean "independence" in Hopi and "homecoming" in Celtic. In Sitka, I used these old machines in a closed-down college to get my hips to work independently of my knees. Eventually, once I could make it outside the foggy town, my imagined hikes over mountains (both beautiful and nightmarishly serious, like most things exquisite) became long walks through fern-covered hallways embraced on either side by reddish deadfall, braided streams, and slick, lime-marbled boulders.
In these slightly inclined stretches of land, it is necessary for the best of athletes to go slowly. Some hikes in Sitka are eased by long boardwalk structures that travel thousands of slippery feet up into the mountains (the picture that sometimes appears above is of Luke and my feet side by side on that wood). You can hear everything in there—an unleashed dog, a passing raven, your fear telling you a bear is listening to the same things. Those hikes were corridors for meditation because everything was green and alive and made me rethink the idea of pace, which at most times in my life, I heard referenced as something that always needs to be picked up, not slowed down.
This week, between bone-on-bone pain, and the fact that Luke’s brother has just done to his knee what I’ve done to mine those stupid, stubborn four times, I came across this quote from Pam Houston, a woman who has covered over 3,000 miles of mountain trails: “Rather than climbing to the top of mountains, I preferred to walk around them, to encircle them, the way a river would.”
So I am thinking, maybe it is not possible to change our deep-down desires or limitations, but it is possible that through these limitations, other things alter: what we intend to be mountains become rivers, runs turn to walks, blurred sounds slow to whispers that say:
Did you hear that? Even when you are barely moving, everything else is.