“We live in strange and exciting times,” was a phrase I frequently heard growing up. Although I said it myself, it never really seemed as strange or exciting as I thought it could be. Well, it appears that ‘strange’ has finally met my expectations. Unfortunately, I can’t say that it’s been exciting, but that’s not to say something exciting and positive can’t find its way through it all. The Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020 has tragically ended the lives of too many and sequestered much of the world to a place of isolation, fear, confusion, panic, and often true ugliness. It’s also given many the chance to hit a reset button of sorts. There is a moment to reflect on our lives and the way we do things. In many ways, there’s also an opportunity for us to face the challenge of our times, rise above it and be better human beings to ourselves and each other.
Knowing me, you may find it surprising that I’ve always seen myself as an introvert. These days I suppose you could call me a social introvert. I had childhood friends, yet always preferred playing by myself. I created immensely dramatic stories where the world was on the brink of destruction from an unimaginable darkness. Against all odds, I was the last person who could save humankind and the planet. It was a fanciful time constructing my concept of “good and evil”. It was also a time of building self-confidence. Wanting to truly be the strong hero I imagined in my heart, I looked to a cousin who introduced and inspired me to run. It was perfect. It was something I could do alone. In high school I started running with the track team. It was my first time running with others. I embraced the group camaraderie, yet still preferred the feeling of toeing the line as a sole individual confronting my competition. It somehow brought me back to that time of little Victor against the ‘dark’. Even though I never won a single race, the effort filled a light in my heart that pushed out a real darkness that emerged and eventually pursued me into adulthood.
My college years saw very little running. Bouts of anxiety and depression surrounded me. I went to art school where I followed another passion that allowed me to be alone yet with others. Creating art was in many ways like running a race. It also fulfilled a grand sense of battling the odds, where I was the lone artist trying to expose and embrace the dark with light while saving the world from losing its humanity. It was an overly heady optimism. Sadly, the joke was on little Victor.
I wasn’t going to save the world. I wasn’t going to save anything. I wasn’t even sure I could save myself. Often, I crumbled under the weight of my world, sometimes I held my own. Eventually I started to run again. This time not to compete against others, or intentionally push out the dark. Instead it became my meditation. It was a time for me to listen to my heartbeat and breath. It was a place where my mind would align with my foot-strike on the earth. It was a place where my body felt strength and peace instead of anxiety and depression. It was where I could finally disappear away from the dark, if only for the moment.
Playing with the big kids
Eventually I entered a race, and to my shock and surprise, won. Just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I entered another, and the result stayed consistent. Although shadows still occupied corners of my soul, I had feelings of elation and triumph that I had never experienced, except within that long-ago childhood landscape. I fancied that I had found my ‘place’ of belonging. In that place was also a community who over time, became a tribe which embraced me as much as I did them. The friendships and bonds created allowed me to follow a path that offered up incredible opportunities and adventures.
Then, the world got itself pulled apart and separated by a darkness of incredible depths and multiple fronts. Although blessed with the immediate company of my Mom, Jena and our two pups, Lucy and Max, there are no events to attend, group runs to share, or hugs to embrace. The tribes are splintered… for now. I see the fear and frustrations of folks and their loved ones losing work, their health, and worse: their lives. I’m no different. We move in droves trying to cope by getting outside and relieving our stress. It’s a great idea, except we discover that many don’t know how to ‘be’ outside given the new rules we’re asked to follow. As the situation gets worse in some places, we start to see that many folks don’t know how to ‘be’ anywhere. When we see that, I understand the desperate need to escape, if even for a moment on a trail far away. I understand the need to hold on to your team, your support, your friends. Not everyone finds comfort in the loneliness. Suddenly it’s a place that we’re all asked to be in… for now.
Although, already working from home keeps the days semi-normal, business is anything but usual. Our livelihood shows no immunity to the new economy’s smashing hammer. In reaching for strength, I find routines. I search for and look to the positive in the world. While I try to avoid the negative, it’s impossible to escape and not be affected by it. The darkness in its many shades is always there. I may never vanquish my own, but thankfully I can still discover rays of light in the void. It’s a luxury, like running, that many (at times like these) in dire despair may never find. Some days when my spirit is tested and running seems frivolous and selfish, I lace up my shoes thinking about those less fortunate. I put on my weathered tech hat, grateful for what I have. I adjust the clasp of my fancy and unnecessary gps watch, thankful for life. There are days when I run and call it quits midway. There are stretches of days when I don’t run at all. I assure myself that it’s ok, because there are days, too, when I manage to step out the front door and begin listening to my heartbeat and breath on our two-mile neighborhood loop. It's certainly a long call from 200 miles in the Alps, regardless, I focus on the alignment of my foot-strike to the earth. It’s a place where my body, mind and heart still finds strength to be at peace in the loneliness. In the moment, the reflection I see is of a 6-year-old boy racing, not to save the world, but himself. This time he knows that running isn’t the only path to clear his soul, but it’s a beginning.
When we can once again embrace each other, even if it’s a cautious elbow bump, I will rejoice. When the tribe, as a pack, can run together again, I’ll cheer and smile. You may not see me on a group run, but it doesn’t mean I won’t miss the company. Like a Bigfoot sighting, you might catch me randomly on a road, trail, track or possibly race. I may not stop but will always say ‘Hi’.
I know that many things will change. All, hopefully for the best. Other things will remain the same and that’s understandable. It is a strange time. If we can be open and present, we may yet experience something exciting and positive about it together. Be well, stay strong, and love each other.