I’m cleaning up my desktop and trashing some things I’ve written, keeping a sweet little fiction piece based on my grandparents’ relationship because it was fun and silly and although it wasn’t a winning piece to the publisher, it felt like a win for me…stepping into new places, having a light touch with words. This piece was a submission for a “Chicken Soup” book about running, not selected; but, not to be wasted. Oh and for those of you who know the meaning of “The Colors of my Bible”…I gave that three hours this morning and added almost 3000 words. God is not finished with my story.
Hope you enjoy, here’s a piece I called “Freedom Feet”.
Last week it was damp and cold, forty-eight degrees in South Carolina. I watched the wind amongst the pines made shadows of subtle gray. I was taking a day off, a “mental health” day. I layered, one shirt over another, tucked tight into thick leggings. I was creating resistance, a shield from bitter air. I donned the winter cap the color of my hair and noticed how unattractive it was on me, even a tad bit tragic. No matter, the weather app said rain was coming, less than twenty or so minutes away. I told myself to go, must go, you must do the thing that nourishes your soul. I head out to find it is not so bad at all. The neighborhood is quiet, it’s a Tuesday after all and it is cold for Carolina.
I made my way with wisdom in ears, with song, with sparrows and blue jays bursting from barren branches to say to me it seemed, “Come on, come on!” and so I continued. The rain had not begun. I rounded the corner, avoiding the places where the roots decided to burst through the pavement, and I was driven on by the notion of how far I had come considering where I had begun.
The very first time I ran without giving up and giving in, I ran with my stubborn daughter very early in the morning. We were up and out while the others were sleeping. We were determined and intentional. She was merciless. She told me I could not give up. I had to go on. She tracked our time on her phone, yelling at me when I told her I could not go on. So, I ran my first mile next to the ocean on the South Georgia shore. While it was an accomplishment, it was months before I would try again, I was hanging on to the me of before.
The me that ran a punishing path, to erase excess in calculated calories, to keep what I could in control. Running was restitution and justification, a mad method in my life of control. Almost forty years later, I am brave. I am challenged by the chance try again to not tell myself no. I am committed to believing in so many possibilities I never thought could be so.
It is so much more now than a shameful competition with self. It is an at your own pace and in your own way exercise in confidence, surrendering control. A few months ago, I decided to run again. Because it was personal, I sought solitude in my gradual adding of more distance. I was careful to stay hidden in my attempts. I was slow and hoping not to draw attention, my stride would shift from long and safely situated jog to a bounce in my steps, a slight intensity in my go. I ran stretches on the trail obscured from kitchen windows. I worried over my weight, aware of the bulkiness of my gait. I ran as if it was a secret, something I wanted no one to know, because it was just for me, a cherished gift.
I ran in the rain when the day ended without positive resolution and my shoulders were sunken over by the load. I ran to escape, I ran to unravel my day. I threw my hand up in a wave as neighbors passed on their stroll. I kept to the side of the road, my chest out my legs establishing a pattern and pace. I continued. I continued on. I ran with song, I ran with wisdom or I ran with no sound at all. I became captivated by the sky, called it “noticing God”.
I was caught by surprise and a sweet recollection last week.
My daughter, pregnant and weary shared a photo of herself and her dog. They had gone walking down back roads and trails to a creek. She gave credit to her mama in her caption, thanking me for instilling in her the love of walking.
I remember our walks, how they served an important purpose. We’d venture around the long way; the roads were still soft dirt and clay. Every afternoon we’d walk to the place called the “run-around”, a creek that went from the river to my granddaddy’s pond. We walked together, my daughter and I and later her baby brother perched sweetly on my shoulders, his little feet bouncing as we went. My daughter ran slightly ahead to throw dirt clods in the water, and we’d linger to throw a stick in one side and then hurry to see it float out the other. We did this with regularity. It was our thing. My children didn’t realize it was therapeutic, that I was weary and worried and that our walks filled the times of waiting for their father’s unpredictable arrival back home every day. Walking was a way to unravel, seems it has become the same for them, walking or running, finding places to filter worry, make space for good.
My feet have found their rhythm, finally. Walking is my mind’s healing practice. My thoughts have given up their defeatist battle, my determination is winning. Not so long ago, I walked in seclusion, avoiding the cul-de -sacs. I imagined the neighbors’ notice and wondering, what on earth is she thinking, isn’t she way too fat, too old? Now I am at peace with my barely changed body because of my much stronger soul.
The afternoon turned just now and just in time from dismal grey to bright sunshine. The pine branches have changed to a luminous green, and I know if I go now, I’ll beat the sun going down. There will be just enough time. The gravel on the trail is black from two days of rain. In the distance just before the curve I see a couple. The music in my ears is a song about strength, courage and hope, an anchor. I consider chatting then decide to keep it brief, go on. They smile and I pause, notice her bright smile and happy pink sweater. I decide she’s hoping to beckon an early Spring. He smiles in his funny charming way and we all agree how happy we are for the sun. They continue on their way and so do I.
I continue on towards the place my feet, my thoughts and prayers are taking me. It is just up ahead. My walking, a pursuit of the assurance of my soul’s freedom, my body’s ability, and my mind’s peaceful resilience. Walking is medication, it awakens good things in us, changes our entire body chemistry. The world around us is an invitation awaiting our response, an invitation to walk and to continue and to believe. Continue and believe.