I haven’t felt like running much this last week. Usually I love being alone with my thoughts, but some days you just prefer company. Still, I’ve managed to make it out the door on the strength of the cupcake awaiting me back at home, or on the feeling of satisfaction with which a completed run leaves me. We were up in Pennsylvania this past weekend so I had outdoor runs and new scenery to take in, but I just wasn’t really feeling it.
So I started Tuesday morning’s run feeling pretty unenthusiastic; my main motivator was knowing that I was going to spend all afternoon sitting in a car and eating Chick-Fil-A for dinner. I headed out the door promising myself that four miles would be a piece of cake.
I did a two-mile loop twice (it’s a small town!), and during those four miles my thoughts were filled with memories. What is it about this time of year? The chilly air, the cloudy skies, the brick buildings flanked by brilliant orange trees all reminded me of Elmira, where I went to college. I am rarely ever further north than Philadelphia these days and I miss the northeast a lot. The smell of exhaust as I ran past a truck reminded me of the three weeks I spent in Russia when I was seventeen — three weeks fifteen years ago, and yet the smell still brings me back. I was even brought all the way back to summer camp as the aroma of sausages and maple syrup came wafting out to meet me as I made my way down King Street. I remembered waiting for the bus during late winter afternoons at Academy; my mind sifted through some of the poems we studied while I was there (the world revolves like ancient women/gathering fuel in vacant lots). I remembered Gertrude Stein and the smell of the upstairs classrooms and the experimental hairstyles favored by my friends.
No experimental hairstyles here, but it was graduation so we had to be classy.
And thinking about my friends brought me back to my public school days, where my thoughts have lingered a lot this past week. I found out on Friday morning that a much-loved friend of mine — the guy who took me to the prom, in fact — passed away unexpectedly last week. We hadn’t kept in touch and our lives went different places, but I miss him. He was a good and kind man who leaves a lot of people behind who miss him a lot more than I ever could.
I followed along as my mind traced the now well-worn path it’s followed a lot in the last year. He didn’t deserve this, said my mind. He should have gotten to marry, have a family, live a long life. It’s so unfair.
And then: Why? Why is it unfair?
I have thought about death a lot in the last year and a half, and not in the overemotional dramatic way I did when I was thirteen. My friend is free. My mother is free. Yes, it sucks for those of us left behind — we’re the ones who have to endure these endless days of grief. But I can no longer simply think he should have lived longer. Instead of mourning a life cut short, I want to rejoice. Rejoice that my friend can escape this broken world and experience peace. Rejoice that my mother has been healed. I want to rejoice — but left behind here in this mess, it’s so hard. It’s hard to look past my own sadness to see the very real joy that exists beyond, but I think if I could fully see it, I wouldn’t mourn at all. I’d just be impatient.
I find it hard to express these thoughts in my “real” life, though. I hope that what I’m trying to say here makes sense, because I don’t mean it in a callous way; I’m not saying that death doesn’t matter or that there is no place for grief or mourning, or that life isn’t really worth living in the end. I’m just saying that … this world is not our home. We are pilgrims. And getting to go Home? Well, that just doesn’t sound so bad to me.
It wasn’t a very long run, so my thoughts didn’t have all morning to follow along on that well-worn trail. Sometimes running alone isn’t such a bad thing, but I don’t know — this may be a familiar train of thought, but it isn’t one I want to visit on a regular basis right now. After all, we may be lonely pilgrims, but the world really is filled with beauty, wonder and joy. So instead of these disconsolate thoughts and memories, today I ran with Justin Timberlake and Ellie Goulding. And it wasn’t so bad.