I may have forgotten something. I may have forgotten something and maybe I can’t be blamed for it — see, I’m unemployed for the summer and I’m almost 45 years old and, well, that really messes with a fella’s sense of priorities on a daily basis and, quite honestly, what I’ve forgotten is my sense of self-worth.
And that’s just plain dumb.
There’s no need for it, on the one hand, because I know full well that I’m a good teacher and a half-decent human being and a pretty good father and husband. That’s my sense of self-worth right there. But not making the bread? That doesn’t make me feel good at all.
So I put the proverbial irons in the fire — I’m a smart guy, surely I can figure this one out. I do my research, fill out grant applications, send things around for publication, contact government agencies; I dig deep, creatively, sometimes impulsively but always with my eye on the ball.
Built for pattern recognition and social critique I can feel the hair starting to stand up — the cynical little bastard inside me, armed with all the might and teeth that an excellent Liberal Arts education and nearly three degrees of privilege can muster, is pointing fingers at everything wrong with this world today. Blame, the favoured weapon of the seasoned academic, is about to come out. I’m already subconsciously taking aim…
But that’s just plain dumb.
Instead, I put on my sneakers and head for the woods. Mud, I’ve come to discover, in addition to trees, solitude, and revving up the ‘two-stroke kerchunker’ (thanks Don McKay) is a far better and more enlivening solution than the kind of world-hacking critique I’ve been trained for. And it satisfies the badass in me far better than venting my frustrations in postmodern/ deconstructive harmonies ever will.
I realize that from the outside this may look like therapy — hell, maybe it is — but not if that means laying your issues/ problems/ challenges out on a table for reasoned dissection. As a matter of fact, one of the best things about active endurance athleticism is that is pushes your limits right to the point where… well, where nothing. Where everything stops. Where the talking and whining comes to an end, where it becomes powerfully and viscerally obvious that complaining doesn’t help, and that pain and suffering are actually two different things, that the former may be a given but the latter is a choice.
When I was 12 and it was 1982 and my life was consumed by eluding bullies whose fists and kicks were the nuclear rockets that America and Russia were shaking at each over the ocean and in my nightmares, I ran and biked through the woods of backwater New Brunswick to remind me that I was important and ok in this world. That my life mattered. Like a solid run on sentence, I left all the pauses and questions and full stops that were threatening me behind and high tailed it to the tucks and glens, streams, bogs and old
growth forests of my better self.
I don’t get chased by the bullies so much anymore and the spectre of war on a global scale has taken a backseat to the occasional skirmishes between my 10 and 12 year old kids. It worked though; running to remind me of our significance kept me alive and got me here, kept me from depression or suicide or worse. But to survive isn’t enough – we all know that.
These days I run and ride for the light; how it cuts through trees reflecting off so blue snow, how it turns evergreens orange in early morning, how you can’t ever tell the difference between sun’s rise and set. I run for the light these days because it reminds me to stay… right here. It’s how I negotiate the undeniable absurdity of us; that is, by hearing my heart beat in my ears, feeling my breath on a frozen beard, knowing we are in this
together because you always say ‘yeah man, 8:00? I’ll be there’, running and riding explain in actions unanswerable questions.
These days I don’t so much make my heart pound to reminded that I’m ok, but that we’re ok. Dylan Thomas said that we should “rage, rage against the dying of the light” and for a long time I believed that. But out on the trail, on long runs and powerful rides between the duties of days well lived and the exhalations of champions, I see far more clearly that we should, instead, “praise, praise and rush into the rising of the light.”
I may forget this every now and then — I may forget it, but maybe I’m not to blame and this because simple solutions are often mistaken as being childish instead of childlike. We are physical animals though — wanton creatures given to incredible energies and desirous to use them. Recently I read somewhere the idea that sport developed out of our competitive nature as a replacement for regular engagements in battle and while I have no real evidence of whether this is true in any tangible way or not, I do agree with the Renaissance writer Pico della Mirandolla who believed that we are capable of embodying the kinesis of the gods as easily as we may become as inert as a vegetable or stone. Our nature is in flux — we move — and we struggle. That’s what we do. That’s who we are.
And so I may forget this every now and then, but to be in the outdoors — there’s the rub! My self-worth, each of our senses of why we are here, will not fall from the sky but rises from within. We live mythology. And sometimes I think that we are reading it. Even if sometimes I forget.