I have a park near my house where I do a 3.5 mile loop most evenings, for almost two years now. I love Daylight Savings allowing me the sunlight to run even after work and volleyball. But sometimes I find myself stalling until 6:30 or so to get started, and then saying things like “oh, you probably shouldn’t go running now. It will be dark soon! You’ll be one of those moron runners in all black that gets hit by a car or attacked by vampire geese.” (I hate geese) And I try to talk myself out of it.
Tonight, I could feel myself getting to that place, but I pulled on my clothes, laced up my sneaks and headed out the door.
When I got to the park, at my usual fork in the road where I go right so I can take the uphill climb first and get it over with, I went left. I just thought, eh, something a little different today. “Two roads diverged…” etc.
I kept jogging along, and it was the weirdest thing. The usual places where I let myself do walking intervals were completely different. I didn’t know the hills and slope of the pavement. I couldn’t anticipate the curves. I had to slow down and really look around me at my surroundings.
The park looked like a brand new place from this angle. The light hit things differently; the colors seemed brighter, the regular walkers I run into had backsides I’d never seen. I caught an old Asian couple I always see walking touching each other’s behinds. The creek looked cleaner, the geese not as menacing. When I came to the pond, I saw a secret meadow I had never seen before, hiding behind the branches of a weeping willow, and an old man fishing in a little nook. I spied an egret stalking the reeds on the edge of the water.
I approached a hook where I normally run against traffic down a nice slope, and I charged up it, racing the cars. I felt the muscles in my quads twitching in new ways as I sprinted down the hills I normally trudge up.
Finally I came back to the first hill. I stared at it. I had never looked at it from the dark side before. Mustard flowers glowed against the shadows, the setting sun highlighted all the mud I would need to sludge through to make it to the top. I was tired and had already done three miles. The hill was so stinking steep, and then I’d have to run down a steeper slope that I knew would make my knees ache. And my shoes would get dirty. It would be hard and I would lose my breath.
I contemplated an easier way back out to the street and home. But I knew if I did that, it would be like cheating. And I would miss the view. And I knew it was there, waiting for me to enjoy it. What to do?
A simple decision had completely changed a run I have probably done 200 times. The normal routine became exciting. Colors were brighter, my music was better, people looked friendlier. I was smiling and smiling and smiling. I had a new perspective, a new attitude about the whole thing.
In my life right now, I am facing a lot of routine. Teaching is routine – emails and meetings and report cards and assessments are like this mountain of boring I don’t want to climb but know I have to. School is routine – writing 50-page reports, doing case studies, more emails and meetings. My personal life is routine – stay home, workout, have a glass of wine, wear sweatpants as much as possible, do church stuff, wonder if I’ll ever get married, watch another Disney movie.
But maybe if I just looked at it differently, it could all be fun and exciting again. Maybe if I just decide it’s different…
if i remember how the students always surprise me, how awesome it is when one of them finally “gets” something they’ve been struggling to understand, or reread all the cute love notes they give me, and think about the great friends I’ve made there…
if i remember that it is a privilege to pursue higher education, that education is something no one can ever take away from me, that it will always help me in life. if i reread the evaluation comments from my advisor and choose to believe she’s right when she says I’m good at this…
if i remember how nice it is to come home and relax by myself, and how I love to serve at church, that Disney movies give me tons of references to connect with my students, that sweatpants are warm and comfy, and that Mr. Right is out there somewhere, he’s just working on being ready to be the right guy for me…
I can dig deep, take a breath, and charge through the mud, head down, up the hill, arms pumping. I can get through the hard work and through the difficult parts to arrive at the top, breathless from the journey, and pause to be breathless at the beautiful view.
I did charge the hill. My shoes did get muddy. My legs burned, my lungs burned, and it felt like it would never end. But then I arrived at the top, breathless as anticipated, heart pounding, a little shaky, but happy.
It was as hard as I thought it would be, but the view, the beauty, the feeling of accomplishment was all worth it. I’ve decided it’s worth it. If it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.