The Ecstasy Of Maybe
On running through sliding doors.
One of the great misunderstandings about running, I think, is that it’s your legs that carry you for miles, rather than your thoughts. “Do you not get bored?”, a friend once asked about long runs. Never, I said.
Some people can’t understand casual distance running. And you can try to tell them about the magic of this time, and how it’s never boring unless you allow it to be. You can tell them that for the duration of a run anything seems possible. Quiet contemplations, wild fantasies, shadows of regret, fear or joy. A run can be anything you want it to be.
The best long runs are spent bleeding memories, searching for the ghosts of the people we used to be, or might be still.
You are stitched within the fabric of the world, and yet not entirely of it. You feel the deep intensity of gravity, and the edges of your brain jump. The sweating black light of the sky threads itself into your skin, and you are hurricane-eyed and alive in a way that only movement seems to bring.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
(Mary Oliver, The Summer Day)
Think about them. All those choices. All those fragmented memories which could have led one place or the next. The best or worst decisions you ever made. Moments balanced on a narrow edge. Words you said but never meant. Words you meant but never said.
The distances you traverse are not just of the earth, but the landscapes of your mind, and the ecstasies of maybe.
Running, for me, is about working through all these things. A temporarily suspended reality where you are strung between one place and the next. Not trapped, but free to explore the boundaries, searching the glinting fragments of your memories, like mining diamonds.
To run is to stir a primal desire to dream, to be led by impulse or emotion. It lets you exorcise the things you've never said and probably never will. It’s a place where thoughts rise then fall away, swirling around you, like leaves in the throes of decay.
There are times when you might see yourself, as if looking from above, blazing into a house where a family is laughing, eating dinner, sharing small joys and contentment, and you will burn through all of this, wild-eyed and frantic, turning things upside-down.
We rarely see
warning signs in the air we breathe
right now I feel each and every fragment
(Maximo Park, Books From Boxes)
Because we tell ourselves stories in order to live. They form the basis of who we are or want to be. But most of our stories, maybe the most important ones, are about who we nearly were. These stories give us the energy to keep living.
I listened to a guy in a small island pub recently, regaling anyone who’d listen with his tale. This particular story was about shot-putting, of all things. Natural talent apparently, brief flirtation with the national team, but then…well…drink, too much commitment, couldn’t be bothered with all that…etc.
There’s always a But Then. And these stories exist in small town pubs all over the world. They are well-worn and better tolerated. There’ll be a raised eyebrow or rolled eye from those who’ve heard it time and again, but they realise, even if the storyteller doesn’t, that this story is part of his identity. The potential of what might have been is more vital to him than the reality that never was.
I didn’t want to listen to his story, but I didn’t grudge him it either. It gave him comfort, and a sense of purpose. Even if it was just a story to tell strangers in a pub.
Maybe the best stories don’t end in glory or consummation. For the teller, if not the audience. There’s magic in what you’ll never know, in the tantalising glimpses of a horizon we’ll never reach that gets more beautiful with every setting sun. Maybe we’ll never stop running towards it. Maybe that’s ok.
These are the things that keep us going. Fragments of memory that send seismic ripples through your daily mundanity. They drive us on through the dullness of work, the pain of a run, or the stultifying ordinariness of existence. All you really need is a glimpse of magic that sets your heart and mind alight.
Running lets you dip into other worlds, but you can always come back. It’s a way to indulge quiet dreams and infatuations. And it helps you realise, sometimes, that’s all they will ever be. It helps you realise that when you wake up you have to let go.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
(Mary Oliver, Wild Geese)