THOUGHTS OF A ROADS SCHOLAR - JUNE 2002
I'll have to admit, for much of the current
year, I have not been very well grounded, and things aren't likely to change any time
soon. I have found myself up in the air about almost everything much more than
usual, and I place the blame squarely on three primary culprits. They are Delta,
American, and USAirways. Through it all, I am finding it quite difficult to remain
anchored with my feet planted firmly on the ground when I constantly find myself either
cruising at 30000 feet, or landing at final destinations, which are strange and
unfamiliar. I have become, in the most literal sense of the word, flighty. No
wonder my head's so often in the clouds.
In almost all ways, I am a man of routine. I have a hunch that most runners are, as running requires a lot of it. On a daily basis, I am most at peace with the simplicities of life. My desire is to wake up in my own bed before the sun comes up, run on my own roads before work, watch Jeopardy while snuggling with my wife in the evening after dinner, and then tucking myself in bed by 9:30, eager to follow the same predictable schedule the next day. On weekends, I like to start my Saturdays with a race, and then run down by the Chattahoochee River on Sundays. Routine is not such a bad thing, and the routine of home is the finest routine I know. I have devout fondness for home, and my running seems to like it too.
When I'm at home, I know I can wake up at 5 in the morning, and the roads I run are a footstrike away, just past the end of my driveway. As I gently step over the dew-drenched newspaper, I can go as far as my legs and my imagination are willing to take me, and I have the comfort of knowing that the finish line will always take me back home. I don't require such trivial things as house falling on a wicked witch or a yellow brick road, or a pair of ruby red slippers to know my biggest happiness is found right in my own back yard.
The last couple of weeks, my travels have returned me to places of my past, as I have returned to Wilmington, Delaware and Pittsburgh, PA. I used to live in both cities, and in fact, I was born in Wilmington. At one time or another, I called both places home, but neither trip was a return to any place even remotely similar. The physical structures where I once lived might still be standing, but the comfort of my routine was left behind in Atlanta.
A house is merely a structure, cold and stoic. But the warmth and the familiarity of home IS structure, in its most pure and simple form. So two weeks ago, when I was in Wilmington, I went searching, not for a house, but for home. I found it, but not in the residence where I was born. Instead, I found it in a 2 ½ mile loop down by the Delaware River, where I found home for about an hour each morning on my run, before going to work. As I traversed the roads that ran along the river and through Brandywine Park, the structure of home appeared. Within the run, I was home, and it made the rest of the day more than just a little bit better.
This week in Pittsburgh, I once again found routine, this time along the Golden Triangle. I never did make it back to the physical structure in which I once lived, but there was really no need to. Every morning, I made a date to find my way back home by the waters of my three friends: the Monongahela, the Allegheny and the Ohio. As I negotiated the Eliza Furnace Trail each morning, I simply enjoyed the warmth, and the structure. Despite what the rest of the day would bring, for that magical time, I found home away from home.
As I write this, I am once again at 30,000 feet, heading back home to Atlanta. That's home in every sense of the word. My wife awaits me there, as well as my friends and my routine. Tomorrow morning, I'll step across the morning paper, still covered with morning dew, and lose myself somewhere just beyond my driveway. An hour later, I'll finish right where I started. Home. How can it get any better than that?
But even at this high altitude, I feel a little more grounded than I did even two weeks ago. I'm content in the knowledge that I can pack a little bit of home in my suitcase before I leave again on Sunday afternoon to return to Pittsburgh for another week. Home will be packed in the form of a pair of running shoes, shorts, Thor-Lo's and singlets. There is no place like home, wherever you can find it.
It's been a while since I've written anything worth reading, and of recent times, that fact has been gnawing at my inner soul. Over the years, every time I complete an article, I wonder where the next profound running thought is going to come from. There is only so much that can be written about running before it's all been said. How many times can you put one foot in front of the other for an hour a day, week in and week out, before you run out of profound insights and inspirations to write about?
But somehow, month after month, year after year, the answer is always found somewhere deep in the inner dimensions of the run. While the rest of my day is occupied with everything else, the run is the recreation of the body, the regeneration of the soul, and the creation of the next thought, which ultimately ends up as the next essay.
The last few months, I've had this sickening feeling that maybe there is nothing left to say. My inkwell started running dry in early March, when I became so consumed with, and controlled by work issues that I stopped running all together. I couldn't even entertain the thought of a run. When perspiration is not a part of the beginning of my day, there is no inspiration to follow. No run meant no writing.
March and April were drought months for me. I rarely ran, and I didn't write at all. After a couple of months, things slowly started to sort themselves out at work, and I started to gradually get back in to running. For a while, I was forcing myself to get out only because for the last 20 years, I have been a runner. But something within the runs felt a little bit phony, and the writing did not tag along close behind. The former excitement and anticipation of the next run was gone, but at least I was starting to get out again. Taking the "cup is half full" approach, I told myself that even just going through the motions still keeps one moving forward.
It took a couple more months before runs were again delightful, and during that time, there was still nothing to write about. So I remained silent, just waiting for that next unique thought to connect during the run, and wondering if I would ever write again. But finally, the thrill started to come back, and the reunion of body and soul started to return.
The name I write under is really the confluence of two different personas. The Roads Scholar is an equal mixture of one part runner, and one part writer. If there is no perspiration, there is no inspiration, and the creative well runs dry. If either element is missing, there is no Roads Scholar. That's why you haven't seen him lately.
But this morning's run took care of that, and it happened because, before the run, I did something I hadn't done in a long time. I reminded myself to be open once more to running's parables. Running used to teach me something new almost daily, because I was receptive, and willing to be a roads scholar. The student was once again ready for the teacher to appear. Somewhere in the mayhem of earlier this year, I forgot how to run that way. This morning, I reminded myself to remember.
As I ran down the Eliza Furnace Trail, which runs along The Golden Triangle of Pittsburgh's Three Rivers, where the Monongahela and Allegheny meet to form the Ohio, I realized that The Roads Scholar needs to run and write, just as the Ohio needs the Monongahela and the Allegheny. In both instances, the confluence of two from to create the one. That was the message embedded within this morning's 70 minutes of ecstasy.
I know in my heart that I am back to writing, and the return of the reemergence of the and of the body and soul, and subsequently, runner and writer, is complete. I'm already looking forward to tomorrow's early run, because I know there is another inspiration to be plucked from thin air, another moral to seek, and another essay to write. The Roads Scholar has returned. Confluence at its best.
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