Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Trailing Off

I ran a trail marathon this weekend.

This gave me a lot of time alone with my thoughts so I got to thinking (as one does) deep thoughts about meanings and metaphors and how we make sense of things. It struck me what an excellent metaphor trail running is for our lives. 

In order to avoid tripping on a root, slipping on a rock, or twisting ankle on the uneven surface, you are forced to focus only on the ground immediately in front of you. Sure, you have relatively flat areas of gravel or packed dirt where you are able to pick your head about, take in the scenery, appreciate the foliage, the scents, the trickle of water or whistle of a train. But more often than not, especially on the more technical, challenging parts of the trails, you simply cannot afford to focus on anything but roots, rocks, and turns directly in front of you. 

If you knew about the steep grade filled with sharp rocks and slick leaves that lay ahead of you, you may never start moving your feet. You may turn a corner, anticipating a clearing that indicates the end of your journey, only to find a series of nearly vertical, mold-slicked steps. You'll want to scream. Cry. Crumple to the ground in a heap.

If we knew all the details of the horrors ahead of us, it would be hard to imagine any reason to ever get out of bed. To ever try for any bit of joy. When I see planes fall from the sky, babies taken before their first birthdays, violence and anger... it's hard to fathom how we can possibly be expected to carry on, greet life with enthusiasm, believe in joy. Experiencing those moments of sheer terror and pure agony, "Why bother?" seems like a logical reaction. 

Eventually and inevitably, you realize that the only way is forward. One foot in front of the other.

If you're observant, you might notice particular markers- a uniquely shaped boulder... a sharp bend in the path that brings you alongside a creek... a leaning tree that will be a problem if you don't duck your head. Some are more memorable than others- a steep set of stairs in either direction, a particularly slippery slope, a hairpin turn that involves rocks and a sharp leap upwards. The physical sensations help solidify their appearance in your memory.

At times you may will become frustrated with the roots that just keep popping up. Trying to trip you, forcing you to focus and concentrate when all you want to do is zone out and put it in cruise control. You'll curse the roots, then you'll look up at the branches towering above you, bless them for their shelter from the blazing sun, and realize that, like so many things in life (flu shots, algebra, parents) those things that are causing you momentary frustration are actually doing you a whole lot of good too.

When the mud gets really sticky and forms a layer on the bottom of your shoes so that even when you're through the muddy patches, you continue to slide and just can't seem to get your footing because of the slickness on your shoes, it's like when your car needs $1200 worth of work, followed by a vet bill, a tax payment, and a wedding gift for your cousin. Despite the best of intentions and the greatest of hopes, you just can't seem to get ahead.

Until you do.

It may mean stopping and walking. It may mean leaning against a tree while you spew the contents of your stomach into a patch of ivy (too much?), it may mean kicking the freakin rocks that are laying so squarely in your foot path, you know without question they positioned themselves to cause you grief. But once you've spewed and yelled and cursed and walked and maybe even cried, you move on. 

The trails, much like life, are not impressed by temper tantrums. They are not concerned with your convenience or your desires or how completely exhausted you are. They are there and so shall remain. 

Respect the trails. Honor the challenge, admire the beauty, savor the run.