I ran through the neighborhood’s brick-paved streets last night, dodging unlit fireflies in the pre-dusk light. I had to pay attention to my body — my injured back and ribs, my inflamed hip and neck, my sensitive left temporal lobe. I had to be so careful. I had to go so slow. The old rhythm I used to know was gone. And I realized, perhaps I’ll never find it again.
I sought my running shoes out of a need for comfort. This broken body is still strong, I needed the world around me to respond somehow. And it did, in a way. I couldn’t find my old pace, my past staccato of breath in and breath out, the thumping footfall keeping time. But I did find the same body, with the same will to push forward. And that was some comfort.
Illness brings change, of course, but it can also bring to the foreground the underlying strength of the body’s will. Which is a separate thing from the mind’s will. I often find myself in bed, in pain, and wanting to just sleep and shut out existence as a whole. But eventually my body begins a separate ache, an ache for movement. Sometimes, when I struggle out of bed and into my shoes, I’m always rewarded with the reminder that the body — the physical self — is a complex system. Pain may sometimes draw my attention and shut me down outwardly, but the system is still functioning, still investing, still creating, still exchanging cells for cells and slowly building a new body. When I remember that, I remember that I am more than an immune system that attacks itself, more than aching and weak joints, more than mistimed electrical-chemical surges in my brain, more than clenched teeth during sleepless nights, more than the fears of the future, more than the loss of the past. I am a runner. And when I’m too broken to lace up my running shoes, I’m still here, moving forward at whatever rhythm my body can find.
As I walked the last mile back to my home, dusk emerged in the shadows of the trees. I felt relaxed and tried not to remember the nine miles I had run last year. I inventoried my back and ribs, my hip, my neck, my brain. I smiled and loosely swung my arms. “We did well,” I said out loud to my body and to the fireflies beginning to flicker their yellow against the blue night.