Sunday, March 13, 2011

Happy Sabbath: On the Religion of Running

     Today is a Sunday, as it was then. I was jogging through my beautiful, tree-lined old neighborhood near Liberty Park. It was a mild, fragrant spring morning with all the Disney effects: chirping birds, scampering squirrels, daffodils and violets, and a coral-colored glow in the clouds. I had been running for an hour and hadn't seen even one other person. Then, in my peripheral vision, I sensed someone across the street, on the sidewalk, going in the opposite direction. I didn't look over there, but I soon felt that what had gone past had a rather odd silhouette. I came to a full stop in the street and looked back. At the same moment, an elegant deer with a face of pure innocence stopped and looked back at me. (She must have thought that I had an odd silhouette as well.)

   We stood there, looking at each other -- was it one second, five, ten? Thirty?? The whole world seemed to have stopped to accommodate this moment. It wasn't real time; it was magic time, miracle time, a moment of gentle communion that I will never forget. I don't remember what broke the spell, but each of us turned back around and proceeded in our opposite directions. I was suffused with energy and gratitude for the privilege I had just received.
Nice Mormon Lady Commits a Sin: Envy
    On another equally beautiful Sunday-morning jog, an older woman, all dressed up and expertly coiffed, smiled warmly at me as she descended her porch stairs and said, "I wish I were doing what you're doing, instead of going to church."
   "This IS church!" I called out as I dashed past her, gesturing at the wonders of Creation that were all around us. I really do feel that the Good Lord would have forgiven her if she'd slipped into some short-shorts and joined me.
     Jogging is the closest I'll ever get to religion, and they do share many features: awe, gratitude, contemplation, reverence and a feeling of oneness with mankind, nature and the universe.
    They also share the uplifting element of music. The lyrics to my jogging tunes are rarely inspirational -- in fact they're often a bit too profane even for my sensibilities -- but the rhythm, the tempo, the arrangement, the harmonies and the utter thrill of a beautiful, soulful voice or an anguished sax or a freaked-out guitar, provide the fuel that keeps me streaming through the air mile after mile.
    I jog through the decades of my life as I move from one radio station to another, and I know so many lyrics -- along with every lilt, moan, growl and scream -- that I wonder how my brain has room in it for anything else. 
   I have sensed for many years that when you run to music, it becomes a part of your body. Moving to it, pounding through it, breathing it in and exhaling it, being propelled by it and having the emotions it conveys coursing through every part of you, right into your DNA, allows you to own it in a way that I don't think sedentary listening can produce. I can feel it in my blood, shining. I can feel it in my brain, rinsing out the cortical convolutions. The hairs on my arms stand on end, and sometimes (actually, quite often) I cry.
Dancing in the Dark 
   That's just one reason that I began about 15 years ago to leave my house before 5 a.m. and run through the darkness while everyone else, it seemed, was still sleeping. I wanted to be able to cry without embarrassment. I wanted to avoid the crazy commuters and the pollution. I wanted to avoid the sun, and the need to wear sunscreen. I wanted privacy, because it had always seemed to me that jogging was a bodily function that is most comfortably performed without an audience. As I've gotten older, I value the privacy even more, because when I'm running to Pink or Ke$ha, I TOTALLY AM Pink or Ke$ha, and it feels very ravenous and sexy to me, but I hate to imagine what it would look like to anyone else. When I'm running to Mark Anthony or Enrique Iglesias or (especially) Bruno Mars, I am a 15-year-old Latina, in love for the first time, and I'm throwing some salsa moves into my jog -- I know it's crazy, but I can't help it!) and I am feeling so exotic, and my yearning is boundless, and in my bum there's a new J-Lo roundness -- and I am sure I appear so ridiculous that there is no word adequate to describe it.
   So I am very glad it is so dark: I want to be able to feel and embody all the grind and thrash and ecstasy of rock music without appearing to be someone who needs to be escorted forthwith to the loony bin. As long as I'm invisible, I am free to be myself.
   And the darkness itself has a wild beauty to it, even in placid weather, but especially when there are lighting and thunder, microburst winds or gorgeous downfalls of snow. Darkness enriches the pleasure of solitude -- indeed, it makes it more solitary. I am the Night Watchman, patrolling these streets I love so much, making sure that everyone is safe and sound. For those two hours, I am Master of the Universe. And then, I return to reality.