Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dear Philadelphia, I'm sorry...

Dear Philadelphia,

I write to you this evening with the knowledge that this letter is long overdue. For it seems, as though the old adage is true, that we hurt the ones we love the most. So it is with a dash of shame, and great humility that I send these words to you. And while these words are not intended to serve as a series of excuses for my behavior, they are merely a declaration of ownership to the many offenses I have perpetrated over the course of the past few years. In short, this is my apology for my trespasses.


My trespasses as a runner.


The paragraphs to come will spell out the nature of my actions, and though I know that words are the least sincere forms of an apology, it is my sincere hope that this at least a good start.


I would like to take this time to apologize to the pedestrians that walk your streets, for it is these individuals on whom my greatest harm is inflicted. To the ladies walking down Walnut street, it was I that ran by and brushed against your large shopping bags of expensive clothing. Please extend this to whomever you were talking to on your cell phone instead of watching where you were going. To the foursomes strolling around town, I am very sorry that I have interrupted what I can only imagine is some kind of attempt to recreate the Wizard of Oz, the way you walk shoulder to shoulder occupying the entire width of the sidewalk in the process. To the couples enjoying the fine outdoor dining of our fair City's restaurants, I apologize for the drops of sweat I add to each of your dishes, I know now it was the ambiance/notoriety that you overpaid for, not my DNA. And to the tourists I've photobombed, the young children I've cursed in front of, and car valets I've startled, I ask for your pardon.


But despite the grave offenses I have committed upon the population of your City, I can't lie and say my treachery ends there, for there are many other things to admit to as well.


To the sidewalks, I take responsibility for my part in preventing you from staying clean. For all the GU packets that have slipped from my fingers leaving an odd goopy stain, and the smell of lemon lime. For the drops of sweat and blocks of spit that have landed on your historic pavement, I feel tremendous guilt and embarrassment for taking away from the experience of the tourists that walk the streets of Chinatown.


To the City's philanthropic community, I ask for your forgiveness for my curt dismissal of all of your various requests for spare change, and petition signatures. What an inconsiderate bastard I am for not stocking my running shorts with handfuls of change and fountain pens before leaving the house.


To the corner of 23rd and Lombard, I am sorry for the smell... you know the one I am talking about.


To the parking meter on Chestnut street, it was I who ran right into you and then so rudely tried to play it off as though it wasn't me.


To the baristas in Starbucks across Center City, I owe you a heartfelt amends for all those times I entered your establishment, and asked for water. It was clear from your reaction, the eye rolls and deep sighs, that the process of filling a cup with ice and turning on a faucet took an outrageous amount of energy and effort, one that I'm sure took hours or days to recover from.


To my fellow runners, you know who you are, I apologize for judging you. Who am I to say whether your spandex should go underneath or on top of your running shorts.


To cab drivers, I was so inconsiderate all those times I was crossing the street, I can only imagine how tedious it must be to clean blood and hair out of your dented fender. You were right to scream and yell at me in the middle of all those crosswalks, as I see now what damage my lifeless body would have on your paint job.


But I've saved the most important apology for last.


My apology to the City I love.


So this one is to you, to Philadelphia, I am sorry that I love you.


I'm sorry that I love the way you are so flat. I'm sorry that I love the way your citizens look at me like I am crazy when I am running in a snowstorm, or 90 degree heat. I'm sorry that I love the way Independence Hall looks at sunset. I'm sorry that I love the parts of you that not many people know about, your hidden hills and small alleyways. I'm sorry that I love the way you can race a Septa bus clear across town, and feel the rumble of the subway below your feet. I'm sorry that I love the obstacle course of your sidewalks, the trash days and christmas trees that keep you on your toes. I'm sorry that I love your parks, your fountains, your statues, and your murals. I'm sorry that I love the way that you always catch a green light on Broad Street when you want a break, and a red light when you don't. I'm sorry that I love your ever changing aroma, from the rotting fish in Chinatown, to the steam from your sewers in Fitler Square, from the body order in Rittenhouse to the horse urine in Olde City. I'm sorry that I love your quirky nature, the loud mouths on South Street buying cheesesteaks and the quiet artsy types that line the grass in University City. I'm sorry that I love running through City Hall at night, and the way the red and green traffic lights of Market Street lining out into the distance never gets old. I'm sorry that I love the history, the real life landmarks of the birth of our nation, and the fictional birth of hero who ran up the Art Museum steps. I'm sorry that I love words you mean as insults of our sports fans that we take as compliments. I'm sorry that I love your marathon, your distance run, and your Broad Street. I'm sorry that I love the smell of leaves on Kelly Drive as those first cool breezes of fall come sweeping off the river. I'm sorry that I love your underdogs, your favorites and everyone in between.


And I'm sorry that I love you so much, that I will probably have to write another one of these next year, to apologize after another twelve months of running.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Lesson from the Kitchen Table

So I don't know about how it went down in your house. But in mine, when it came time to sit down to eat dinner, if you didn't like what was being served you weren't given a lot of options. So for all those nights that I threw a tantrum cause we only had hamburger buns for our hotdogs, or there was some combination of meat, cheese, and pineapple, the conversation that would follow a pretty uniform path.

Depending on the mood of my mother I would be given one of two options, the first would be to make myself bread and butter. The second option would be given far more succinctly, as the words "Run for your life" would bellow out of her mouth, alerting you that you had a precious few seconds to escape.

But these were the latter stages of the debate. A debate that would begin, in the earlier rounds, with my mother or father's insistence that I at least try the food to see if I liked it. Usually at this point, I would counter the argument with some kind of articulate wailing, or defiant statement that I didn't need to try it, because I already knew I didn't like it.

Now, I will admit, with some twenty years of hindsight, there is a possibility, albeit a small possibility, that I was being a tad stubborn in these moments (But I mean, come on, who eats a hot dog on a hamburger bun, what are we savages?).

But looking back on it, I'm sure there were at least a couple of occasions where my parents suggestion to try something new worked out.... though I can't think of any right now.

That being said, below is a list of things that I never thought I would like...

I never thought I would like short shorts.

I never thought I would like GU... okay, maybe substitute 'like' for 'tolerate'.

I never thought I would have more fun cheering on a race than running one.

I never thought I would set an alarm at 4:45am.

I never thought I wouldn't turn it off.

I never thought I would like boxer briefs.

I never thought I'd tell any of you any of this.

I never thought I would stop stealing music.

I never thought I would read books like this (that one is for you Dad).

I never thought I would listen while you talked.

I never thought I would care if my socks matched my shoes. 

I never thought I'd finish, and I never thought I would sign up again.

I never thought I would like me... (most days).

I never thought I would run into a parking meter.

I never thought I'd let you talk me into the long over the shorter.

I never thought my feet would look this ugly.

I never thought I would drink coffee.

I never thought I could sit still.

I never thought I would be more embarrassed by what I didn't say than what I did.

I never thought I'd say "I'm getting too old for this shit".

I never thought I'd get too old for this shit.

I never thought I'd stop climbing trees.

I never thought I would have to explain to someone what a 'Blockbuster' was.

I never thought I'd like long car rides.

I never thought I would care more about what I care about, than what you want me to care about.

I never thought I would like going to bed before ten.

I never thought I would drive to a track.

I never though I would like your parents.

I never thought I would

I never thought I'd use the words "Closet Space".

And lastly...

I never thought I'd like making a list of things I never thought of.





Monday, August 20, 2012

A Kiwi, a Sherpa and the Top of the World



"The Death Zone"

It's a name that conjures up memories of bad Jean Claude Van Damme movies. One that you hear uttered after a series of 'booms', in a deep voice at the end of a movie preview, shortly before you lean to the person next to you and say "That looks terrible". But, as it turns out, "The Death Zone" is actually not a phrase authored by D-list screen writers, but by scientists. Where the hyperbole quickly evaporates, when you learn the various reasons for it's name.

The Death Zone, is a phrase used to refer to the higher regions of Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain. It's imaginary boundary begins at 26,000 feet above sea level, and continues up until the summit. It's dangers range from frostbite from incredibly low temperatures, to high winds, to significantly low atmospheric pressure, with air so thin that the average breath takes in little more than a third of the oxygen one does at sea level. All of which combine to create an overwhelmingly debilitating environment, one so challenging that it takes the average climber 12 hours to walk the 1.07 miles from the Death Zone to the summit.

But despite this, despite the estimated 219 fatalities of hopeful Everest climbers, the popularity of of this challenge has grown steadily over the years. So much so, that China, and Nepal, who share jurisdiction over the mountain, have put in place laws restricting not only who, but how many are allowed to try and make the trek.

And though that may seem crazy to some of us, the risk involved in such an undertaking, it seems as though this obsession to top the world's highest point can be traced all the way back to the moment it became the world's highest point, back in 1852.

It seems from the moment British officially announced that "Peak XV" or what would come to be named Mount Everest, was in fact the tallest point on the planet, the gun sounded in the race to climb it.

The first serious endeavors to reach the top began in the early 1920's. Primarily led by British expeditions, climbers attempted to find possible paths to the summit. Though unsuccessful and at times deadly, each approach added a bit more valuable knowledge to those that would follow, including two such climbers who would meet some twenty years later.

------------------------------------------

It was about as unlikely a pair as you could have imagined, and with names to match.

To say that Edmund Hillary had led an eventful life up until 1953, when he arrived in the Himalayas, would be a drastic understatement.

Hillary was born in 1919, in Auckland, New Zealand. He excelled in school, graduating two years earlier than the rest of his classmates. He studied science and mathematics at the University of Auckland. And it was during these years that Hillary began climbing. He learned quickly that he was a gifted climber after taking several trips and reaching the tops of several large mountains at this young age. It was also during these years that his propensity for danger filled habits propelled him to take up bee keeping.

At the outbreak of World War II, after the fighting spread to the Pacific, he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force, serving as a navigator. He fought bravely for a number of years until in 1945, he was badly burned in an accident and sent home to New Zealand.

After the war, Hillary was included in several expeditions, including the successful summit of Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain. And after being a part of a British reconnaissance trip to Everest was asked to join the contingent in 1953 that would shoot for the top.

In contrast, Tenzing Norgay, had led quite a different life up until the moment he met, Edmund Hillary.

Norgay, was born in Tengboche, Khumbu, in northeastern Nepal. It is not known when he was born, as at that point in history, Sherpas (the ethnic group he belonged to), did not use a western style calender.

He was the eleventh child born to his parents, and only one of two to survive. He ran away from home twice as a teenager, drifting through out Nepal and India. He bounced around, at one point entertaining the idea of becoming a monk, before deciding against it.

Eventually he settled in a Sherpa community, and was hired as part of early Everest expeditions in the 1930's after several other older candidates could not pass their physicals. He quickly became a favorite of Eric Shipton, the expeditions leader, who instantly liked Norgay's engaging smile and personality.

Over the next two decades he would gain a vast amount of his experience around Everest and other significant mountains. In 1952, he was hired by several Swiss explorers, where he was part of the highest climb on record at that time. Unfortunately this particular attempt was stalled by a rash of bad weather that halted their advance, forcing them to return back down to base.

It was the following year, along this same route that the ill-fated Swiss expedition had unearthed, where Norgay first met Hillary, both as part of a British expedition to reach the top.

A friendship that was born straight out of the movies, when Hillary took a wrong step into a hidden crevasse, it was Norgay's quick action tying off Hillary's safety rope to his pick axe that saved the New Zealander's life. It was after that incident that led Hillary to consider Norgay to be his preferred climbing partner.

And so it was, that on May 28th, 1953, after the initially selected climbers had to turn back after oxygen tank malfunctions, that this unlikely pair was tapped to make their attempt to summit the world's tallest mountain.

They set off up the Southern face of Everest with several supporting crew members, setting up at 27,900 ft, where they would rest for a few days. Their support crew returned back down to base camp, while Norgay and Hillary suited up for the final push to the top. They reached what has collectively be called the "Hillary Step", a forty foot rock face, which they were able to surmount leaving little between them and the summit.

They reached the top of Everest at 11:30am on May 29th, 1953. They spent roughly fifteen minutes at the peak. And true to form, in their differences, they chose contrasting ways to mark the occasion. Hillary left a cross in the snow, while Norgay chose to bury a few chocolates in what he referred to as "an offering".

Hillary then took this picture of Norgay, there is no photo of Hillary as Norgay did not know how to use a camera.





File:TenzingonSummit.jpg



Now, normally this is where I would jump in with a quick paragraph or two, attempting in some way to quantify or translate this story into some form of useful inspiration for the rest of us.

But some stories don't need that.

But in case that's not enough for you, in case this story, and why I like it so much didn't connect with you, maybe the way it ends might.

Cause you see, upon descending back down the mountain, Norgay and Hillary were thrust into a press whirlwind, having become worldwide celebrities overnight. The media wanted to know all about their heroic climb as the first men to reach the top of Mt. Everest. But it seems, that wasn't quite enough for the reporters, who demanded to know which of the two men had reached the top first.

The question was asked over and over again, until Hillary finally stated that the two of them had stepped atop the mountain and the world, at the exact same time.

Now, in truth, this was a lie. It was a lie that stood for many years, until Norgay himself wrote a book where he stated that it was, in fact, Hillary that took that first step onto the summit.

But, I don't know, I'd like to think that Hillary wasn't lying. I'd like to think that Hillary was merely making a statement that the final step, even a step onto the top of the world, is still not as important as the many steps that led you there.

It's one of the many reasons I like this story. One out of the many reasons that I don't think require explanation.

Cause as I said before...

Some stories stand by themselves, or in this case, at the top of the world.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Finding a Home

Really, it's all my sister's fault.

It was my birthday, my 25th birthday. My immediate family and I were seated around my parent's kitchen table. Knives and forks lay across icing smeared plates, with my father lightly fanning himself attempting to avoid the mid June heat that has taunted him for the past fifty some years. There was a small stack of packages in empty chair beside me, it's contents, though, I can't remember at this time.

I do recall, opening a couple, and thanking whomever had given it to me, when I picked it up, a small, light, loosely wrapped gift.

"That one is from me."

My sister's soft voice coming from the other side of the table.

For a second I wonder what the contents might be, allowing myself the memory of the joke gift giving war that I had incited a few years earlier by buying her a door knocker, and corn cob pipe for Christmas.

My finger slipped underneath a small opening between the scotch tape, slitting it open as it went. I note the soft cotton underneath my touch, before removing it's contents. The dark navy blue t-shirt comes into view, and I instantly like the feel of the material. I flip the shirt over and examine the lettering on the front.

"Back on My Feet?"

I ask, after reading the four words positioned after what appears to be an oddly shaped foot.

"Yeah, apparently it's a running program for homeless men."

My sister replies, weaving together a quick story of a woman with blonde hair who came to visit her at the shelter where she was the in house social worker, attempting to build a partnership between the two.

The following day I found myself staring at a computer screen, typing in a google search, leading me to Back on My Feet's website. I poured over the various pages, reading a little bit more about their mission statement, and taking in more than a few pictures of smiling faces with the hint of bags under their eyes. And just like that I was sold, sold until my eyes caught sight of something and I did a double take.

'5:30am?'

"This team meets at 5:30... in the morning?"

Quickly the mouse darts from link to link, hoping to find a team that meets after the sun has risen. I lean back in my chair, having found nothing later than 5:40.

But over the next few months, I retain some kind of connection to the organization, through website visits, or in the shape of a medium, navy blue cotton t-shirt. And then one day in January, for no particularly pressing reason, I sent in an e-mail asking about how to sign up to be a volunteer.

A week and a half later an alarm sent a quick jolt through my sleeping body. I bounce quickly out of bed, my eyes wide open, glancing around the dark moonlit room. I come to the conclusion that by waking up so early, I have somehow tricked my body out of being tired, as though it was denial that I wasn't about to slip back into bed any second.

The drive over to Fishtown had an eery feel to it, the moon was extremely bright, and the usual highways that serve as backdrops to regular traffic jams were all but empty at this early morning hour. I take the exit designated by Google maps, and quickly realize that these directions will no longer be helpful, as one way signs begin to pop up, and anonymous cross street after anonymous cross street pass by my windshield.

But somehow I manage to park, and reach the meeting point at the center of small chained off parking lot set the shadow of of the First Baptist Church of Kensington, that reminds me that I'm not in Kansas anymore. I'm late and am thrown into the run with little more than a wave, and finger pointing in which direction to continue.

Two miles, three introductions and countless white breaths into the frigid January air, and we are back in the parking lot. I stand awkwardly for the next few minutes, attempting in some way to interject myself in several conversations, all the while repeating the promise I made to myself on the way down, that no matter what, I wouldn't leave until everyone else had gone.

So I did, and ten minutes later I was back inside my car, driving home certain of a few things, that I was going to be very tired for the rest of the day, that I had been incredibly awkward, and that I better buy warmer pants, cause I'd be back in two days.

And that was it.

That was the story of how I started as a volunteer with Back on My Feet some two and a half years ago. An altogether unremarkable story, but a pretty important one, because despite it's lack of intrigue, as a first chapter, it serves a much greater purpose, to allow for a second chapter.

But that would be a rather long book. It would be rather long if I were to somehow try and quantify or explain the tale of these past two and a half years. The ups, and downs, the times I felt so uncomfortably out of place, the way you feel as you watch snow fall on a beach, and the other times I felt truly at home even in places I never thought I'd be.

But then again, it's not exactly an easy story to tell. Not so much for the actual nature of what happened, but in the difficulty of actually explaining how it happened.

Cause you see, above all else, it would be a story about change. A story not about how I changed the lives of the men and women I've met, but rather the story of how they have changed me.

A change that occurred so slowly that it was almost impossible to see at the time. Change that happened with each toe and finger tip that went numb, each hug that left a little bit of extra sweat on your back and each time you let out a low expletive at the sound of your alarm close. Change that happened as you witnessed moments of triumph and tragedy. Change that happened the first time that you noticed that the program you volunteered to help, had helped you more than anything else.

And, most of all, change that happened when you realized that "home" isn't the place you sleep, or pay rent.

And if you don't know what I'm talking about...

http://philadelphia.backonmyfeet.org/Get-Involved.html







Monday, August 13, 2012

PLAGIARIZED!

This past school year, as a favor to another teacher, I spent a few periods out of the week helping a Junior who was, how shall we say, having some academic difficulties. At the end of each day in a study hallesque class we would sit and attempt to wrap our arms around the work he owed, and the work that he soon would. A game of poker would ensue, and we would take turns calling the others bluff, he that I had spoken to his math teacher, and I that he had actually completed his math homework at home the night before.

But somewhere amongst the various Latin translations, and trips to retrieve him when he would get lost in the cafeteria on his way to the bathroom, he and I developed an odd sort of honesty. Somewhere after the first month or two of this exercise we lost the need to lie to one another. I stopped lying to him about the very real possibility that he would fail multiple classes, and he stopped lying to me that he would actually finish any of this work at home, or in the various detentions he was due to serve.

And from there we were able to build some semblance of a working relationship.

Now before any of you start thinking that this story is going all Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting on you, I feel as though I should fast forward to our last few weeks of school.

You see, to be frank, I had been asked to help out this student because he was in very real jeopardy of failing multiple classes. And when I say, he was in real jeopardy, I mean that my man was rocking "23%"s. So needless to say, there came a point with a few weeks remaining in the school year that the need to get work done, trumped the need to get work done well. And with the vast majority of our time being spent working on a massive research paper for his English course, there wasn't much left for the other subjects. We would spend the majority of our classes looking up sources, or collecting information, except for the odd days where we would attempt to throw together a quick catch-up day and complete assignments for his other subjects.

And it was one such day, that I became the student, and he the teacher.

"What about this history assignment?"

"Shit, I didn't do that."

"Okay, well you need to."

"Don't worry Dan, I got this."

(Yeah, he called me Dan.)

At this point, he turned to the computer and began to copy and paste together a five paragraph paper, as quickly and deftly as a child prodigy playing the piano. He would highlight and paste, then just as quickly adjust the font, the size print, and any other inconsistency within the paragraph. His fingers worked across that keyboard and mouse in masterful strokes, even adding oddly worded sentences to disrupt the flow of the writing.

He turned back to me once, apparently noting my interested gaze, and decided to invite me into his craft.

"You see, I just go through and any word I don't know and I change it to one I do."

His tone and words chosen in such a matter of fact way, catching me off guard, in the same way you would imagine a magician stopping in the middle of a trick and explaining to you how he was making his assistant disappear, I didn't want to know, but couldn't look away.

And just like that, he was done.

So was his history paper.

Now, I know what you are thinking, you are thinking, "Wait, did you seriously let him turn that in?"

And the answer, is abso-fucking-lutely.

Because, while this is a rather ethically gray area, the truth is, in that room, with this particular student, the victory has little to do with the finished product, as much as it does with the fact that he made an attempt to come to a finished product at all.

The victory, wasn't in the actual grade, but the fact that he cared about a grade at all. And though I don't know if he took my advice when I encouraged to go back and re-write it, and I can't tell you what he grade he received on the history assignment, I can tell you what the smile on his face looked like when he pulled out that English research paper with the worlds most triumphant "C-" written on it.

But when you think about it, is plagiarism really that wrong?

Okay, yes, in this case it is. In this case, the assignment was to research the historical inaccuracies in Mel Gibson's "The Patriot", and upon further review, though I hate to burst anyones bubble, it seems as though Mel didn't win the Revolutionary War all by himself. But naturally, copying and pasting doesn't exactly meet the objective of learning about America's quest for independence.

But what about in other avenues of life?

What about in this world we as runners live in, in this day to day fight to find some kind of inspiration to fuel our pursuit of greatness, however we choose to define it.

Maybe it took writing a blog like this, to gain an alternate appreciation for plagiarism.

Cause, you know what? I can't claim to own any of this knowledge or attempted insight. That anything I've been able to write about here isn't born out of my own brain, as much as it born out of the collective conscious of the people who have influenced it. It's stolen piece by piece, bit by bit from the people who teach and inspire me. From great civil rights leaders, and nine year old autistic boys to twenty seven year old popsicle enthusiasts, and last place East African swimmers. The faces and names I see every day, and the ones I've never met or spoken to, and all those in between.

But I'm proud of that.

I'm proud of that fact that, though they are my own words, I don't actually own any of the ideas that we talk about on this blog. And that if I can remember that I don't know everything, that there is still room for me to learn something.

Cause if you have taught me anything, anything that is worth plagiarizing, it's this...

That the knowledge is more important to pass on, than it is to keep...

(Even if you have to copy and paste)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Happy Endings

It had the hallmarks of everything you would want in a Fairy Tale. It had the grand setting, center stage at the London Olympics underneath the lights, flashing bulbs, and watchful eyes. It had the storybook character, the wholesome ingenue with movie star good looks. And it had the perfectly written script, with each step and word leading to this final moment, and those three words we've heard so many times before.

Happily ever after.

The story in this sense, began many years ago. A story that causes your head to shake from cliche, until you find that it's true.

The story of a daughter, one of six, who's childhood was cut short like so many others that you hear about in story books. Her parents separated, her father sent to prison. At a young age working two jobs to help support the family that would eventually find themselves living out of a church basement. A life that look destined for continued hardship and sadness, when, like so many other fairy tales, came an intervention.

An intervention in the form of two Iowa residents, who saw the potential that lay inside Lori Jones.

And just like that, her destiny changed.

So after excelling in the classroom and on the track, she enrolled in Louisiana State University. And over the next four years at LSU, after winning multiple NCAA championships, Lori Jones, that anonymous girl from middle of nowhere Iowa, became Lolo Jones, the sweetheart of a country.

Lolo Jones arrived in Beijing, China, as the heavy favorite to win the women's 100m hurdles, a speciality that she had honed after graduating from LSU. She cruised through the qualifying heats, and looked poised to take the gold as she locked her spikes into the starting blocks. Everything was going as planned, until the heel of her left shoe struck the top of the ninth hurdle, disrupting her rhythm and vaulting her out of her first place position. She managed to get herself over the final hurdle and across the finish line in a disappointing 7th place. Lasting images of a pain faced Jones straining along those final strides, followed by tear filled eyes, and fists pounding the rubber track repeated on television broadcasts around the world.

The years that followed a path you would come to expect from Hollywood scripts. She fought hard against the memory of that day in China, but vowed to return four years later for another try in London. She trained, and competed on the professional track circuit, regaining her former championship form. And after qualifying to represent the U.S. team in London, she once again found herself at the center of a countries gaze.

The script remained true to form, and there she was standing at the start of the 100m hurdle finals. The planets and stars aligned, inspiring columns by reporters only a click away. The watchful eyes of all those in the crowd, and those watching at home bracing for the sight they were about to see, the first place finish, the gold medal.

The happy ending.

Only, it didn't work out that way.

Because after gun went off, and the clock struck midnight, Lolo Jones found herself in fourth place as she crossed the finish line.

And somehow this story, that seemed divinely written to end in triumph, ended .23 seconds too late.

So I've found myself thinking, recently, about these happy endings that we seem to be robbed of. Of sprinters who work and dream an entire lifetime for 12 seconds of glory, only to blink and see it all disappear before them. Of families with the modern day version of the white picket fence, with the world to look forward to, only to replace the house and American dream with words like "shared custody" and an apartment downtown. And of a 29 year old boy, finding a dream job after overcoming personal struggle, only to succumb to old demons, leaving a parents worst nightmare.

Now normally this is the point in the blog that I would attempt in some way to sum up these stories of varying tragedy, and somehow place a positive or optimistic spin on them.

But, as I sit here now, I've got nothing.

I've got no words of wisdom, or uplifting quip of inspiration, no lesson to impart. Except to say that this isn't a fairy tale. It's not a movie, or children's book.

And maybe that's all I've got, maybe that's all any of us have. The ability to point out the obvious. That sometimes the water is too wide, that .23 seconds was too slow, that marriages don't always last, and that when it comes to the death of a child, whether at 9 or 29, there isn't much to say.

And maybe there's not an answer to every question. That there isn't anything to say when someone asks "Why?", why such a thing could happen.

That sometimes the best we can do, is simply to sit next to you and say nothing at all.

And that's all I've got, but there's plenty of room to sit down next to us.




Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Randomness and an Attempt at Wisdom: Part Two

The following is a list of thoughts, beginning where the last one left off. And in case you are a stickler for reading from starting at the beginning, here is the link to Part One.

Which brings me to my next point...

We get it wrong that heroes carry the message, it's the message that carries the heroes.

There is no such thing as laziness. Laziness is the absence of something, it's the absence of motivation.

The uneven bars are still parallel. (#Nieberle7thGradeMath)

Getting caught running in a thunderstorm is a lot like herpes. It's frightening the first you see it, it's impossible to ignore, and it's time to find protection.

I think I'm more proud of fighting the battles I'll never win, than the ones I will.

If a stranger were to stumble upon my facebook page, they would assume I am a nerd, who has a crazy group of friends, and an obsession with running that replaces a social life... so in other words, they would be right.

Knowing what to say sometimes comes secondary to knowing when to shut up.

Why, if the Olympics are on a tape delay, do they insist on interviewing the runners immediately after completing the race while they are still out of breath?

The line between winning, and refusing to lose seems to be a bit blurred.

Most of the bad choices I've made in my life have been less to do with bad judgement, as much as a bad memory.

Nothing makes you feel like more of a badass than killing a fly. 

The most subtle form of my rampant self centeredness is how often I forget to wear deodorant. 

The biggest difference between running a marathon and running for president, is that at the end of one you end up surrounded by a large group of dirty, hungry men and women, and at the end of the other you get a finishers medal.

Hope begins whenever you see it in others.

You know you are having a bad run when you are counting down the miles, instead of counting up.

Some nights the most dangerous place to be in Philadelphia is inside my laundry hamper.

There's honor in starting at the bottom of the hill, even if you don't always make it to the top.

The pace may change, but the race always stays the same.

You know that marathon you are about to run is real, not when you actually sign up, but the first time you think "What if I shit my pants?".

Most complex questions have simple answers.

Losing toenails are like the "The Fast and the Furious" movie series. One is tolerable, any more than that are annoying, and you hope no one sees them.

The difference between religion and spirituality, is one cares where you are going, the other cares where you are now.

Therapy begins the moment we tell the truth.

Of all the mistakes that have caused me to walk funny the next day at work, forgetting to wear Body Glide tops them all... by a lot.

I've been inspired more by losers, than winners.

And...

The problem with attempting to impart any kind of wisdom, is the wisdom that comes when you realize you are completely making this up as you go along.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Story 500 Miles Long

My ears perk up slightly. I attempt, as best I can, to block out the sound of the running faucet and swirling mix of water and toothpaste that empties down my bathroom sink's drain. The familiar cascading guitar strings of my cell phone ringtone combined with the low hum of vibration make their way through the wall separating my bedroom and my current location. I hastily exit the bathroom, entering back into the early morning darkness of my upstairs hallway, noting that the empty bedroom to my right, and that thankfully, this phone call wouldn't be waking anyone.

I lift the phone off the side of my bed, unplugging it from the charger in one motion. I scan the name on the front of the screen, though I needed no hint as to whom it would be.

"How's it going?"

The first words of the day scratch, slightly as they exit my throat.

"Good, good. Tell Ben I'm going to be late this morning. The bus came too early, I missed it."

"No problem, see you then."

"Yep. See you then."

We've got it down to a four sentence exchange. I fire off a quick text message, check my watch, and decide it's probably time to put some shorts on.

Five minutes later, my hand pushes through my front door and out into the final gasps of a nighttime sky that is 5:15am. My feet make their way down the sidewalk, towing keys in one hand, a stiffness from last nights run in my legs, and an empty grumble in my stomach. A Monday morning routine that I've done countless times, an ordinary walk out my front door do something one more time, or in this case, for the 500th time.

But first, a little bit about rivers..

The Ohio River is approximately 981 miles long, and winds across the eastern United States. At it's widest point, it is actually larger than the Mississippi. It serves as the northern and southern boundaries for Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, respectively. It has given birth to such cities as Louisville, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.


But for as great as the mighty Ohio River is, for all the history, and industry it has spawned, it's beginning is where we find relevance to this story.

Because, you see, the Ohio River does not begin as one river, but rather two rivers, two different rivers, the Allegheny, and Monongahela River. Two rivers that despite the similarity of their end point, bear stark differences between them.

The Allegheny flows on a southern trajectory, sliding it's way down from northern Pennsylvania, while the Monongahela winds north from West Virginia. At a length of 325 miles, the Allegheny more than doubles the 130 miles of it's partner. And the contrasts from there continue, ranging from the free-flow of the Allegheny and the high number of dams and locks of the Monongahela, to the Native American tribes who named them.

And yet...

Now back to our story...

It just so happens that I remember the first time I met him. He was wearing what we came to collectively call his "cat burglar" suit, a pair of black sweatpants, a black hooded sweatshirt, and a black knit cap atop his head. He stood there bouncing slightly in the cold March air, white pockets of exhaled breath pluming in contrast against his dark complexion.

He was quiet at first which, as I think about it now, makes these past 17 months feel much longer ago than they actually were. We didn't run together that first morning. It's possible someone else had asked me to run with them, or that I felt like doing the longer route. But, looking back on it, I think I just didn't know what to make of him at first.

He certainly wasn't exactly a picture of a budding distance runner. He stood flat footed upon his 60 year old legs. An impressive white puffy beard, voice and body type that fell somewhere between Santa Clause and James Earl Jones.

In contrast, I stood there, a nike half-zip pulled down to meet a long, sleek pair of black running plants. I bounced slightly in a new pair of sneakers, on an air of having completed another two marathons that fall, and the misguided notion that, at 26, I knew something about something.

And that's how we met.

Then two days later, we ran together for the first time.

Ron and I.

Some 498 miles ago.

Now I can't claim to have run each of those miles with him, but I can say with a good amount of certainty that I was there for most of them. There in some form or another. Through cold winter mornings, and hot humid afternoons. As just another voice in a larger group amidst big city races, and at others, the lone one on short, quiet walks through a city who's alarm clock has yet to go off.

And like that the miles ticked by, as sweaty summer high fives gave way to two pairs of pants, and then back again.

And somewhere along the way, I got to know my friend, my unlikely friend Ron.

I got to know him. I got to know him in the obvious forms, and also in the ones that you might have to look a little closer to find. I learned that he loves basketball, the Civil War, and the history of Philadelphia, but found that what he really loves, is to teach you about them. I learned that he has a daughter, but I found that on any given day, she can drive him nuts. I learned that he helped build the USS New Jersey with his bare hands many years ago, but learned the pride in doing so that never left. I found a homeless man, and learned what that means.

I found a friend, and learned that I wasn't only one.

Cause somewhere along the way, it seemed, he learned a thing or two about me as well. And in that touching, and irritating way that only a true friend can, he seems to take it as his personal mission to remind me each morning. Heckling me on my feelings about a bagel store sign that reads "Freshly Poured Orange Juice", or the way he never misses an opportunity to mock my questionable sense of direction.

At Back on My Feet we celebrate a member reaching 500 miles with a plaque. It's a plaque that is given with a great deal amount of weight attached to it. A weight that accompanies such an accomplishment of the physical, and spiritual nature of it.

But selfishly, this blog isn't about any of that.

It's not a blog about the 500 miles Ron has run, and the progress that I've witnessed as a result. It's not a blog about Ron getting back on his feet in literal or metaphoric way. And it's not a blog about a homeless man.

It's a blog about change, though not in Ron, but in me.

They call it a confluence.


The point at which two rivers meet, that is.

And while our journeys began in different places, and while I can't say where they will end, for this part, for these 500 miles, I do know this...

That, above all else, I was lucky to have found my friend there.