These runs have become a constant reminder of so much that the good life has to offer; that living must be done through the mind and the body. An imprisoned Boethius in the sixth century urges us to remember our commonality, to remind us of what we all share, ‘Let not your spirit eat itself away for you are set in the sphere that is common to all, let your desire therefore be to live with your own lot of life, a subject of the kingdom of the world.’
This run should feel ‘little’ – marred as it is by this complaining and uncooperative body. It shouldn’t be a special run, just a functional one; I know roughly what it has to offer me. I don’t need the promise of neurogenesis that the great and unfamiliar runs so freely proffer. Neither, the electromagnetic fizz fructified by new sensory experience. Today. Here. Now. This run is the most divine way to be doing nothing, exercising the very purposelessness of life itself.
I am not lost like a Bermondsey woodpecker, I am adrift in a land that I know. The sun and the roaring traffic will always guide me home. Once I have looped around the park a couple of times I will find my bearings and will run the same route back. Later, on the map, this run looks like I have thrown a bright red lasso around Peckham Rye, vainly claiming it for myself.
Now, though, I am in the final couple of miles of the run. I know that I can manage two more miles, even with oxygen in such short supply. I am on one of the quiet side-streets off the park, where approaching me is a young, pre-school boy a few paces ahead of his mother. He moves aside to let me pass. I smile. As I do, he squints, the sun hard in his face; eyeing me, he calls out with his economically- toothed mouth, “Mum?”, his phrasing is musical, like he is singing the square-root symbol. “What’s that man running away from?”
It’s a good question; people run away from things all the time. I’m already gone so I quickly shout over my shoulder “old age”. But the question clings like I’ve trodden in chewing gum, clicking its stick with every step of my last two miles.
At home, I sit on the edge of the tub and bathe my reddened feet in cool running water, massaging loose the micro-grit that has a magical tendency to work its way below the surface of one’s skin like a dirt tattoo. I wonder what I would have said if the boy had asked why I wasn’t wearing anything on my feet. ‘I can’t afford shoes’? ‘I forgot to put them on’? Perhaps, running barefoot seemed more natural to him because he was at an age that still does it all the time. People are occasionally amused at the sight of someone skinning the streets, but they can be troubled, too. Only a couple of weeks before, on a warm and busy summer’s day in Blackheath village, one woman to another shouted as I passed ‘Look at that fucking
It was about three thousand miles ago when I had not the least idea what it was that I was running away from, where it would take me, or how far, or to what, to whom, to when. And neither did I see back then how running would, with difficulty, slowly suture the frayed and lacerated parts of my life back together. How first it would break me, but then would help me to write, to manage, better to feel, and to love, again.
This has happened to you, if not in the past, it is there waiting for you in the future. Your life will shudder from the tracks. You will reach a point where you can’t say yes anymore, or wait anymore, or be still anymore. From time to time, we all arrive at destinations that we never navigated our way to. I did. I walked deep into the forest without a map, and when I opened my eyes, I found the sun had set. Lost, for years I simply wandered until I found a deep and solid pace again. A susurrating and whispering rhythm that got me back on my feet and out into the air.