Early this morning I went for a run, in the small town in rural Pennsylvania where I grew up.
Much of it was the same, from when I lived here with my parents and brothers and sisters, before I went off to college.
The weather was the same, for a late November day – clear and very cold, with slippery ice patches here and crunchy snow clumps there.
The grid of streets was the same – numbered streets running east to west (Second, Third, Fourth…) and streets named after trees running north to south (Poplar, Spruce, Hickory, Oak…).
The churches were the same – a hundred years ago, ethnic neighborhoods (a few blocks wide by a few blocks long) organized themselves around the immigrants’ place of origin and the church that was their anchor. The Lithuanians, around St Stephen’s. The Italians, around St Peter’s. The Polish, around St Joseph’s. The Jews, around their synagogue. The Irish, around St Patrick’s. And so on.
Even the time of day was familiar – 5:30 am, which is when the whole house used to wake up. The kids to get out the door to deliver our morning paper routes and then on to school, my Dad to be at work by 7 am, my Mom to orchestrate the whole chaotic operation.
Today they were all still in bed – my own children, their Dad, my Mom, my Dad. There was no chaotic operation to facilitate, no time clock to punch.
I started running. It started slow, and I didn’t think I’d go far today.
South on Poplar Street. West on Third. Past Birch, then Willow.
Then on past the high school. Then the fire station.
I kept running. Out of town, past the cemeteries on either side of the hill. St Peter’s on one side (the Italians), St John’s on the other (the Slovaks), St Joseph’s (the Poles) a little further on. Some of my high school running team’s workout routes were still there, like the two-mile hill circuit around the edges of the cemetery fences. I could never run fast, but I could run far and with a lot of strength down and especially up the hills.
I kept running. I used to think of these hills – these wide, low mountains at the base of the Appalachians – as the bodies of dinosaurs who had lain down to die. Their contours, the outsides of the hills, are shaped that way under God’s hands and my strides. I used to think of the insides of the hills – the bones of the dinosaurs’ rib cages – as the veins of Anthracite coal mined by my grandfathers and their brothers and their children.
There was nothing easy about their lives. There is nothing easy about this landscape. Its biggest lesson? To be resourceful, and to keep on.
I kept running. I checked in with my body, and with the sore spot on my left knee that needed attention. My body had warmed up, loyally behaving as I asked it to behave. The sore spot had evaporated like steam from a kettle. “Breathe out every second time your right foot hits the ground,” my coach had said. I still do that, matching my footfalls with the cadence of my breath. These days I count to ten, over and over and over again, in a moving meditation. It is when ideas come – when my focus is there, my creativity bubbles here.
An hour later, I’m back on my parents’ front porch, flushed and warm and ready.
I open their door.
Ready for what?
To be resourceful. To generate momentum. To listen to my body. To appreciate the ideas. To act on them. To persevere. To keep running. And to meditate as I move along.