Thursday, January 31, 2013

On the Road to Somewhere?

Sometimes I start writing with a destination in mind. I've mapped out in my thoughts what I'd like to say. All that remains is to put pen to ink (how quaint). So too in running. Much of the time, I head out knowing how far I'm running and which route I will follow. Other times, I let things go where they may. Today is one of those days. At least with my writing. I hope it ends up making sense.

The other night, I posted on Facebook that I was considering running my first ultra (50K) at the end of April. The response was quick, and though, I suspect, not intended so, quite sharp. “Isn't your wife due at the beginning of March?”. I felt the sting implicit in the question. It was magnified, when a virtual friend whom I've never met, “liked” the question. I quickly responded with an explanation that I would only run with my wife’s blessing, but it begs the question, what am I thinking?

I remember when I first watched Spirit of the Marathon, a documentary that follows six runners of various levels as they train for the marathon. Dick Beardsley, who would later become a hero of mine, said towards the beginning, “when you first cross that line, your life will never be the same”. I was three days away from my first half-marathon, still working to shed the last of my excess weight. I wondered whether he was correct. He was, but only to a degree.

Running in some ways, is a great analogy for life. Life is not a sprint. It truly is a marathon. Or a really long ultra. There are times when you feel great and others where you have to fight to keep moving forward. The analogy only goes so far. In running, hard work almost always pays off. Life is another matter.

I've long struggled to master being what the rabbis called “sameiach b'chelko” happy with my lot. I'm always convinced something better lays elsewhere. The perfect job, the right shul, the ideal community. Something that is going to make me happy for good. It's an illusion, and I know it. But it's one that captivates me. Here's the thing. Unlike with running, there is no training I can do, no hill sprints I can practice, that will bring what I want my way. So I keep on trying, convinced that this time will be better.

There is so much going on in our lives. I feel like my wife and I are both juggling chainsaws, hand grenades and piranhas, all while trying to recite the Gettysburg Address... in French. There's little I can do change the challenges. So running becomes my refuge. The place I go to feel good. To strive. To pretend I can make things better. At least in one area.

I never thought I'd run a full marathon. Once I did, I never thought I'd try something longer. I'm sure 50K is the limit, but how much is that certainty worth, when I've been wrong in the past? Here's the truth. No matter how far I go, no matter which path I take, even when I try to just let things go where they may, I always end up where I started.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Stages, Pages and Sages

Among the biggest mistakes that a parent can make, at least in their child's eyes, is to suggest to your son a daughter that they play with someone who is of a different age. I know, because I've tried. The response is always the same. “I can't. He/she is in a different grade”. It's said with a look of disbelief as if I've just suggested that they go play on Mars.

The good news is that they grow out of it. Or do they? Many adults I know seem to live in a world where they socialize with those who are most like themselves. Rare is the shul or social gathering where the ages vary by too many years. How can we break free from this limiting perspective? I've found the answer in two pretty different places. Running and daf yomi.

As much as I love running, there are days that it gets pretty hard to drag myself out the door. One of the best ways to overcome that obstacle is to find someone to run with someone else. The conversation that develops is a great way to distract myself from the challenge of running. It's hard to be picky in a situation where most people I know would rather walk than run. Over time, I've found many with whom I can run. While some are within my age range, I've run with people who, if not old enough to be my parents, are certainly old enough to be my older uncle. I've also run with friends who discuss dating and looking for their first job, while I am at a very different stage of my life. Despite our difference in age, I've never failed to have a good time.

As an occasional Daf Yomi maggid shiur, I've benefited in this way as well. As I say over the daf to a small group of older gentleman, I get the additional benefit of moving out of my little world. It might be a stretch to say that we've become friends, but at the very least, I've grown through these interactions. I've gone outside my comfort zone and gained a different perspective. As I learn from Rebbe Akiva and Rav Ashi, I also hear the voices of those still living who have seen more than I have.

There's a comfort in staying within one's little world. There's also a price we pay when we limit ourselves. Let's look for ways to discover the world that's out there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

To Hill and Back

As I ran yesterday on a short trail near my house, I came upon a fork in the road. To the right was an easy downhill, to the left, a short but steep hill. With a barely a thought, I turned to the left. As I ran on, I wondered to myself, why do I embrace hills while running, yet wish to avoid them in my personal life.

As a teacher, I could recite chapter and verse about why God challenges us. I often spoke of the idea that challenges make us stronger, and that the easy way is not the better way. If I am to be honest, I must admit ,that as I pray these days, at least on the days when I do so mindfully, I ask that God remove obstacles from my life. I admit it. I want things to be easy. No hidden blessings, no gain that comes through challenge. Easy. Obvious blessing. I understand that life does not work that way, but still, it is what I want.

So why the discrepancy. The answer is fairly simple, but somewhat frightening. As I run the hills, I know I am gaining speed. Not immediately, of course, but in a fairly linear sense. Within reason, more hills equals more speed. I should add, I suppose, that I like the idea of being tough, or rather another term, which I'd better not use. In life on the other hand, it's not so simple. Sure there are points in my life that I can look back on, where tough challenges brought great achievement. There are, however, many, where, at least as far as I can tell, I gained nothing discernible, or at least nothing that was worth the trade-off.

The best I can offer, is to paraphrase what I used to tell myself before I started loving running hills. If I can going to have to climb life's hills, I may as well embrace them. It's not much of a start, but for now, it will have to do.