Next week, there’s a 50 kilometer race in Connecticut. A hundred of my new best friends (whom I’ll likely never see again) as well as a few of the gang I’ve been running with for years are going to head up to Danbury, hurl ourselves into the void, and give it a try. What the heck? Why not? How hard could it be? Running 50 K is just like running 5 K only we get to do it ten times instead of just once.
The point is, you never know what will happen when you get out there and do something.
I have another friend who will not be joining us. “The outdoors is my second favorite place,” he suggests. “I’ll be thinking of you as I finish my second cup of freshly brewed, exquisite coffee and read the New York Times in the privacy of my air conditioned living room. I may commemorate your hitting the 20 mile mark by taking a nap.”
I’m sensitive to the “all the comforts of home” view, but there are any number of reasons for running 31 miles. What is most cogent for me is epitomized by one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings. “You’re a long time dead.” Or as the songwriter put it:
Start by admitting
From cradle to tomb
Isn’t that long a stay.
Life is a cabaret, old chum
Only a cabaret.
Some of my college students seem oblivious to the thunder in the word “hour” in “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more.” And who could blame them? At 18, they have their whole lives ahead of them, anything is possible, what difference could it make if they stay in their dorm rooms? Indeed, if they’re truly content playing “Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, Blood, Blood, Blood, Kill, Kill, Kill” seldom interacting with actual humans, who am I to say that there is a whole world out there that might be more fulfilling? Who am I to throw a stone?
Speaking of stones, this morning, I nearly tripped over one (might have been a root–it’s impossible to see at 5:45 in the morning) and almost did a face plant on a trail in the park. Am I advocating for falling over and injuring myself rather than staying safely inside a home with–presumably–fewer rocks and roots?
Certainly not. I’m just in favor of getting out there and doing something.
Truly, it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were up in an airplane than it is to be in an airplane wishing you were on the ground.
But at the same time, if you’re lonely, wishing for friends, hoping there would be more to the college experience than going to class and lumping around in your dorm room then it might be time to make a change. Get up. Get out.
Do I have a specific suggestion? Of course it depends on the individual and every college has dozens of viable options, but why not join the newspaper staff?
“Yes, but there are no girls I like on the newspaper. They’re a bunch of literary types. I’m more of the outdoorsy type.”
“OK, then join the outdoors club.”
“Yes, but it’s too cold in the winter here to do much outdoors.”
“Then join the newspaper staff, darn it. If you don’t like writing, sell advertisements or do the books or sweep the floor. There’s always something to do. And most importantly, even if there are no girls you like, something will happen, something good, something to tell a story about years later, something. Just get out there.”
“Yes, but I just said that I don’t like any of those girls.”
“Maybe those girls know some other girls. I don’t know. What I do know is that if you’re sitting by yourself in your dorm room playing ‘Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, Blood, Blood, Blood, Kill, Kill, Kill” that the likelihood that a girl will knock on your door is pretty close to zero.”
The run this morning was about as plebian as could be, nothing much to talk about with the same group of friends with whom I’ve been running for the past several decades. We see each other several times a week for the treks through the dark. “Family OK?” “Yeah, everything good. You?” “Taking my son to the dentist later. Just a cleaning. How’s work?” “Same old. Lots to do.” “Talk to Lorna?” “Yeah, she ran yesterday, won’t be here until later.”
We run through the parking lot at Tropical Park just as we’ve done every Tuesday morning since Regan was president. Not much to say. The same group of middle aged, paunchy, balding men trying to stave off the inevitable one mile and one Tuesday morning at a time. Big picture items–“staying healthy is the greatest gift you can give to the people who care about you”–are lost in the early morning ebb and flow of gentle (another word would be “boring”) conversation.
When suddenly, from our of nowhere, a flock of ibis–two dozen birds strong–appear out of the east. They do a synchronized swoop, flying within 30 feet of us, squawking like a herd of staple guns. They loop around us, their motion magnificent. For all the thousands of early-morning miles that Bruce, Daniel, and I have run together, we are overwhelmed at how perfectly harmonious these birds are. It is hard to imagine that they don’t get together “after school” for flying practice. They circle us once again as if showing off and–as suddenly as they appeared–are gone.
Had we been sitting alone in our rooms, this most magnificent spectacle would have gone on unnoticed.
My gentle advice for first year college students and for everyone else: Get out there. Do something.
I’ll let you know how the 31 miles goes. I’m guessing–whether or not there are flocks of ibis coming out of the sun in Connecticut–there are going to be some outrageous stories.