Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Death Collector

There are running posts, books, websites, and books about all aspects of running. Except one. No one ever talks about how much death runners see.

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The Life of Death
Maybe it's not everyone. In fact, until I moved to New Hampshire and started running on roads without sidewalks, I didn't see nearly as much death. But now? Every day.  Mostly it is squirrels and chipmunks. Where I live, they are everywhere and they just dart it into the road without forethought.  A few weeks ago I actually saw a squirrel run into a car -right into rear tire!- then jump, turn 180° in the air and run back to safety.  But he was the lucky one; before him, I had seen several of his cousins squished in the road.  

Most mornings when I leave my house for a run, I see death. I'm not going to tell you everything I've seen because you don't need to have in your head what I have in mine. But sometimes it's upsetting and horrible. And sudden. Roads that were clear when I leave my house are covered in fur and guts an hour later, as I loop back on my return. 

I don't enjoy having feelings- they're uncomfortable and draining, but every time I run past a squirrel, chipmunk, bunny, tiny mouse (I think those are dropped by hawks- they aren't even squished!!), or bird I can't help but say "oh Buddy, I'm so sorry." I wonder if they have babies waiting for them at home, and I feel sad in a way that stays with me for miles.

This is the reality of running. When you're out there you see everything. And a lot of that isn't the beautiful vistas and bucolic views that are so prominently featured in RunnersWorld each month.  No. Instead there is trash (seriously! Is it so fucking hard to keep trash in your car until you get home?!??!) There is weird stuff; shoes always make me wonder, but I've seen seen headphones, cellphones, underpants, and I can't even remember what else. Do people just leave stuff on the roof of their car? Did your kid chuck it out the window? Didn't you want that travel mug anymore?? 
And there is death. 

As a runner, that's a reality I have to accept and have to force myself to be aware of each day. Because here's the thing: I could be that squirrel. It just takes one person not paying attention; one car that cuts a bend in the road too close, and I am the one who doesn't make it home. Every time I leave my house, I accept that it could be the last day I tie my sneakers. 

I can't let that stop me from getting out there - and you shouldn't let it stop you either. We all have ways we stay safe: running certain routes, wearing bright colors (especially during hunting season- it's unsettling to hear gun shots while running, but it's my reality), and always wearing my road ID.  And that doesn't even include the extra steps women take: mace, self defense, group runs in inconvenient locations, etc.!    

Related imageSpending so much time with death does have a way of making you both comfortable with it and terrified. Dead things don't bother me - which, weirdly, is helpful at my job where I sometimes have to move chicken carcasses that vultures have left in our yard.  Even though I don't eat meat, I can deal with dead animals, and I'll happily take mice from traps (although I'm judging you for using a trap in the first place) or clean a turkey.  But death itself? I have a healthy aversion.

It's not the unknown. I am pretty sure when we die, that's it. It's not very romantic, but I believe (know - because I know stuff) that our sense of being is just a creation of our brain, while really we're just complex a pile of meat that gets tricked into emotions by chemical reactions. However, knowing that doesn't mean our experience of life and reality isn't real.  Our perceptions form our reality, and that is what matters - not what is "true" but what we experience.  And that is where my aversion to death comes from: not any fear of what does or doesn't comes next, but a deep value for what is happening now, and what I am still capable of.  In fact, if I thought that after death there was another life of sorts, I might not be so worried about it: I could always finish my projects, or learn a new thing, or whatever it is I still want to accomplish in the afterlife.  But I don't think that is the case.  Instead, I think that we just have this one life to do things that matter to us, and to make the best use of our bodies and our time while we have both.  

That is, I think, what makes me so sad for the little things that I see each morning: they never got to do whatever it is that makes a squirrel life long and happy.   It makes me more aware of my own day, and the ways in which I can make sure that I am present in my own reality.  It helps me prioritize doing the things that are going to make me healthy and happy, and to get things done that are important and valuable.  And for me - that is running.  I know that there are days when I will see death and I will be sad; I know that there is always the possibility that something bad could happen to me.  That is also true every time I drive my car, or do 100 other things.  I am 100% certain that I will die someday because we all will. 

Image result for happily ever after images death
I wish that runners talked a little more about the death we see, and how we collect it in our minds and carry it with us in weird ways.  It is an inevitable part of being a runner, and a human, and I don't think that we should pretend it is not there.  Instead, we should share our sadness for the little things that didn't make it across the road today, and let it remind us to be more mindful of them and of ourselves so we all can live happily and healthily ever after... while we can.   

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