Monday, September 13, 2010

Chasing Ghosts (of the News)

Runing at midnight was unlike any experience I've ever had.

[If you're just tuning in, this project was launched with a midnight 5k run. See 9-8-2010 post.]

It turned out that the difficult part, for me at least, wasn't what I had supposed--being awake at well past my normal, sedate, middle-age person's bedtime and asking myself to perform physically on top of that.

The hard thing was I was profoundly in the dark. This unfolded in a way I had not expected.

There were 164 of us who began in the brightly lit parking lot of our sponsoring entity, a medical rehab center. A contingent from the local military base came out and presented the American flag. Someone sang the national anthem. All in honor of those who perished on September 11, 2001, and the men and women who have died since in two wars in distant lands. Then the clock reached midnight and we were off.

Within a hundred yards the race course led us into a nearby neighborhood. A down-market neighborhood. A sleepy neighborhood. The kind of neighborhood where a street lamp appears only once a block. The kind of neighborhood where no lights are switched on in the houses and trees are blocking the night sky.

Wow. It was dark.

I was fine as long as I tail-gated a fellow runner. I had my midnight mix tape and I was cooking along, enjoying everything except the heat (it was still a rather warm 78 degrees after an afternoon high of 95). Soon I made so bold as to pass the runner in front of me and at that point there arrived my first surprise.

I didn't see anyone ahead of me. When I finally did  make out fellow runners they were far away blobs whose reflective bands or white shirts caught light in an indefinite fashion. Had I really seen that or was I dreaming it in a waking state?

Hanging In There
Our race hosts were good about stationing people on corners whenever there was a turn to make and waving a flashlight at us, but I was having trouble seeing them, too.

There was one good thing about the optical challenge: Instead of obsessing over my performance in my usual fashion (am I running fast enough, am I breathing too hard, how far until the finish line), I was completely absorbed with picking out the real estate in front of me and aiming myself in what I hoped was the right direction. Because if I made a wrong turn it would be worse than a matter of dinging my finish time. I would be lost in a part of the town I knew nothing about, all alone, and standing around in not much more than my underwear.

Happily, I saw a clot of ghostly runners up ahead. I lengthened my stride slightly and spent probably one mile catching up with them. Yes! I'm no longer in trouble, I thought as I tucked myself in behind them. Then I realized. They were going slower than me. I would have to pass.

That's how it came to be that for the entire last mile I was by my lonesome. This is where my tale becomes slightly metaphorical.

Having had nearly 24 hours now to live without any news of the larger world, including setting aside the newspapers and keeping away form the TV and certain pages on the Internet, I can say that as a 21st century Rip Van Winkle I feel a bit like I'm chasing ghosts of information in the dark. I can't quite see them and I can't catch up. The experience is dreamy. At the same time it's disconcerting because it's so isolating.

I feel like I'm alone with just my steady footfalls on pavement. It's not that I'm a hermit like Henry David Thoreau. I'm still in the midst of humanity, but the distancing and blurring has begun.

Our son just walked out of the room in the house where we keep the TV and he was muttering about something he saw on the news. My blood pressure spiked. What was it? Did Pastor Jones do something? Have there been Middle East reactions? Wasn't there a tropical storm that started with "I" when I was still connected to my news/weather umbilical? Has it strengthened and moved in a threatening direction?

Kitchen Cook's Lonely TV...
In the kitchen, where 5 nights a week I'm the one making dinner for the three of us, I have a little TV set. I got it last year so I wouldn't miss any of the evening news while I was making busy with skillets and pots of water boiling pasta. It's another window on the world that has been taken away. The screen now greets me with the same blackness as the night of my midnight run.

I'll be honest. It's tempting to pick up the remote and...

All I can do is keep running and maybe learn to love this journey.

Right now, for this Rip Van Winkle, it feels like I have a very long ways to go in the dark.

No comments:

Post a Comment