After a long and emotional trip to visit Brother, whose battle with cancer is almost over, we returned home weary and tear-stained. I had a long run scheduled this weekend, and by 8:00 last night, I really needed it. The sunset was just beginning as I set off on a planned 8 miles. The morning's rain and the day's heat had left the air heavy and damp, "sultry," as they say a little farther south of here. The temperature was down to 78 degrees when I left the house.
I had plotted a new route for last night's run, one that had a minimum of road without sidewalks. Even in my white shorts, I didn't want to be running the road in the fading light. So of course, the only place where I did have to run the white line was where I encountered a jerk in a pickup truck. Now there was some bad luck for him involved here. Just at the point where he would have slipped out a couple of feet to avoid me, three cars came in the opposite direction. He had to stay in the lane as I ran toward him. There is no shoulder there, so I had nowhere to go but forward. He could have done a lot of things. He could have slowed down and passed carefully. He could have rolled down his window and cussed me out. He could have swerved to the right and sent me flying into the bushes. Instead, he started laying on his horn as soon as he saw me, and continued honking like a deranged Manhattan cab driver until he came to a complete stop so he could glare as me as I passed him. I prayed a little misery on him, then shined it on.
This run takes me through a park dedicated to baseball. There are several diamonds that are always full during the day. Tonight, as I ran between two of them, a young girl was taking some batting practice while her dad pitched. A perfect Father's day scene.
Once I left the park, I entered a tree covered walking path that weaves around through a pretty posh looking development. Big, beautiful homes built on what was a big beautiful horse farm, just a few years ago. This is pretty typical here, though the slowing economy seems to be saving more farmland than all the bumper stickers and "save the Bluegrass" campaigns ever did. No use ruining some of the most beautiful country in the world when there's no money to be made.
The path opens out onto a one mile circle around the heart of the development. Essentially, it's a big office park with some retail businesses peppered in. My shrink is in this neighborhood. So is one of our favorite Mediterranean restaurants and a very fine liquor store. But on Sunday night, the businesses are closed and the sidewalks are mostly filled with lone runners and strolling couples. A very peaceful setting.
At about mile 3 1/2, I took my headphones off. I haven't run with them for a while, and thought I'd give them a try. I just found them distracting. My breath and my footsteps have become the soundtrack of my running. The concert of the world around me is so much more pleasant to listen to than recorded music in my ears. An iPod is a great way to escape from the world, but escape is the last thing on my mind when I'm running. I want to be present. I don't want to miss a thing.
Even without my headphones in, I did miss something pretty important.
The sun had set about the time I finished mile 5. Now I was running under street lights in the shady streets of my neighborhood. The homes are a little more modest, here. The people are a little less beautiful and their clothing labels aren't quite so prominent. There are more Chevys than Audis in these driveways. The sidewalks are a little older.
And there's the rub. As I crossed a driveway and stepped onto the sidewalk, my toe caught on an uneven slab of concrete. I experienced that weird slow-motion experience that you feel when you lose control of your car on a slippery road. Your senses are so heightened, taking in so much information so fast, that time seems to slow down. You cram a lot more thoughts and reactions into a few fractions of seconds than you would think possible. I stumbled, sure for a moment that I could catch myself. Soon, my experience of gravity and geometry convinced me that I was going down. I immediately thought of the blood thinners in my blood. If I cut myself, or worse, hit my head, I would be in a very bad situation. I turned my shoulder toward the grass and hoped for the best.
I don't actually remember hitting the ground. Judging from the gravel embedded in my palms, I must have landed on them first. I do remember my hip and right shoulder hitting the grass and sliding for a surprising distance. It was actually pretty cool. I felt like a running back hitting the turf, barely snagged by a shoe-string tackle after busting free for a nice gain. Once I came to a stop, I lay still for a second, taking stock. No searing pains. No broken bones. No head trauma. Just a little road rash on my elbow and what felt like a skinned knee. A pretty successful dive, all things considered. I got back on my feet and did a quick visual check. Everything looked fine. Not even a grass stain. Down the road a little, a woman and her dog had stopped to marvel at the sight of a fat man sliding across the grass, but once I was up and running again, they shook their heads and continued on their way.
I hadn't gone very far when I felt the blood running down my shin. I looked down, but in the dark, I couldn't see anything. It didn't feel like I was cut badly. There was not a river of black flowing down into my sock, and I was still a couple of miles from home. I figured there was no use stopping unless I was going to go knock on a door and ask for help. I wasn't about to present one of my neighbors with a big, sweaty, bleeding visitor after dark unless there was bone sticking out. So, I moved along.
When I left the house, Mrs P had mentioned how handsome I looked in my running togs. That made me feel pretty good. When I returned, she gasped and went right into nurse mode, counting my wounds, sending me to the shower, and insisting that I slather myself with triple antibiotic ointment, our family's particular cure-all. My knee was skinned pretty well, but it had stopped bleeding. My palms were cut up a little from the fall, and the elbow had little more than a bad rug burn. Of course, a nasty bruise had already started on my right shoulder. I'll spare you the photos unless it turns really dramatic.
So it turns out that one of the shortcomings of running at night is that you don't see low obstacles in the shadows at your feet. Another is that all those endorphins rushing through you at 10:00 make going to sleep a pretty unlikely possibility. It was 1:00 before I put my book down and headed off to bed. I think I'm going to try to avoid evening jogs. At least until I have more reflective clothing. You feel pretty invisible crossing the road at 9:30 at night.
Still, it was good to clear my head. It had been a full weekend at the hospital. You think about a lot of things when someone you love is dying. Good stories. Hard times. Tender moments. Jokes and laughter shared. It isn't all painful, but somehow, it always hurts. The family is grieving. We hurt with him every time he reaches for the button that releases morphine into his IV. But even though he is in pain, Brother is facing his long good-bye with faith, courage, and dignity. Even from his hospital bed, the preacher is still preaching. He taught me a lot this weekend. I was glad to have the chance to run a few miles while I took it all in.
I don't know if cancer is part of God's plan. It doesn't seem like something a Dad would give his children. But I do know that God can make love grow, even among the suffering of a family facing death together. Cancer destroys. God creates. Brother has been a preacher for a long time. It wasn't always easy. Even in a little country church, politics can poison a community and drive folks away. After a long search, Brother found a church he and his family could call home. When he started getting sick, he asked his son to take over when he could no longer be their shepherd. It wasn't an easy decision, but after much prayer and I'm sure many tears, the son agreed to step into his father's pulpit. We all worshipped together on Sunday morning, before going to the hospital for what we feared would be one last visit. Just before Mrs P and I left for home, our nephew leaned over his father's hospital bed and told him about a friend who had been saved at church that morning. Brother burst into tears. After a long moment, he smiled and sobbed, "It's all going to be worth it." I knew he was talking about much more than cancer.
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