I popped out of my subterranean trainstop, hooked a right and saw my first one. A businessman rushing to his morning’s work, ordinary in every way except for the dark smudge on his forehead: the telltale sign of a faithful Catholic on Ash Wednesday, a practitioner in the religion I was raised in. My guilt was immediate, a reflexive acknowledgement that as a religious man, I’ve failed. Too lazy, too unmoved, too many questions and incongruities, I stopped going a few years after my first child was born. Had him baptized but fled for good when in the height of the sex scandals in Boston, a certain priest on the first Sunday of Advent spent his entire sermon exhorting his congregation to commit “now” to giving significant dollars to the church over the coming year. Nobody was asking but I thought, at the time, there were more pressing matters to discuss. I left, tried some other churches then gave up all together.
The past few weeks, I’ve really struggled to stick with my training. There have been way more mornings when I’ve elected to stay in bed than hit the road. Too cold, too lazy, too unmotivated. And I’ve suffered because of it.
At work, I’ve felt directionless, at home, irritable and distracted unable to connect with the people I love with the kind of focus I expect of myself.
This morning, however, when the alarm went off at 4:45, I was able to swing my feet out of bed. In the dark, I got dressed, fought off the temptation to sit down with a cup of coffee and the internet news and instead, walked out the door and started running.
In my sleep, I’d had troubling dreams. Images of what might have been, different possibilities in the direction of my life. They had woken me up through the night and left me shaken.
Since I first started running at 10 years old, I’ve liked where my mind has gone as my body’s worked. My thoughts streamline, I enjoy some clarity and on many occasions, I’ve had some good actionable ideas. Most importantly, I’ve never felt mentally worse coming off a run. I’ve always felt better, a little more at peace with the world.
10 minutes in this morning, I was still wrestling with my dreams. The exotic but rarely productive land of “what might have been” took up huge swaths of my interior landscape.
Then the road tilted up and my morose reverie got pushed aside as my mind snapped on to getting my body to meet the increasing challenge. Shortening my stride, picking up my turnover and adjusting my torso just a bit, I was suddenly aware of the comfort I derive from the ritual of my running; that, no matter what’s going on in my head, the practice of the exercise overrides my thought process and delivers me to a better place.
After 46 minutes, I was back in my driveway and on my way to the same job, the same commute, the same reality. But I was different, time at my church had offered me a bit of salvation. And I was grateful for it.
Ash Wednesday, kicks off the Lenten season, a time for Catholics (and other Christians?) to prepare for Easter. It’s a time for self denial, repentance and prayer. I probably won’t be spending any time at the church of my childhood but I can put a few of the season’s principles to good use.