Monday, April 25, 2011

Why I Run Marathons.

"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep." - Robert Frost

"To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift."  - Steve Prefontaine

  I am not good. I can be, but often I'm not. I'm not talking about running, but life in general. In fact, running is one of the handful of things that I am good at. But at life in general, I usually come up short. And I don't mean this in an insincere/self-deprecating/self-pitying/fishing-for-sympathy-and/or-compliments, kind of way. And I don't think that this is how others view me. My life is full of loving/caring/supportive friends and family. I'm also not saying that I'm unhappy. I have a wonderful life, full of wonderful people and experiences, and I feel incredibly fortunate. 

  And it is not in spite of those truths that I say I am not good. (It may even be partially because of them.) I am not good, because I give up. I give up on myself and others. I make excuses. I lie to myself and to others. I am selfish, cowardly, and cruel. I am all of these things. And the truth is that I am all of them often. 

  I choose to see the worst in people. I choose to consider their shortcomings rather than their strivings. I choose to take advantage of people when they're vulnerable. I pass people by when they are in need, and sometimes I even choose to kick people when they're down. 

  I also let myself down. I am terrified of failure, of not being good enough. And I am terrified of being discovered as a phony. So I set my goals low, and when I still come up short, I pretend that the goals have changed. Whether in my private endeavors or in my relationships with friends and family, I retreat into my shell when things get tough. 

  I hit my lowest point nearly twenty years ago. My big brother is the strongest and bravest and most beautiful person I've known. And when he died a slow death, I wasn't there. I was physically there. But mentally and emotionally, I wasn't with him. I was with myself. Worried only about myself. But he stayed with me anyway. 

  And he still does. And I'm still wrapped up in myself. But I'm trying. Little by little, year by year. I'm trying to be better. But I'm not always honest about that effort. Sometimes I stall. Sometimes I wander off the path. And a long time can pass before I recognize and admit that I'm not moving in the direction that I want to move. 

  And this can happen when I run too. I can get lost in the simple pleasure of movement. I can settle into the motions that my body knows well. I can roam the soft hills of my life, and I can keep the jagged mountains on the periphery. 

  But I want to be better than that. I want to push harder. I want to go further. I want to be better. I want to remember that I have so much more in front of me. But I have to work to find it. I have to work to find the best in myself, and in others.

  So I run marathons. Marathons allow no lies. The marathon is the truth machine. Marathons demand the best of me, and as I move among my fellow runners I can see the best in them. I can see them struggle as I struggle. And if I haven't worked hard enough, the marathon will tell me so. If I've taken short cuts, the marathon will expose them. But if I have worked hard enough, if I have been honest with myself, then I will find a sense of peace that I have never known anywhere else. 

  And my brother is with me when I run. His picture is in my pocket for those 26.2 miles. And I  hold his smile in front of me. He is reminding me to be better, and convincing me that I am.

(Thank you Dad, for helping me find the beauty in running.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Year With A Cat

"Get Really Close To Another Human Being This Lifetime" - Graffiti at Pratt Beach in Chicago

  A cat lives in my apartment. Her name is Ozzy. She is about 15 years old. Almost all of her fur is black, but she does have small tufts of white on her belly. Her legs seem unsteady at times. And she only has a couple of teeth left. But from time to time, she stills bounds around the apartment hunting for imaginary prey. So she doesn't appear to have let go of her youth entirely.

  I picked her up from the shelter about a year ago. I've lived alone for nearly ten years now. I don't have much interest in sharing my home with another person, but a cat seemed like a good fit. They seem like low maintenance animals on the whole. So I figured an older one would just be that much more so. I'd provide her with a more comfortable way to spend her golden years, and in exchange I'd have something to pet on winter nights while curled up with a book. Nice and clean and neat.

  The truth is that I often find her obnoxious. She's needy and she meows constantly. She is usually the last thing I hear before I fall asleep, and the first thing I hear when I wake up. When she's asleep, I tip-toe around my own home like a parent that's been granted a moment of respite from their newborn baby. If she had her way, she would only leave my lap long enough to eat and poop.

  The truth is also that I like her anyway. I can't even say why. Sure, she's warm and fuzzy and its nice to have her in my lap sometimes. But against everything else, that just seems on the surface like a lousy trade.

  But I've gotten to know her. And like an ornery grandparent that makes a habit of saying mean things to people, her drawbacks are also part of her appeal. They take her from being an object that I can only see as she relates to me, and they help me look at her as a living breathing creature that exist for her own sake.

   It can be more difficult for me to look at a person this way. Unlike my cat, most of us have the ability to be so much more than what we are. So it isn't always easy to see a person's drawbacks as part of their appeal. It isn't as easy to forgive. But it does get easier with time. Time spent listening to people. Time spent allowing people to reveal themselves as the dynamic creatures that they are. Time enough to allow yourself to get close.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Politics of Walking Down the Street

  Politics have always fascinated me on a number of levels. The spectacle of the debates between pundits and politicians, complete with strategic maneuvering, absurd blunders, and at times genuine emotion, is something I often marvel at. And the ideologies and policies themselves, offer an endless source of interconnected questions and ideas to work through. The issues, like one great ball of twine, are hopelessly tangled. Each bit of string originating from a source deep inside the ball and incredibly difficult to discern, and then disappearing again, heading off in a direction that is quickly obscured by all of the other bits of string that will inevitably cross its path. Ideologies, in their most pure and honest form, seek to work through that entanglement with intellect and compassion, in hopes of discovering and then actualizing the best within us. At their most dishonest and nefarious, they seek to manipulate fears in order to empower the few at the expense of many. But perhaps the most fascinating facet of politics to me, is the political activity on the ground level. The perceptions, opinions, and passions of the everyday people that are not a part of the news media, the government, or the lobbying sector, are as varied as their methods of expressing them. And those political views reflect far more than the platforms of any party. They reflect our perception of ourselves as individual human beings, and as members of society as a whole. 

  Political activity in the day to day lives of the masses, takes on countless forms. Some of the more obvious forms include getting news from television, radio, and the internet. We also talk politics with friends and family. And occasionally we even vote. What may be less obvious, is the political aspect of our roles as consumers, workers, commuters, students, parents, or church members. Even seemingly anodyne choices, such as what music to listen to on the way to work, whether to drop a coin in a homeless man's cup, or how to interact with the clerk at the gas station, have political implications.

  Our choices in news sources offer an easy glimpse into our outward thoughts on political topics. Though that glimpse may not be as straight forward as it seems (We all bring our own unique personal experiences and perceptions with us when we receive input from news media, which influences how we process the information that we're given.), it does give an indication as to what viewpoints we consider valid, and conversely what we consider misguided or even false. Objectivity after all, even when it is genuinely sought after, is an illusion. The sheer quantity of potential news stories and viewpoints make it impossible for any news source to report everything from every possible perspective. And the process of deciding what to report and how to report it, is inherently subjective. So we seek out news sources that report on what we feel is important, and that frame that news in a way that we find palatable.

  Our conversations and interactions with friends and family also contribute crucial elements to the base of our political beliefs. Through sharing our thoughts with others, our beliefs are either challenged or affirmed. And those conversations also help establish and maintain the social parameters regarding what we feel is appropriate and what is taboo.

  The choices we make at the voting booth meanwhile, seem straight forward enough in their implications as to not require any extensive consideration. But the way that we view the voting process itself, and the value that we place on our individual votes, can begin to open the door to the more deeply rooted, more personal, aspects of who we are as individuals and as political beings.

  For some, the vote is a symbol of freedom. An essential piece of the American pie, that should be cherished as much as the lives that have been lost in the name of defending it. To others it is little more than a placebo. A choice between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, that is granted to the population at large in order to create the illusion of freedom and choice. And still others, will see the concept, and perhaps even the institution, as sound and healthy, but feel that a degree of reform is required if we are to realize the full potential of our democracy. 

  That spectrum of perceptions on American democracy, while limited in description here for the sake of brevity, is a concept that can also be applied to the seemingly mundane aspects of our daily lives, with telling results. Consider, for instance, the homeless man on the sidewalk that millions of Americans will pass on their way to work today. He sits against a wall under tattered clothes and several layers of dirt, and he has a small paper cup that he's hoping you will drop coins into. But what do we choose to see beyond that? Is this a man that lives in the land of opportunity, and has let those opportunities pass him by? Or is he an inevitable casualty of a broken society? One of the countless, nameless multitudes that are spit out by a system doesn't consider morality or even seek to create equal opportunity. Or is he just a man in need of help? Somebody that perhaps made some poor decisions and had some hard breaks and fell through the cracks.

  These are questions that many of us can answer when called upon. But if pressed further, how many of us can give an honest and thoughtful explanation as to why we feel the way we do? We may offer statistics that seem to support our opinions. But go into a room full of politicians and you can watch people lie with the stats as long as you like. The only difference in this scenario is that we'd be lying to ourselves, instead of just lying to others. We can tell ourselves that we came upon the numbers with a clean slate and simply read the story as it was told, but our perceptions of the world began forming long before any of us picked up a sociology text book. So why do we feel the way we do? 

  Perhaps its as simple as compiling a few monumental moments from our formative years. A few inspiring or tragic events that shaped our lives, and that are merely supplemented by all of the other days in between. Or maybe our views are shaped slowly, through a long process of subtle nudges and suggestions, leading us in one direction or another. George Carlin said that "behind every cynic there is a disappointed idealist." And maybe thats it. Maybe a person that begins their life in the relative safety of childhood, becomes jaded as they are exposed to the honesty of adversity. That person might decide that it is easier to give up on everything and accept the world as a harsh and unloving place, than to allow themselves to keep striving and hoping for the best, while knowing all too well that there will still be times when it is necessary to face the worst. Or perhaps that same person is able to create a bubble for themselves, from which they can deflect adversity and maintain some sense of confidence in themselves and their place in the world. From that bubble, a person can find innumerable ways to ignore ugly realities, to explain and lay blame for the troubles that do arise, and to remove themselves from any position of responsibility to anyone other than themselves. Or then again we might try to walk down the middle of the road. Unwilling to give up, yet uncertain of which fights to fight, let alone how to fight them. 

  There is something to be said for the first two options. They may limit the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual rewards that life has to offer. But they also offer the ease and comfort of familiarity, while limiting the pain and frustration of disappointment and defeat. 

  The latter road however, is a hard road to follow. It asks us to consider that homeless man as something more than a pothole in the sidewalk. It asks us to consider this man as a man, and ask ourselves about the nature of our relationship with him. What circumstances brought he and I to this point? Can I live with those circumstances? Or should I act to change them? If I need to act, then how should I act? Do I simply buy him a sandwich or a coat? Do I start volunteering at a shelter? Do I want the government to intercede? The answers to those questions will be different for different people. But the key is whether we choose to ask them. Because the question, rather than the answer, is what defines who we are as individuals and as a society. 

  And we have these questions in front of us throughout the day, every day. We choose how we make money and what to spend that money on. We choose what to read, or whether to read at all. We choose what to worship, and what form the object of our worship will take. We choose how to entertain ourselves. We choose how we talk to other people, or whether we bother talking to them at all.

  And these are all political questions. They are individual, concrete, real world examples of the many questions that we try to work through on a societal level through electoral politics. They may not directly decide an election, or the passing of a law, or the funding of a program, but they do contribute to the direction that we will take as members of a society. And asking those questions will have a direct impact on the political conversations that we have with our friends and family. It will also impact how we watch the news and how we vote. And that will impact the actions of those news agencies and the people that we vote for. The connections are not simple and straight forward, but they are there. 

  We are all small parts of the vast organism that is our society. And just as the human body can move on for years, even as parts of it deteriorate and die, our society too can move on with or without us. On a societal level, most of us will never be able to reward our ego with the grand moments that it craves. Most of us do not exist in the heart, or the lungs, or the brain of society's body. Be we do exist. We are cells within the whole. And we can choose our nucleus. We can choose who we are, and what we'll contribute to our little corner of our universe. And in doing so we will, for better or for worse, contribute to the health and well being of the whole.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Along The Road To Cleveland Part 2

  There is something deeply personal about a gloomy day. Wet, cold, and cloudy days are the days that make us long for a book and a fireplace. Or dinner at home, under a warm blanket and perched in front of the TV. We spend time by ourselves or with somebody close to us on days like this.

  Today, I went for a long run along Lake Michigan. There were far fewer people on the lakefront than usual. On a sunny day, or even just a pleasant one, I would cross paths with thousands of people while running that far. Today I was out for nearly three hours and I crossed paths with fewer than twenty souls. But I felt a sense of kinship with those few that I've never felt with a crowd. I saw no groups of people. There were rarely even couples. Most of the people that I saw were by themselves. Out for a walk or a run. Some just sitting and looking at the lake. Many of the waves were ten feet high. Some of them crashed onto the boardwalk head on and sprayed water twenty or thirty feet in the air, while others came in at an angle and broke along the riveted sides of the seawall with a machine gun's cadence. I saw a man take his dog of the leash and let him sprint along the edge of the water, filled with the energy of the lake that had come alive and was putting on a show for the few that would come to see it.

  Some of the people that I passed, looked my way. With those people I would exchange a knowing smile. We had something out there, and we knew it. Our own secret beauty. And others stared ahead, content to stay in their own thoughts. Their journey along the stormy lake didn't include me, or anybody else that was out there today. But they were a part of mine.

  I'm home now. I'm warm and dry. My apartment is quiet. There is an old cat in my lap. And I have a sense of peace that often follows a long run. My girlfriend is braving the elements right now, as she makes her way here. She is cooking dinner tonight. When we're done eating, I'll clean. Then we'll spend the rest of the evening under a blanket.

  Tomorrow I'll go back into the crowded, noisy, busy city. But for now I am right here. And its wonderful.

Along The Road To Cleveland

  I am going to run the Cleveland Marathon in 26 days. Today I'll run 21 miles as part of the preparation for that race. Its a cold, wet, gray, and windy day here in Chicago. Not ideal weather for such a long run, but it fits my mood this morning and I don't know that I'd change it if I could. My right heel is a little sore, and there is a general tightness in my legs. I've been putting a lot of pressure on my body while training. Running faster and further than usual. Lifting more. Swimming more. Doing more stairs, speed-work, and yoga.

  But that part of the process is nearing the end. After today I still have runs of 12 and 16 miles left, as well as a number of 8 mile runs. And I've got more trips to the gym and the yoga studio. But the downhill stretch to the Starting Line begins after today's run.

  This is my fifth full marathon. Each of the four preceding marathons have had a distinctly different feel, and this one does too. I feel salty. I feel strong. I'm sitting in my apartment, looking out of my kitchen window, and I can almost see Cleveland from here. I'm gonna swallow this race whole. I'm ready to run.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Optimal Flight Distance

"If you see an animal feeding, you can measure its 'flight distance' by seeing how close it will let you approach before fleeing. For any given species in any given situation, there will be an optimal flight distance, somewhere between too risky or foolhardy at the short end, and too flighty or risk-averse at the long end. Individuals that take off too late when danger threatens are more likely to be killed by that very danger. Less obviously, there is such a thing as taking off too soon. Individuals that are too flighty never get a square meal, because they run away at the first hint of danger on the horizon."

- Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show On Earth 
  I read the following quote from Samuel Beckett a couple of days ago: "We spend our life trying to bring together in the same instant a ray of sunshine and a free bench." Its been swimming around in my head since. I've never read anything else from Beckett, so I have no idea in what context this statement was made, and I am therefor equally uncertain of the sentiment he intended to express. As it stands alone however, the statement comes across as an endorsement for what we generally call the simple things in life. An acknowledgment of the value of finding yourself where you want to be, doing what you want to do, and being with the people whose company you want to share. Its a view of life that has been reinforced over the years by proverbs and folktales, movies and popular songs, and it has such an air of truth about it that it hardly seems to warrant discussion. 
  Of course everybody's sunny bench is different. Some people can find peace through fixing an old washing machine. For others, its a fall day on the couch watching football with friends, or cooking dinner with a favorite aunt, or a long drive with no company but the stereo. Or peace might literally be found by sitting on a park bench on a sunny day. It seems like a simple enough idea on the surface. Recognize the things that truly make you happy, and find a way to make them a regular part of your life. 
  But its never that simple. There are countless obstacles. We have obligations to work, to our friends and family, and to the day to day chores that are necessary to keep our own personal lives in order. And the clock keeps ticking while all of those obligations are being met. Our lives are being lived at work, in the grocery store, and on the bus. And while we're trying to navigate our way through those duties, and somehow come out on the other end with enough time to do what we'd actually like to be doing, we are constantly peppered with offers of phantom relief. 
  Advertisements for new shoes, deodorant, and kitchenware will make a strong case for those products as the reward for your toil. And because those things can be easier to come by than the things that we truly crave, there may even be some legitimate short term value to the experience of buying those new ornaments for your life. But the purchases quickly become routine, the sense of fulfillment that they offer is often shallow and fleeting, and we're inevitably on our way back to work so that we can make more money for more exciting new stuff that quickly becomes boring old stuff. Likewise, the relief that can be found by sitting on a bar stool and having a cold beer, or passing around a bong in between video games, can prove to be a valuable pit stop. A brief respite from the cacophony of the world around us that is easier to come by than a weekend at the beach, or trip to visit old friends. At times, those moments can even give birth to some of our more rewarding and enlightening experiences. But it quickly becomes soul deadening and banal when its just the knee jerk reaction to every little frustration or anxiety that we experience. Our only means to unwind at the end of the day.
  Whatever form our quick-fix happens to take, it usually remains a poor (though at times necessary) substitute for the moments that we're waiting to really sink our teeth into. They're quick snacks that have little nutritional value, but that stave off hunger until we have the opportunity to put together all of the perfect ingredients that we need to cook up something that will truly satisfy us. Useful in moderation, but risky when we convince ourselves that a healthy life can be sustained by simply piling up these tiny bits of relative ease and comfort.
  On the other hand, we have the option of a wholesale dismissal of the opportunities for little indulgences. We can skip the new pair of jeans, always pass on shooting pool at the bar after work, and choose not to watch any TV. We can just plow head first through everything that we have to do, and squirrel all of our nuts away. We can save it all for a grand vacation or an early retirement. We can take our lumps now, confident that we'll have our reward down the road. But time is the currency that we're trading in, and we don't get to stash that away in a savings account. And it seems foolhardy to miss the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of a rainbow, in hopes that you'll find a pot of gold that you can not see and that may not even exist. 
  All of the little moments that make up our day to day (including the hours at work, at the grocery store, and on the bus) matter. There is no pause button, no time-out, no commercial break. It all counts. And if we lose sight of that, as we go chasing after some phantom grand prize, we run the risk of sacrificing a life that is already in our hands for one that we may never grasp.
  That is not to say that big dreams are not worth chasing. On the contrary, for many people they may be an absolute necessity. Even the chase itself may be exactly what we're after. 
  But an honest assessment of the value of what we are pursuing, and the cost of pursuing it, has to be made and constantly remade if we are to have any hope of achieving a sense of balance. And that is a difficult task. There is no universal formula that will work for all of us. We all have a different sense of peace. The thing that unites us is the desire to obtain that peace. But sorting through the web of hopes, fears, loves, and insecurities, and trying to understand what drives our thoughts and feelings is a process that is unique to the person undergoing it.
  And even if we do embrace that process, and we do seek that balance, we won't always be able to put together the sunshine and a free bench. Maybe it will elude most of us most of the time. And maybe that's what Beckett was saying. Perhaps to him, it was a dark and disheartening truth about what it is to be human. Something that is seemingly so simple, and is so essential to our well being, might be something that proves to be beyond us more often than not. 
  But anything less than this balance, or at least the quest for it, seems like little more than death. The slow incremental death of trading in dreams for trinkets, on the one hand. Or the accelerated death that comes from turning a blind eye to the real life in front of you, in order stare dumbly at a make believe life that is always just out of reach.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Walking to the gym on a cool cloudy day.

  There are days when I leave the house and immediately put on my headphones and turn on my ipod. Most days are like this. I start my walk to the bus stop or the el, and I crave the isolation that those headphones grant. With music in my ears, I'm free to think whatever thoughts I choose. I am safe from the intrusion of the sounds of the city. And on those days I'm thankful for that solitude.

  And then there are days like today. The ipod is there. Its in the side pocket of my backpack, and I can reach it in seconds. But I don't. I just walk. I skip the bus and the train altogether, and I just walk. And as I walk, I become increasingly aware of the sounds of the city. I listen to the cars. Their engines, horns, and brakes. Their stereos singing and their doors opening and closing. And I listen to the people. I pick up bits and pieces of the conversations of those who walk past me. Couples, families, kids. They all offer me a bite of their day, and then leave me to fill in the blanks. I hear the crash of steel on steel, and turn to look at a construction site. I hear a hollow thud, and I notice a woman struggling to force a laundry bin into the back of a truck. Down the block, another woman is digging through her purse in a mad search for coins to feed the meter with, and when I get close enough she asks me if I have a solid quarter.

  I do have a solid quarter, but I hesitate. Not because I don't want to exchange my quarter for her two dimes and a nickel. The coins are an afterthought. I hesitate because I'm not used to being out of my shell. Because I don't usually walk down the street without my guard up. Because I don't need anything from her, and I don't want her to need anything from me. And so I quietly say "no", and I keep walking.

  A few steps later I pause, reach into my backpack, pull out a quarter, and I walk back. I lie to her. I tell her that I forgot that I had some change in my bag. We exchange the coins. She thanks me. And we go our separate ways.

  I continue to notice new things. Pastel suits in shop windows. An old man with a cheap cane. A jogger. Some litter. A homeless man with one shoe on and the other by his head, laying next to a small fire under the bridge on Roosevelt that carries myself and countless other thousands of people today over the south branch of the Chicago River, over the railroad tracks that stretch south from Union Station, and over the empty field in which that man is laying.

  I pass all of this. And I see it, and I hear it, and I smell it. I absolutely feel it.

  And I did need something from the woman at the meter. I needed that exchange. However brief. However mundane. I needed that from her. I needed that walk.

  And I needed to have these thoughts, and to type them here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April 5

  I was anxious before my run today. 21 miles is a long way to run, and I'd never gone that far during training before. I'd always stuck to the widely accepted rule that while training for a marathon, your longest run should not exceed 20 miles. It wasn't the extra mile that made me anxious though. I'd have been a bit nervous if it were 20, or even 18. That's just a long way to go, and I know that if I'm not feeling my best that day, its going to get tough towards the end. But I decided back in February that I was going to push harder for this race, and so push is what I'll do. After all, conquering those fears and tearing down self imposed limitations are a big part of what running these races is all about.

  I set out at 1:00 pm on the nose. I ran southeast to start, and I was out of Pilsen within minutes. I passed through Chinatown and into the northern edge of Bridgeport. I was feeling good but not great at this point. I felt a little stiff, but no real pains. And I was catching a few strong gusts of wind, but nothing sustained. By the time I turned east into Bronzeville and then headed north towards downtown, I knew I was going a little too strong. Its easy to do without even thinking about it at the beginning of a long run. If your mind doesn't tell your body whats coming, your body won't bother to hold anything back.

  Running down State street, from Bronzeville to the South Loop, you can see the slow and seemingly sporadic  process of gentrification as it makes its way south. It doesn't happen one block at a time. It happens one building at a time. New condos on this block. A couple of hip restaurants on that one. But plenty of old run down properties still among them. Warehouses, housing projects, liquor stores and fast food spots are still common. But not as common as they once were.

  By the time I got to Roosevelt and turned into Grant Park, the aforementioned contrasts were gone and I was in Downtown Chicago. Scrubbed and clean as to appear welcoming and not the least bit threatening to the tourists and suburbanites who've made their way here to shop and pass through the museums, pizza parlors, and bars.

  I cut over to the lake and saw that the buoys were back in the water. The boats won't be far behind. I passed Navy Pier and Ohio Street Beach and saw only a sprinkling of tourists. Summer is close but it isn't here yet.

  As I got to the north end of Oak Street Beach I saw the Pigeon Lady. She had fewer birds around her than usual. But she sat motionless as ever. Bundled up under multiple layers of coats and scarves, she sat on the sand and stared out at Lake Michigan. I have no idea what she looks like. I've only seen her back. And I know even less about what might be going through her head as she sits there, day after day.

  As I approached the boat house at North Ave Beach, I realized that I was getting a little tight. I wasn't even close to the half way mark, so that was a little disheartening. But I was able to put that out of my head fairly easily as I moved west and into Lincoln Park and headed for the zoo.

  I was only peripherally aware of the animals as I ran through the zoo. My thoughts were wandering back to April 5, 1994 at that moment. That was the day that Kurt Cobain killed himself. I was in Houston visiting my Uncle Bob, who was fighting through the final stages of lung cancer in the next room. It was late at night and the rest of the family was in bed. I sat in the living room with only the light of the TV, and when I stopped on MTV for a moment, I learned from Kurt Loder that Cobain's body had been found in his Seattle home. My cousin Shelli came home a little later. I think she was about 21 years old at the time. I was 19. We sat in front of the TV as the news of his death was repeated. I had been reminded of that earlier this morning when I saw on the internet that today was the 17th anniversary of that death.

  I ran past the ponds on the north end of the park and made my way through Lakeview, Boystown, and Uptown. When I hit Montrose, I turned left and ran along the back side of Graceland Cemetery. I'd wanted to run through the graveyard, but by the time I located the entrance I was heading south on Clark, and I had already ruled out the possibility of backtracking. I passed by Wunder Cemetery as well. Wunder is surrounded by a tall chain-link fence, as opposed to the high brick walls of Graceland, so I could at least let my gaze comb the grounds. But again, I didn't feel up to exploring, so that was all that I was going to get out of north side cemetery tour.    

  By the time I got to Wrigley, the Cubs game was well under way. The streets and sidewalks were relatively clear. Those that had tickets were in the park, and the rest were on bar stools.

  I was becoming genuinely fatigued by the time I turned onto Sheffield and made my way south towards Lincoln Park. (The neighborhood this time. Not the actual park.) When I'd got as far as Belmont I accepted that I was going to need something to drink. I ran into the drugstore across from the Vic Theater, made my way through the maze of stuff that I didn't need, grabbed a sports drink, downed that, and got back on the road.

  I passed a few pretty girls when I ran by DePaul University, but I didn't notice much else at that point. My thighs were hurting, my hamstrings were wound tight like fishing line, and I wasn't aware of much that was happening outside of my own body. I was far from out of gas, but I was constantly taking stock of my condition.

  When I turned onto Clybourn, and saw Halsted in the distance, my spirits lifted. Halsted was the home stretch, and while I was fading, it was a slow fade. I didn't see any wall on the horizon, and I didn't anticipate seeing one.

  Running south on Halsted, I slowed and then stopped as I approached Division. Across the street a wrecking ball (it was actually more of a wrecking block) was knocking down the last building in Cabrini Green. I looked around and saw that others had stopped to watch as well. Nobody was speaking, as far as I could tell. We all just stood there and watched as the last piece of this infamous housing project was knocked down.

  I've only lived in Chicago for six years. And by the time I got here, Cabrini's fate had already been decided. Condos and boutiques lined the streets just one block away. And the residents of this failed experiment were already being relocated. I don't think I've ever even met anybody that has lived there. But I couldn't help stopping to look. A lot of lives had passed through those buildings on that little chunk of earth. Lives that are so different from mine in so many ways, that it would feel dishonest and arrogant to even speculate on what it would have been like to live there. But a piece of American history was coming down before my eyes, and I couldn't help but be moved. Though I'm still uncertain of the root and nature of whatever it was that I was feeling.

  My legs began to stiffen as I stood there, and I took that as my cue to get moving. I was about 17-18 miles in, so stopping for any significant length of time was a bad idea. The bridge on Halsted that carries you across the river is being rebuilt, so I turned west on Division and followed Hooker street around and back to Halsted.

  I had a couple more bridges to cross and I'd be in Greektown, and from there I was almost home. Just a quick shot across the UIC campus. My body was sore and the running was slow, but my mind was clean and clear. I jogged through the last few miles with a quiet calm inside of me. Even the outside world seemed a bit more peaceful. Cars seemed slower, the sun a bit more soft, and the city noises seemed like they were far off in the distance.

  When I touched the mural on 19th street, which is my finish line when I'm coming home from the northeast, my legs locked up almost immediately, and the pain began in earnest. But the peace remained. It was 3:50 pm when I got to my building. I talked briefly with a neighbor before excusing myself. I climbed the stairs to my apartment, downed some water, and laid down on the floor with my knees pulled up to my chin.

  At that moment I was empty. Mentally and physically, I was empty and at peace. And I laid there like that. With just the hint of a smile at the corners of my mouth. Letting the beauty of it all soak in.

  Five and a half weeks until the Cleveland Marathon.