"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt in the heart" - Helen Keller
One of my great joys is to get the opportunity to run with my son. When Michael was a young child growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, I was afraid he might get influenced with what amounts to maniacal fervor over football here in the deep south. There are only 3 sports seasons here in the south - football season, Bowl season (counted as a season because it almost always includes the University of Alabama), and spring football. Lately, you might want to include a seasonal subset that is known as Recruiting, but this goes on year 'round about "the Class of 2013...2014...2015" and on and on. They even recruit 8th graders now, for Pete's sake. Once these guy's find girls and the girls don't want them to play football so much, let's see how many of them line up for Opening Day against Whatsamatter U. in September of 2018. Anyway, in an effort to cleverly divert Michael away from a sport that might get his head knocked silly by a charging linebacker, I steered him to one of my favorite sports, soccer, where his head might get knocked silly trying to head the ball. After a few shots to the nose with errant attempts at heading the ball, the boy actually became pretty good.
About the same time he was getting his feet wet in this foreign game, ol' dad began running. Surprisingly, 10k's became Half Marathons that became marathons that became ultras. I dragged my family to crazy places while I ran crazy runs of crazy distances. Michael would run an occasional 2 mile fun run with me, but most of the time, he didn't see much glamour in the sport. Seeing his dad at 85 miles of a 24 Hour run is not the best advertisement to pursue the sport yourself.
As he grew to be a very good soccer player, pretty much the memories of running involved running a lap when he would balloon the ball over the crossbar in practice. His coach at Shades Valley High School had this strange coaching philosophy that he believed you would cure all your bad habits related to soccer if you ran a lap immediately after committing such said offense. To this day, when Michael & I get the opportunity to watch a soccer match together and some over-enthusiastic forward rifles the ball into Section 32, we both say in unison "Take a lap".
Michael never took to running for running's sake, but as he got older, and moved away, he would lace up the shoes and go for an occasional run, and sometimes, usually coaxed by some friends, he would enter a race. Back in 1999 (I think), I flew out to San Diego to be a fifth team member emergency fill-in for a Mud-Run event at Camp Pendelton. Now, this was way before Mud Runs were the extravaganza they are today. YOU CAN READ MY BLOG OF OUR MUDFEST HERE. I still say to this day, it was the most fun I ever had running. When I die and God asks me what was my best day ever, that day will for sure make the Very Short List.
Several years ago, at Christmas time, Michael came down to Birmingham with his wife to visit (he lives in Boston then and now), and we got to go for a run. During that run, I mentioned to him that I know he always wonders what to get me for my birthday in May. Well, that May, I told him, there was to be a Half Marathon in Boston, and if he would train and we could run it together, that would be the best present ever. He didn't train like a demon, but he did fit in enough runs into his schedule that we finished that race in 2:16 and had a ball. Talked the whole way...went out too fast of course...finished slower than we wanted of course. Finishing with him next to me fulfilled all I hoped it would be. It had nothing to do with 13 miles, nothing to do with 2 hours with 16 minutes tacked on, nothing to do with the medals around our neck. We were sharing a time alone even though there was 10,000 other runners in the race. Again, one of those Very Short List moments.
These moments of running with him are special. Now, that he and Joanie have blessed us with 2 grandchildren, we see each other about every other month. Sometimes we get one day where we get to run, sometimes not. There's no pressure. If it's going to happen, it'll happen. When we do, he's faster than me, I can go further than him, so there's that symbiosis.
This past week, they had rented a house in Falmouth, Cape Cod, for a week and we got to spend a few days with them (just got home about 1 AM last night). Wasn't sure if we'd get to run because when you have 2 toddlers running around...I mean literally RUNNING around...virtually every second, then you don't plan for things to happen. Things just fall into suddenly vacant time slots. And so it was on July 4th, that the time wormhole opened up and I said "I'm going to run" at which point Michael asked where I was going. I said that I was going to run to this lighthouse I had seen on the map. He said "how far?", I said "I dunno, about 6 miles I guess". To my joy, he said "It's a little stretch for me, but I'll come.". Cloudless sunlight, high noon, but a cool 75 degrees (coming from the 95 in Birmingham), we set out for the Nobska Lighthouse. We enjoyed a run through the quaint downtown of Falmouth and linked up with the Shining Sea Bike Path. This is a several mile paved bikeway that leads to the ferry just south of the lighthouse. Seems simple enough. Well, dad's direction-challenged mind was sure that we had to get off the bike path if we were going to get to the light house. Next thing, we are on a dirt trail, complete with wild deer. We (me) would try to look down the beach to see if I could see the lighthouse, but persistent fog was situated right on the beach. Confident, I said "It's got to be right around the next bend". Well, right around the next bend was up a twisting, hilly road, complimented with a 20MPH headwind. WE MADE IT, and with the GPS reading 4.2 miles, one of us seemed a little happier than the other (remember I said he could faster, I could go further?) to see the lighthouse. Needless to say, our return run was a little more leisurely than the out run. But, this just adds to what is so special for me...getting to share these moments, running along, seeing strange, unexpected sights, with my son. At about 7 miles, he announces that "I think this is my 3rd longest run ever!". Not sure if he was THAT happy about it, but I'm pretty sure I've been there for all three. He accused me of lying about the planned distance, but I assured him I was merely eyeballing the distance from a map the same way as when I set out on a long run anywhere..."Oh, it looks like it's about (blank) miles". I'm never off by more than 50%! On the way back, we even got to cross the painted-in-the-road finish line of the Cape Cod Marathon. I always think that's neat when I'm out of town. Then a short jog back to the house where our 8.3 mile "6 miler" ended and all ills were cured with a little watermelon.
I will never tire of days like this, and neither should any parent. Running, hiking, playing, just being with your child is such a deep special moment. It doesn't matter if they're 4 or 40. I don't see many folks running with their kids (younger or grown). I see more people running with their dogs, for crying out loud. I guess that's special for them...too bad. For me, I'll take that slightly meandering journey that seems like it's headed for a foggy lighthouse, but it's really a very clear bond during a run with with my son.
I'll see you all on the roads - AL
"One child lost is too many...one child saved can change the world"