Sunday, January 11, 2015


"The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die."-Steve Prefontaine

Death: you can't talk about it. You can't prevent it. You can't predict it. You actually cannot play chess against it. It is final. Or maybe not. It is ugly or beautiful or devastating or a relief or something in between and far less glamorous.

I have seen people die. People I love. People I know. People I care for. I have no particular fear of death, just the sadness of leaving my loved ones. I don't think it is all that special, as everyone does it. It is a drag. It is mundane. It is shocking. It is brutal.

But I digress, as what I mean to write about is the place you reach into when you do something really hard and not very comfortable. Death is a good example of this. But life offers plenty of chances to perfect the skill. You might try parenting to audition for the part of ultimate heartbreak. You might try playing music or writing a book or painting a painting to experience the baring of the soul, not unlike a tarring and feathering with scattered applause. Running? I see it as the basic built-in skill of humans that is both second nature and hard as hell. It is one thing to trot along and, over days, tire out the prey. It is another thing to inch up your splits, until you can find the personal record (PR). That takes:
A. Guts
B. A large ego
C. Just the right pair of running shoes
D. All of the above

I used to be faster than I am now. I might be able, still, to run faster than I ever did before. Age is a factor, yes, but I am not that old yet, and I have an excellent masseuse. The biggest barrier is psychological. For instance, my job kept me from feeling I could afford a run for all the weekdays of last week. I kept picturing leeches, sucking me dry. It reminded me of a summer day long ago, when I played all day long in some swampy area of Wisconsin and my mother lovingly pulled multiple leeches off of me. She was a no nonsense nurse, and though I complained bitterly about the disgusting task she took on, she did it, and did not flinch or complain. Which brings me back to the whole parenting thing. You will do anything for your kids. But they just see the world through their glasses tinted with "why is my Mom not a beauty Queen with a ton of money and who thinks my use of alcohol and drugs and tobacco is just so spiffy?"

Hold on, I once again digress.

Death is relevant here. You can spend your life putting off your dreams. Well, good luck with that one. You can spend your life playing chess with death. But death could not give a rip about a good end game. He has one job and that is to ferry you to the next destination. You can spend your life hating, or complaining, or seeking approval and fame and money and the next high.

Van Dyke Parks put it well. When people ask him where he is from or where he grew up or where he has lived, he says, it does to matter. Who you are is:
"The books you have read, the art you have seen, and the culture which has impacted your personality."

Read a book. Listen to music. View some art. Know your community. And do not underestimate the power of the death. Is today a good day to die?

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