Even through the drone of my running playlist, I can hear friendly footfalls from behind. I slow and glance to my right, and I recognize one of my random running friends. As he passes me and give his typical flaying wave, I name him. His name is Michael, I think to myself. I’ve only ever seen Michael from across the street; we’ve never run side by side like this. Wouldn’t it be great if I could actually choke out the words, “Hi, I’m Melissa. What’s your name?” First of all my breath is too labored on the uphill at this pace, second of all that kind of friendliness and human connection is way outside of my comfort zone, especially when running. So I just decide, without any input from him that he looks like a Michael. As I run beside him for a bit, I analyze a few things about Michael, from his slack jaw, a result of sharp intake of breath at the start of his run, he must live nearby. He is younger and more handsome than I assumed, as I have only seen him from afar but always recognized him by the arm raised high overhead and waving in my direction to acknowledge, “ You are a runner. I am I runner. I greet you and honor you by raising my arm overhead and messing with my gait.” I admit I have always liked Michael just because of his gallant gesticulation. My preferred method of acknowledging other humans on the trail is with a slight head nod sometimes accompanied with two fingers grasping my hat brim, indicating a doffing of my cap without actually removing it. Words are superfluous and unnecessary when running at top speed, all I want to communicate is “I see you, I greet you, I won’t run you down or harm you. Also, sorry for sweating in your general direction.” I do reserve a friendly wave and a labored spoken, “hello” or “good morning” for my favorite regulars; usually only for Zombie Grandma and my favorite mother daughter duo who warn each other in what I may erroneously assume is Mandarin as I approach. Since I don’t understand that language I am left to interpret from their interactions that it translates to, “Mom, here comes that crazy running girl who likes to wave at you, smile at her so she goes away!”
Michael makes me wonder a few things. Young, beautiful and spry, other than his mouth being a bit akimbo, Michael makes his steps seem effortless. I wonder if my stride, which sometimes feels like I’m sinking into the pavement and sometimes feels like I’m defying gravity, looks as easy as his. Michael also makes me wonder what I look like when I run. Other than his methodical pant, Michael looks like an Abercrombie and Fitch model. I know I am not so blessed. When I arrive back at the house, it is straight to showers for me to rinse off the river of sweat that has dampened my hair and rendered me rank! I imagine that Michael, if he sweats at all, drips honey. Also, he is faster than me, which I previously failed to observe because he had slowed slightly to grace me with his friendly salute. Yet I am so self absorbed and addicted to setting my pace that I won’t allow myself to stop on the trail during my fastest mile and talk with a woman I recognize from when I taught her son in preschool. I know he must be in his mid-twenties now and I am dying for her to whip out her cell phone and show me a photo and tell me how little Eric “Cachetes” (his nickname stems from the fact that I worked side by side with a Guatemalan woman who loved his little cheeks, “cachetes”, the Spanish word for cheeks was always attached to this boy in my memory). I wonder if mom even knows about her son’s nickname from his preschool teachers. Yet it is easier to keep running fast than to talk to people and make real connections. Thanks to Michael, slowing for me, to raise his hand in respect, I may get the confidence some day to stop and talk to Eric Cachetes’ mom. I might benefit from his example and be less self- involved. Perhaps I may even realize that the way I look and the way others perceive me is not why I run. When Michael’s mandible slackens to allow more oxygen to enter his lungs, he’s not thinking about his appearance, he’s being at one with his run. To be fully within your body, allowing it what it needs to accomplish amazing things, yet being present enough of mind to truly see and appreciate those around you is a blessed state in which to exist. I am not there yet, Michael, but thanks to your example. I’ll keep running and I’ll keep trying. Eventually I’ll become the better person that I imagine you to be.