As 2016 drew to a close, I was a little surprised how many people on social media (and elsewhere) went out of their way to throw rotten fruit at the year on its way out.
Of course there’s a long tradition of viewing the annual flip of the calendar in anthropomorphic terms – e.g., the weary old man with the long beard making way for the fresh-faced child – but this year, most seemed to imagine 2016 as a monster or devil-year, and as the seconds ticked away to midnight on New Year’s Eve, there seemed to be a collective shout of good riddance. Typical were the numerous examples of what Slate.com called the “best meme of 2016,” before-and-after riffs expressing the popular view that, though we survived the year, it left us physically and emotionally wrecked.
Even though I laughed along with the memes, I felt something quite different.
I don’t mean to dismiss the grief or alarm that others feel. There was plenty of sadness, and there were plenty of reasons to take to the streets in protest, but I just don’t know that 2016 was all that different from 2015… or that 2017 will be an improvement. Maybe we just woke up a little bit more in 2016.
I did a lot of reflecting on my own over the past few weeks, but less about the macro events that made the news and changed the world, and more about the small, personal joys, disappointments, and revelations that I experienced as life continued to find ways to surprise me.
A big theme for me in 2016 was running and health. One thing I learned in 2016 was that no matter how slow, out-of-shape, and impaired you feel, things can always get worse.
Sorry, I know that sounds grim, but actually I’m OK with it. In fact, this realization led to a habit of valuing every single run, even the ones that I would formerly have labeled “bad” runs. Knowing that I couldn’t take the ability to run for granted brought a kind of clarity about my motives for doing it at all. I learned that being a runner is a daily choice, and that while there was some embarrassment in not being able to run freely with my buddies, nothing was stopping me from showing up anyway, and that when I got over myself and just showed up, my friends were there with unconditional encouragement and support. Everyone deserves friends like that.
I don’t know what 2017 will bring, running-wise. It’s kind of hard to imagine racing, or even running very fast any time soon, but I’m looking forward to figuring out how to get back there. Maybe I’ll have to be content with 8-minute miles in my next race, and if so, I won’t be happy, but I won’t despair either. I think I’ve finally accepted that it really is all a process, and the times that come out of that process aren’t nearly as important as being fully committed to the task.
Being an Introvert
Another theme for 2016 was coming to a better understanding of alone time.
As my relationship with exercise became more problematic, I had to figure out that lack of alone time was a real problem, and that I needed it to stay psychologically healthy. Not surprisingly, my difficulties with running made it a lot harder to handle my over-commitment to work and coaching. I became aware to a much greater degree of how I used – had always used – running to cope with the stress in my life, and when running became another source of the bad kind of stress, I needed to address that.
The answer that eventually emerged was to adopt a new motto: “run if you can, walk if you must, but at least put on your shoes and get out the door.” Sure, I wanted to run far and fast, but I discovered that if I stopped judging my runs based on those criteria, I could still reap the benefit of being out of the office, the house, civilization.
I had runs that turned into walks, and sometimes back into runs. It didn’t matter as much as I thought it would.
One of the pleasures of the Holiday Season is laughing at and with “Love, Actually” the 2003 movie that follows the romantic steps and mis-steps of a bunch of Londoners leading up to Christmas. It’s far too easy to make fun of this movie, to hoot at the conveniently coincidental intersections of the multiple plots, and to feel superior to the absurd neediness of the characters.
But as sappy, manipulative, contrived as it no doubt is, I love this movie. I suppose I love it because everything ridiculous that happens is actually a lot closer to how life actually feels to me than how I think it’s supposed to feel. Every time I start watching the movie prepared to snicker, I end up in tears. Somehow watching the characters as they stumble toward or away from each other, it becomes “claramente” to me that, like them, most of us feel needy and empty at times – perhaps especially during this season of reckoning up the damage another year has inflicted on us. I know at times I’ve tried to fill in that empty feeling with running or with some other temporary fix. But perhaps like the characters in the movie, I/we learned a little bit better how to let others help patch up the cracks and fill in the holes in our hearts.
And that’s what I want to remember about 2016. I want to remember all the people who helped me out. I want to recall the co-workers who taught me, the doctors who treated me, the students who shared seasons of running with me, the old friends who hung back to run with me, the family that put up with me, the grand-child who sang with me, and the two new ones who fell asleep in my arms… and friends who love Love, Actually as much as I do.
So here’s to 2016, and to 2017, too, for that matter. Run if you can; walk if you must, but at least put your shoes on and get out the door.