The sun returned for all of us this weekend.
Firstly, there was Middle daughter’s return from the city of Leeds. Secondly, Friday night arrived and the missus thought it would be a good idea for us to have a walk. We were leaving the girls at home for an hour so that we could walk to a pub and get a swifty. Once we’d walked into the pub, a famous real-ale themed chain, the wife thought that we ought to get the daughters to come down and have a spot to eat.
The stagnant breath of winter was beginning to be blown away. We saw people we knew from the various running clubs that both us and our daughter had been members of. It was the warmth of exchanging human greetings was something that I hadn’t been prepared for. I had spent the last year avoiding people and pulling into a shell during social interactions. If you have ever been to a party and there was this bloke hiding away in the corner, nursing a beer and staring aimlessly into the near distance, that was me. The third section of sunshine was going to be having our eldest daughter back for Easter. Before that, my lovely wife and I were going to tread the trail once more.
The youngest was at orchestra for a couple of hours meaning that my running buddy had no real excuse for walking part of the trail. She seemed cheerful and determined. I received no formal warning before we set off so I gathered that the way was clear for a run that demanded a little bit more.
The first part of it was the steepest. It isn’t straight up but it’s close on. I normally set off at a steady pace and then conquer it by stealth. I always stop at the first summit to allow my body to urgently, and deeply, inhale as much of God’s fresh air as it can. Sophie usually runs with our youngest who has taken to feigning stitch as soon as the hilly bits present themselves. This is obviously an opportunity for Mum to stop, catch her own breath and coach the youngest to the top. This involves a bit more walking rather than running. On this beautiful spring day, she ran and ran and hardly stopped.
If I could spend eternity running up that hill and through the woods with this woman, I would be blissfully happy. We were full of smiles and appreciation for our present state. Both of us had noticed that more of me was coming back. It was a process not dissimilar to developing old-fashioned photographic film in which the right solutions encouraged the intended picture. My image was slowly coming through in the gaze of sunshine and foliage.
It’s been a surprise to have realised that one can get lost. Indeed, that you can literally lose oneself amid the mayhem of what is called modern life.
Once, when I was much younger, I lost a St. Christopher on my long walk to sixth form. The medallion meant a lot to me as I was already embarking on my God-bothering voyage. To a young and foolish me, it was a sign. St Christopher was supposed to be the patron saint of travellers and my icon had fled. I spent over one month and one week lamenting my bad fortune and had sensibly moved on to more earthly concerns such as not doing quite as badly at A Levels as I was destined to do and securing the love of girls who were probably unobtainable. Aim high, hit low.
Life was starting to make a little more sense but then I found it, the silver medallion ensconced in dried mud. I had been walking past it for almost forty days, in the morning and then in the evening, and I had not been able to retrieve it. I could have lost it anywhere along the seven-mile round trip. And then it just popped up almost from nowhere, on a hilly track of wild grasses and heather. I probably took it as a sign and it was probably this that kept me in my God-bothering state of mind for the next thirty odd years.
I write this for no good reason other than it happened to me. I believed in signs and felt that something was watching over me, helping me to succeed. Now it’s a story of a lad who was stupid enough to lose something of value (£15) and then find it again. It’s a story of chance. It’s a tale about a lad who spent a huge chunk of his life looking on the floor. He was either looking to find something of true value or something that held the potential key to his destiny. He grew up with a stoop and frequently struggled to see what was just up ahead.
So, in the course of these last few weeks I have find myself looking forward. I have probably glanced down to check my footing on occasions, but my focus is ahead. There is a kids’ toy which involves trying to get a number of tiny ball-bearings into equally tiny holes. The game is one of those that can be kept in a pocket. It’s in a small plastic see-through case and it might have been something that fell out of a Christmas cracker. My recent runs have jolted me a little in the right direction and the arrival of the sun has started to lighten my mood. Somewhere along one of the many paths I had been running, I found myself; well, parts of myself. Now I am changing the equilibrium of my mind and body in order to allow my ball-bearings to settle into their proper places. Each time I find another, I put it into play and try to find a place for it.
What doesn’t break you makes you stronger.
I have been wondering if this little saying has any validity or whether it is just something a criminally carefree stoic may utter on his way to crucifixion. I ‘internetted’ it and found out that perhaps it’s got some foundation in reality.
W. Keith Campbell, a professor of social psychology at the University of Georgia in Athens called the type of mental phenomena that I have experienced an, “ego shock”. After subjects had undergone a serious blow to self-esteem the normal psychological protective mechanisms can simply go off-line. Time stops. The world stops. Our journey through life stops. We forget our roles as well as our lines and find ourselves paralysed and dumbstruck in the face of the raw brutality of the world. There is something else to this as well; you wake up. Whatever dream you were in before the ego shock, is shattered. Everything is new. The world is a different place in which old habits of thought, older values, and even older responses, evaporate. It’s like writing a book to a formula that you think is nailed on to succeed, getting two thirds of the way through it and then pressing the delete key accidentally. In an instant, all that was there is gone. All of the life lines have been erased and you can’t even trace the indentations of their previous meaning.
But then you see it. You see new ways of seeing and see other pictures. There is a moment when you think, “Yes, this is it!”, but that moment passes and you are left with the essence that may as well be the warm breeze that runs alongside you on a spring morning.
Let me not dissuade you from coming along with me; sometimes that New-Age stuff just pops out. It’s not meant to be visionary or even life-enhancing; it’s just neo-philosophic- guano.
I am hoping that there are a number of you out there who have experienced this thing that I have had the pleasure of. I don’t want to compare notes or anything like that, but I do want to make a connection.
Just read After Burnout and see what you think.