It’s only Algebra if you let it be

After my last post I received a text from a very dear friend that brought me up a little short and forced me to realign my thinking.  She started with “Just read your blog, as usual I loved it.” because she is my friend and she loves me.  And then she stopped preachin’ and started meddlin’.  I love having friends who do that for me.

Among the points she brought to my attention was that if I exercise only one hour a day that is only 4% of my day.  I did the math and she’s right!  Whether you divide 1 by 24 or 60 by 1440 (then multiply the result by 100) it still comes out to 4.  And if something that’s important to me doesn’t deserve 4% of my own time, I’m not 100% certain what does.
Since we began our marathon training program right at a month ago I have found it all too easy to allow Other Things to come between me and our scheduled runs.  Tiredness, busyness, doing-other-thingsness.
You name it, I’ve skipped runs for it.
I even stalled on seeing a doctor for a nagging pain I allowed to go on for a month.
Me, who “learned my lesson” with Ye Olde Knee over a year ago.

It has been all too easy to say “It’s ‘only’ a couple miles.  Missing that won’t make that big a difference at this point in the training.”  Which, from a strictly physical perspective, is true.  I mean heck, I ran a 10K virtually ‘untrained’ back at the beginning of May.  I certainly hadn’t built up to running 6 miles, but I did that race and finished in decent time and without any injuries to show for it.  I have developed enough basic fitness about myself and I’ve learned enough about running, pacing, and my body that I pulled it off.  Not the smartest thing, but crazier things have been done by runners other than me.
But how far I can (or can’t) run on a given day wasn’t the point.  And I knew it.

But getting back to my friend’s point – which was spot on – even I had noticed that it seemed way too easy for me to let “other things” come between me and the miles.  I’d actually been a little puzzled by it given that I truly do love running.  Her point (and I knew it and she knew I knew it but she still spelled it out for me in Just So Many Words because she knew I needed that) was this: YOU deserve that time.  To me it’s like a spiritual practice and a must do every day.  I love you and feel like you struggle with doing for yourself.  Just do what makes your heart sing.

And then it hit me:
I had made running my Algebra.
Let me explain . . .

Math is, simply put, not my forte.
I’m not talking in that ‘Math Is Hard’ Barbie kind of way.
Obviously I can do math – I did it up there with that whole 4% of the day thing up there!

I mean in that This Is My Strength and Brings Me Fulfillment/Accomplishment and Makes My Heart Sing way.
Writing is my Thing.
Cooking is my Thing.
Laundry is my Thing.
Singing is my Thing.
Math is notsomuch my Thing.
I can do it.  Like I can clean a toilet and clip my toenails.
Because it has to be done.
But there is no joy in my personal little Mudville or music in my heart from having done it.

In high school (and a-freakin’-gain) in college, Algebra Had To Be Done.
Not like Breathing Has To Be Done.  I could have simply Not Done the Algebra.  But it was a necessary, nay mandatory, step in accomplishing the goal of achieving the accomplishment of graduation.
And so I did it.
I slogged through every “Solve for X” and found every “Y” with varying degrees of success.  But I did it.  And at the end of both experiences I got to The Finish Line and was handed the less shiny “Finisher’s Medal” of a diploma with all the honors, rights, privileges thereunto appertaining.  And the student loans.
When I look back on the experiences of high school and college I can’t tell you who sat next to me in study hall while I beat my head against the Algebra, and I don’t remember the answers to any of those test questions.  Because, for me, Algebra was the necessary evil.  The foe to be conquered.  The thing done because it had to be in order to get what I wanted.

It did not make my heart sing.

What I do remember are the choir concerts and who I stood beside and what part I sang.
What I do remember are the works of literature I read and the short story that got published in the high school’s literary publication and the essay that made gave the professor “that Emily Dickinson top of my head just came off” feeling.
I remember sitting in the church sanctuary or my parents’ basement playing Beethoven over and over again for nobody but me.
I remember cooking dinner for my family and having it pronounced “Delicious!”
Those things made my heart sing.
I loved the doing of the things.
I loved the time spent with others.
I loved that something I did touched or inspired someone else.
I loved that even if nobody else got anything out of it, ultimately I did it for the joy I got from it.

Here I am, thirty years after high school and almost twenty-five years after college with another Big, Long-Term Goal ahead of me: Finishing A Marathon.
And there are the “have to” aspects of it. Cross-training on an elliptical.  Possibly even getting on a bicycle and riding.  Because I know it will make me a better runner and benefit my body.  Not because I particularly enjoy ellipticalling or cycling.
Another Algebra.
I will do them, with varying degrees of success, but in all likelihood there will never be any heart singing in it for me, and they won’t be what I remember when I look back on this marathon years from now.
And I’m okay with that.
But the running itself, now that makes my heart sing.
Because I never thought I ‘could’ run.  Like I never thought I could hit a high C.
Even the runs I start out “not feeling” end up being some of the best, not unlike being handed A Tale of Two Cities sophomore year (which is now one of my favorite books).
But somewhere in the past few weeks I had begun to see the training runs not as “time spent doing something I love” but as some sort of big, long algebra equation to be slogged through to find the ‘X’ of Finishing the Marathon instead of focusing on the joy of doing the runs for their own sake.
Just like all the hours spent in practice rooms, and the time poring over words (my own and those of the masters) were done with the joy of my heart singing, and at the exclusion of other activities and distractions because they made me happy; so shall be my commitment to The Practice of my running.
And that’s really what it is: A Practice.
Like going through Salvation over and over for the sheer joy of hearing the notes coming from my mouth.
Like reading Dickens’ opening hyperbole of adjective knowing it will eventually lead to a far, far better thing.
Like knowing that seventh grade home-ec’s Tomato Cheeseburger Pie will eventually become to Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.

Like prayer and meditation.
I do it for me.
Oh I am doing it for the Finish Line and that big, heavy medal around my neck!  Make no mistake about that.
But every run between now and then, and all the ones that will come after, those are for me because I do deserve those moments of a singing heart that comes somewhere between start and finish.
I’m done with Algebra, it’s time to run!

6 thoughts on “It’s only Algebra if you let it be

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