Have you ever watched pole vaulters? Terrifying. What are they thinking using a flexible and (by all appearances) flimsy stick to propel themselves into the air at ridiculous heights? I'm sure a pole vaulter would assure me it's safe, detailing the technique, and the precautions, and the NASA-designed material the poles are made of, and I would smile and nod my head politely, internally dismissing all of it as nonsense. But it does look exhilarating, the thrill of being catapulted like that. For a few moments your feet leave the domain of mere mortals and you fly through the air, thrown into weightless euphoria. Food is my pole. The right food can lift me right up and out of whatever funk I'm in.
Depressed? Ice cream. Frustrated? M&M's. Stressed? Snickers. Just funky? Nearly a whole bag of tortilla chips. No salsa. Salsa just impedes the rapid progress from the bag to my mouth.
This is not healthy by the standard of any physician (nor therapist, I imagine).
In the home-stretch of the Easter season I ate a lot of... well... everything. Everything in sight. I used that pole again and again, but it sure didn't throw me into weightlessness. After Easter I decided to try to get this area of my life on track.
I started cycling again. I started doing some cheesy workout videos where they kept referring to me as "ladies." As in, "Come on ladies, you can do this!" And I started running, something I've always hated but somehow don't this time around.
And I noticed something strange: Exercise makes people nice. Almost without fail, every person I pass gives me a smile, a wave, a breathless "good morning," or at the very least a nod of the head in acknowledgment.
In contrast, through the course of the rest of the day I might pass people in parking lots, at the grocery store, or even at work and not be guaranteed a single indication that I exist. I used to ride the bus to work and was always struck by the ability everyone had, myself included, to pretend we weren't all pressed together like pork in a sausage, joined as we were at the hips, shoulders, and everywhere else during the rush hour commute. It was like an hour-long masterclass in avoiding eye contact. We are experts at ignoring one another.
But not when we're exercising. Young and old, thick and thin, sprinting smoothly or huffing and puffing, people are nice out there. Each time I pass someone going the other way and we politely nod to one another, I feel like there are silent conversations passing between us:
"Home stretch." "Yeah."
"We can do it." "Yes we can."
"This is good for us, right?" "That's what they say."
"What were we thinking?" "Are we in hell?"
There's amazing power in solidarity, especially in the solidarity that comes from doing the things we know we should be doing and doing them with other people. I've experienced deep and meaningful connections with people in the midst of collaborative ministry and art-making. Some of these have been mere moments, and some of them are stretched out over seasons and even decades as we've criss-crossed paths in the process of doing what we're each put here to do. Some of the joys along the way are the people we find and the ways we get to partner.
The tiniest bits of unity form community, even if only for the moment it takes to pass one another on a misty forest trail in the cool of the morning. I enjoy my quiet and solitary runs and rides, but I also love the moment when I notice a distant figure advancing, anticipating a fleeting friendship forged in solidarity.
Hi friend. Bye friend.