At 18 I leave New Jersey, and never look back. All through high school I live for this moment. I dream of this moment. I plan for this moment. All I have done for the past many years, I have done for this moment. I am gone. Done. I reject it all. I regret it all. I sometimes curse my lot.
Coming back…Coming back…Coming home…again…I come back many times over the years, but this time I come home...
“To be oneself, simply oneself, is so amazing and and utterly unique an experience that it's hard to convince oneself so singular a thing happens to everybody.” ~ Simone de Beauvoir
It is 3:52 p.m. November 3rd, 2013
I walk from Central Park, hop, stiff legged down the subway stairs, step onto the C line downtown to 34th St., poke my head out from underground into the low fall light, cut sharply by towering buildings and make my way a couple blocks to Penn Station. I don't really want to leave. I want this to last. But I am tired and sticky with Gatorade.
The train pulls out from Penn Station, moving through the darkness deep beneath the Hudson River. All I can see in the window is my own reflection. The iPod seals me in own little world surrounded by people and their lives. I can not talk to anyone right now. I need to be by myself. The train emerges from underground into the late afternoon autumn yellow light, through the marshlands. Cattails and tall yellow-brown grasses gently bending in the breeze. Hawks glide by on invisible waves. I am struck to tears by the beauty of this place, a place I have always seen as ugly, ruined, defiled, sad. The sky is a hazy autumn blue. The whole world is soft and gentle around the edges. And after more than 30 years of rejecting the very idea of this place as part of me, I find myself overwhelmed by a thankfulness that hits me as a sudden shock. I have spent so much time pretending this is not me, and yet it is me. This place, the environment, the people - I owe them all gratitude for this day.
When Socrates is sentenced to death by his fellow Athenians, and sent to jail to await his hemlock, he is given ample opportunity to leave. The jailer leaves the doors unlocked and open. Freedom is one step away. His students beg him to leave and save himself. They cry at his side, pleading with him to leave. He will not. He sees himself as who he is because of Athens, it’s people, it’s culture - THIS time, THIS place is what made him what he is. He would not be the person he is without these people - this place - this time. And so, he accepts, though he does not agree with, the judgment and punishment handed down by those who made him who he is. And the jailer brings him his hemlock, and he drinks it and dies, with his students sobbing at his bedside. And Socrates dies, as he believes he must die, to remain Socrates. Anything else entailed a sacrifice of his very self.
What makes us what we are? Who we are?
Today will not sink in to my brain. Try as I may, it will not happen. My brain pushes it away. While running, I say to myself, “My god, you’re here. This is it!” My brain says, “Yeah, so what?” But in my skin, my throat, my heart, my soul, I am lost in it, in the blur of being in it. Sometimes we look forward to something but fail to be there, truly there, when it happens. How to be there? The brain just can’t grasp it. It’s too much, and it’s really nothing. It is nothing at all. Running through the streets of New York City is pretty unspectacular. Anyone can do this any day of the year. I am simply running down a city street.
What an experience is for anyone is dependent on the person AND the experience. It is nothing but that.
For me this is even more than I know, than I knew when I began all of this, and I feel that sink in as I sit on this train, Passing the refineries, and the long shuttered factories, the razor wire fences, the men smoking cigarettes, laughing, shooting baskets. The small grocery shops, the old women pushing shopping carts along the cracked-to-bits sidewalks.The windowless lounge, a flashing neon martini glasses flickering against the red brick wall...After last year, and the NYCM fiasco, I had washed my hands of all of this. Then I thought again.
35 years after taking this same train line into NYC with my father to witness Grete Waitz’s first victory in NY, I am heading home having done what I told myself I would do on that day. I am going back to the house I went back to then. Most of this area, on the surface, is unchanged from the 70s when all these factories began shutting down. Nothing has really changed. Everything always changes. What remains through the passing of time is us. We remain.
Aristotle asks us to consider this: Take a ship. Replace every bit of the ship with new pieces - every board, every nail, every itty bitty piece - Is it now the ‘same’ ship it was? Good question. There is not a single cell in my body that is the same as any cell in my body 35 years. In this sense I (we all) have become many ‘different’ people over the years. And yet, I am the ‘same’ person, and today I came to an important realization: This place I rejected with such vehemence, I now embrace as the very core of who I have become - what makes life and a self really matter. I may not like it all, but it is me, good or bad, and I needed to accept that. This place made me who I am, as did running, and it made me the runner I was and am and will be, and the person I was and am and will be. And I guess I'm usually okay with all of that.
My father had no idea what he did for me back in 1978. But I now know at least a piece of it.
My father is gone now. But at this moment he is with me, sitting beside me, as he was 35 years ago on this very day, going home with me, having given me the chance, having planted a seed that burst open, took root and grew - to do something that really matters to me. And once again, I am changed by the experience.
“I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.” ~ Anaïs Nin
…“I move slow and steady, but I feel like a waterfall...Past the one’s that I used to know…”