Loose gravel spins beneath the tips of my running shoes, grating against the heating asphalt. I pace myself, counting breaths and steps in my head, creating a rhythm, releasing it into the powder blue of the Sunday sky. My arms, steady pendulums, cut through air. I can feel the beads of sweat beginning to seep from pores at the base of my scalp, the soles of my feet, and the flushed skin of my cheeks. On most mornings, I greet other runners with flexed limbs, women with swinging pony tails, men with moisture pooling at shirt-necks and creases in their skin. But today, I am alone.
Two miles away, these men, women, and their fine-haired children file through aisle and pew, finding their usual spots in the air conditioned church off the highway. The preacher ahems away the chatter and the
atmosphere is filled with hush and human spirit. The organ hums and notes fall onto the crowd.
Old women with clumpy mascara and eyeshadow that trails their hairlines, fan themselves with cardboard held together with hot glue and a message of “Jesus will save,” or “God is Light.”
Here, my thoughts are set in time with music, tied to the steps of my shoes, pinwheeling out from my brain and landing in the dust and blacktop that I leave behind. Every now and then, a voice—mother’s,
sister’s, preacher’s, his, hers, theirs—penetrates my lovely temple constructed of heavy breathing and determination.
“You should be in church. Praising God for this glorious day.”
“Where do you think everything came from, huh? Are we here by chance?”
This fuels me. My breathing gets faster, as do my feet, smoking them out, leaving them behind. Their words, their admonishments. Sinewy trees melt and blur as I pass; they become one organism, one living thing, origins unknown, and a likeness unseen.
Tree…fence…yard…another tree…yapping dog…low-flight bird. A harmony for the music thrumming through the buds in my ears. Matter, feeling, substance that exalts the
possibility of merely existing. Not the miracle, but millennia of cells, of lost star dust, of life threading itself to
this reality, this pure, perfect moment.
At the church, plates are passed, money collected for their higher power. A little girl in a flower-covered white dress is led to water. She repeats the words of the preacher, words she can barely say, and shakes as the water clings to her young skin. Sin, that Momma and Daddy have told her about, must be gone now. Taken by Jesus.
Me…I am baptized with sweat, that sweet liquor of not some divine determination, but simple human grit. The idea of sin on a day like today, when flowers drop their petals in a royal shower, is impossible. I glance up, at the largeness, the vast emptiness of the sky. The beauty of this cosmic aloneness hits me. I smile and pound away the home stretch.