Breathe in -- step step step -- breathe out -- step step step. That’s what running is like when I’m relaxed and in control. I focus on my breath, the clean air surrounding me and the mechanics of my body.
Smooth, rhythmic, painless, flowing. Those are the easy days. I am most grateful for those days.
Sometimes my breathing is jagged and breaks up into steps of its own: a little piece of breath along with every footfall, like a little song but an annoying song, one stuck in my head that I can’t stop hearing. On those days I tend to be grateful when the run is over.
Sometimes breathing deep takes effort. My legs hurt and my breath can’t keep up with my desire to keep going. I push myself, being grateful for my legs, my independence and my mobility.
Sometimes breathing is stressful. During frozen mornings, I take a break and my lungs sting. I think of my grandfather who died of lung cancer. I think of coal miners with black lung and silicosis. I can’t make the pain stop. It has to pass slowly. On those days, I am thankful for my healthy lungs. I am thankful for every breath.
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Sometimes my feet pound the ground so hard that my breath is split into pieces and scattered ahead of me. In those moments I am traveling swiftly downhill. Grateful I can afford running shoes that grip the rock, I realize I live a life of privilege.
I don't always run to things. Sometimes I run from things. I’ve had painful experiences, and sometimes they surround and crush me like a lead blanket. I can't get a full breath until I run, so I run. On those days running frees me.
On a recent smoky morning, I went for a run on Observatory Mesa. Flagstaff looked like Grand Canyon during a cloud inversion. The town disappeared under a solid white blanket. Treed mesas emerged around the edges. I could imagine a forest without buildings. There was a fantasy element. A crescent of the Walkup Skydome glowed through the haze as a train appeared to disappear into mist. I was grateful for this fire-fed forest I get to live in, this place I call home.
Also on my mind, as they often are, were the 13-plus tribes who were brutally moved aside so this town could come to be. After all, the story of Thanksgiving is a gloriously incomplete mythology. This time of year we must be aware. The things that give us gratitude sometimes come at a cost.
Moving across the landscape quietly, except for the sound of my breath and my feet, I imagine myself as barely even here, my presence as fleeting, just a moment. And I am grateful for every moment I have.