I'm in Tel Aviv, soon to be flying to Romania in about an hour, where I suppose there are images of Olympic gymnasts and little else plastered along the airport walls. Bucharest is not my final destination -- I'm pushing on through London a few hours later, ultimately to find my way back to the O.C. -- but I've never been. And so I am fascinated.
I have spent the last few days in Israel, enjoying a post-cross country break. It's always been my dream to come to the Holy Land during the holidays, and so I am here. The air has been chill and the skies alternately sunny and gray. The Inbal Jerusalem Hotel was packed with New Yorkers, mostly, come to celebrate the holidays as well. I ran a little, walked a lot, prayed at the Western Wall, and basically did the complete Jerusalem experience. Yesterday I made a wrong turn and ended up climbing a thousand steps to the top of Mount of Olives, which is amazingly steep. I was drenched in sweat, despite the cold air. Next time I read the part about Jesus riding a donkey down the mount I will be amazed that he managed to hang on, rather than get pitched forward.
Today I ran down an old dirt and limestone trail toward the City of David, and so learned firsthand the view from his palace as he gazed into the distance and ultimately looked down toward the bathing Bathsheba. No naked bathing women on my run, I'm here to report, but I did flush a covery of large quail and get chased by a pack of four wild dogs. As I wrote on Facebook today, it's not the ghosts you feel on a run like that, but the energy of all those people who've footsteps have graced that trail over the past three thousand years.
Or maybe it's the ghosts. They seem to follow me everywhere.
There will be five hours in the Bucharest airport before the BA flight to London. There's enough time in London to slip into the city and maybe run Hyde Park, or at least go to the Russian Place for the Eggs Florentine. That city has become my unlikely touchstone over the years, perhaps because I actually have ghosts of my own there, in the form of a long ago rebel of an ancestor. I think of him often, and think back to my own wilderness years, when I pretty much rebelled against everything there was. He was like that, too. Last week I came upon a traffic accident where a young man in his early twenties was being pinned to the ground by police. I had my window rolled down as traffic was diverted past him. From the looks of things, he had become unhinged after the accident and was being pressed into the pavement for his fit of rage. Cuffs were being applied, with some measure of force. "This isn't fair," I heard the kid plead. An arrow shot through my heart. The guy just wanted to be understood. Only he did it the wrong way, throwing a fit because his car was totaled through someone else's fault. And now he was on the ground, middle of a hot afternoon, cars creeping past as an audience to his embarrassment. I thought of Marc, my late great brother who always pleaded that life wasn't fair and endured a few scenes just like that. I thought of me, who bent so many rules when I was that age, pleading through my actions to simply be understood. But my actions were never big enough. Soon enough I figured that picking up a pen and writing was as good a way as any to be understood. Tonight I think of that long ago relative in London who got into a very bad argument and ended up running for his life, stowing away on a ship to America and changing his last name for his own protection. There are no Dugards without that ghost. We'd all be Robbins.
There aren't many runners in Jerusalem's Old City. At least not today, the Sabbath. I got a few odd looks as I trotted past families on their way up into the Old City, and remembered the early days of the running movement, when running itself was a strange activity and form of rebellion. People would ask what we were actually running from, as if some bad thing was chasing us, or we'd done something wrong. Back then, I'd always laugh and think of how much independence running gave me. How when my Dad was off in Vietnam and life was crazy at home, something as simple as heading out for ten solo miles was as close to peace as life got. Or how happy I could make my mom -- a beautiful woman who was so incredibly stressed by my Dad's absences and a houseful of young children that the anxiety sometimes came out as rage -- by winning a race. And how much I wanted to be like Steve Prefontaine because he was fast, independent, and had one middle finger flipping off the world at all times -- or so I imagined. That image of rebellion was what drew me in most, making me like him better than Ryun or Shorter or Rodgers. Running from something? No, we weren't running from something. Or so I thought. But I was always running from something, until the day I stopped to figure out the ghost that was chasing me -- was me.
It was always me. "This isn't fair," screamed the voice in my head on days when I let it be heard. But nothing's fair. You do the best you can with what you've been given. And lately, I'll admit, I've been given a hell of a lot. But I'm still running. Not always fast, not always far, but I'm running. I always pack my running shoes in my carry-on luggage, just so they can be near if I need to go for a run.
We’ve all got ghosts. Every one of us. I've always been embarrassed by mine, which has only prolonged their stay in my head. I feel their youthful entitlement and misplaced rage and roll my eyes because I never came to terms with them. I ran from them. I still do. Not because they're scary, but because they know me better than I know myself. So the mission, the purpose to all this, is to find a way run toward the ghosts and not away from them.
Today, on the trails of Jerusalem, felt like a start. I long to be integrated with my ghosts, rather than appalled. And then to run with them, like some mental apparition of the Pamplona bulls, knowing they could hook me with a horn anytime, but enjoying the buzz of running with them anyway.
On to Romania.
Keep Pushing... Always