Today, I Run

Today, I Run
Today, I run.
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My friend loaned me her car, so I drive to a trail head I’ve never been to before. I want to explore. I want to go up the rocks and jagged pathways and be completely immersed in nature. I love DC for that. You can escape whenever you need to into a National Park.
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I’ve caved in and started using the Samsung “Running Coach” app on my phone. I pride myself on being a self-motivator, but it looks like I am falling into another millennial trap of covering up the feeling of loneliness with a button on my phone. Hit this one to find a lover, this one to help you meditate, this one to find out where you are going.
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I find it hard to believe we are still born with any sense of intuition at all.
Looks great! says Samsung.
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How the hell do you know how I look? I say back. All that matters is that it feels great. I remind myself. Getting my heart rate up feels great.  
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Keep up, you’re going too slow.
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Of course, I’m going slow! I’m going uphill on a trail, dammit! This is as hard as shit! 
I give myself the break.
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Thankfully, I’ve learned how to do that in the past four years. 
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Four years ago I was not a runner. I was not even a mover. If the doctor asked me if I worked out, I probably would say I had sex pretty regularly– does that count?  Oh, and sometimes I take a walk. I wasn’t fat; I wasn’t skinny. I just didn’t really see the point of exercise when there were other things to do.
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My mother said my childhood pediatrician told me I had a body of an athlete. But the narrowness path of public education set me up as someone who was supposed to get good grades and be in marching band. I felt embarrassed around athletic people. Couldn’t really keep up. Leave me to the brainy stuff, I thought. Forget the body.
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So, when did I start running? I think back first run I took at my summer teacher training after I had arrived in China as a fellow in Teach for China, a program similar to Peace Corps or Teach for America. We lived and worked at a rural school for a month to prepare us for teaching in our villages in the fall.
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A few of my friends would run. But they were very competitive, as many of the people in my program were in they had first arrived. Many hailed from Ivy Leagues and were used to being the best. On many levels, I felt intimidated.
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I’m going to be quite vulnerable with my readers and say I have a slight, but sometimes major, emotional trauma from childhood when it comes to becoming a part of new, big social groups. Ironically, I seek the experience out constantly. Such is the paradox of souls yearning to heal.
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On top of that, the general atmosphere our training was just, well, difficult. I had become so depressed from nights hardly sleeping on the hard-wooden bunk-bed. We had ridiculous deadlines of lesson plans to meet without any real Wi-Fi connection. One weekend, I developed a low-grade fever and just wanted to nap the day away.
I think after some lucky Skype call connection with my dad, he reminded me to try and exercise more. I remember putting on an album of Afro-Cuban music and going towards the hills, the day-time glow of a full moon in sight.
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A la luna yo me voy sang my iPod.
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I guess this DOES feel good, I remember thinking.
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The fever disappeared and I forgot I had ever had it to begin with. 
Good pace. Keep this up.
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Thanks Samsung!
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Today, I run alone. I’m going to an event later tonight with a new friend that I don’t really know. Samsung talks in my ear but grounding down into my body reminds me about real emotion.
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Slow down and keep breathing.
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Stop pretending you’re not anxious. Just breathe.
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Run at a pace that allows you to still sing a song out loud.
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To who? About what? I’m alone Samsung!
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I wonder if I can make new friends who will want to run with me. Or maybe I do have friends that will run with me; I’ve just never asked.
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I pass an older gay couple with the two black dogs, the family of four that got lost from the trail, and a mom and her daughter racing in the grass to run into dad’s arms. 
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Belonging. I think to myself. I also have that sense of belonging. Matching my emotions to manifest my needs.
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I think back to the friends I used to run with. 
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I think of Derek, I think of Brittany and I think of Li Hai Peng. My co-fellows, two Americans and one Chinese, in my village, who convinced me to start running with them.
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Derek had a long, lean and muscular build. Brittany was tall and fit and had been running cross-country for years. Hai Peng had shorter legs, but they carried him along quickly.
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The first year I attempted to go with them two or three times after dinner. Teaching most days was a nightmare. And with running, I did not believe in myself at all. Someone in my family sent me a giant jar of Nutella in a care package, so and truth be told, I just ended up eating spoonfuls of that in my room after teaching to combat the stress.
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The second year, I settled in. I had a mastery over my class, my Chinese, and my emotional well-being in general. I started doing a lot of yoga, but I got bored. There wasn’t really much to do in the village, so I joined the run.
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Today, I look up the hill I’m about the climb. I can almost hear my childish cry after Derek and I see him up ahead on the trail. 
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“Derek slow down! Not fair, you’re too fast!”
“No, Merritt, you’re fine. Keep up that pace. See, you’re doing so well! Lengthen your stride. You have long legs, you can do it.” 
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“Thanks coach!” 
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Hai Peng and Derek used to sing songs in Chinese. Derek told me he liked to run to sad, melancholy songs, rather than upbeat ones. While we ran, we would talk about what was happening with teaching, or just ourselves, and even our lives outside of that place.
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I’d wave at my students, playing outside at home after dinner. Derek would always see that 14-year-old picking grapes who had dropped out of middle school and who he had befriended.
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When I ran alone, I’d hope the stray dogs wouldn’t chase me, but sometimes they did, and it made me run faster. Adrenaline is a nice drug of choice. In my mind, I’d plan out my trips I’d take to Vietnam and Cambodia. I’d think about what kind of life I’d have once I got home. I’d look at the grape fields and the mountains, but I never thought that one day that this place would be the home that I’d miss.
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Eventually, we started training for a marathon in the nearest city, about a two-hour bus ride away from our village. Hai Peng’s friend, Kun Zai, had come to live in the village because he had a job in computers that allowed him to work remotely and have time to play lots of video games as well. He always brought along a much needed sense of joy and humor to our running conversations that were often dampened by the stress of our work in the classroom.
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The day of the race we lined up early in the morning. There was a man smoking a cigarette and with a Red Bull in hand jogging in place.
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Yeah, I think I can do this, I thought. 
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We were off, running past a large beautiful lake and through alley ways of shops preparing fresh包子Bāozi, or steamed buns, from the windowsills.
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Derek and Hai Peng took off quickly, both of them taking a stab at the half-marathon. Kun Zai promised to keep an eye on me as he and I were both attempting our first 10K. 
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Near the end of the race, I found myself alone, tired, and ready to have the whole thing over with. But then Kun Zai met up with me.
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“You can do it! Defeat the enemy!” he said, a quick as a gunman from one of his games.
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I looked forward at a girl running about 30 meters in front of me. Sure, I can do it. Why not? (Or as I was probably thinking in Chinese 为什么不?Wèishéme bù?)
I crossed the finish line and came in 9th place for the women’s race.
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I’m not really sure there’s an enemy to defeat anymore. I don’t hang around competitive people and I can’t say I’m competitive with myself like I used to be. 
The only “enemy” was the voice in my head that told me I couldn’t do anything.
Now, I just enjoy the view from the run.
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Derek e-mailed me a few days ago. He still lives in China. I suggested that he and Hai Peng should make a motivational bilingual running app. It would sell millions! He said he’ll pitch the idea to him. 
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Across oceans of disconnect, it’s good to know technology can help make us feel we still belong to some greater tribe of friendship.
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 Nice job, you’re almost there. 
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Thanks Samsung.
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But where exactly is ‘there’?
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For I know with each breath I take, I have the chance to begin again.
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The Whole World

Listen to a tale of how the whole world came to be
Sit on my lap and sink in close to me.
God rose at dawn, fell asleep by a well
Took man from an atom
And descended to hell
It was then that he saw
How the great sun grew bright
He put up stars in the sky
To make that thing we call “night”
With blue boomerang balls of fire in fists
Blazed rock laden coasts with the air we call “mist”
Moonbeams and sunstreams and water did not
Exsist at this moment for God had forgot
The Goddess inside and her good word delight
Spreading an unyielding love upon a vibration called fright
So they danced and they withered with some special light
Not the kind you turn on, but the kind you ignite
And they waded and walled in all of that pain
Thinking that one day, in some dimension we’d exist on this plane
of projects and problems and death’s brutal brew
so that I could sit here my dear one, and feed it to you