A little more than five years ago, on my 51st birthday, I ran 17 miles. A mile for each three years. Less than six months later, I had to rest crossing a parking lot. A month after that, I had to rest crossing my living room. A few weeks after that, I worked from bed, flat on my back.
I was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). When I talked to my rheumatologist (yeah, I had one of those), I asked what to do to foce my body to get better.
He chuckle was completely free of mirth. “You don’t get better. This–the way you feel–is as good as it gets. It’ll probably get worse.”
To be clear, a life where I couldn’t cross the living room or get out of bed, was probably the new normal.
Except it wasn’t. I didn’t have ME. Or I did but it went away. Or God in His mercy decided to take it easy on me. Or any combination thereof.
A little less than a year after my physical world crashed down on me, I was able to function again. And I wanted more than anything to get back in shape.
I got back to running–overdoing it and winding up with a stress fracture in my foot. Then overdoing it again and winding up with messed-up Achilles tendons in both of my feet. That came after an eight-mile run on a Saturday morning. It set me back about a year. Then I overdid it again and hurt my leg, and then hurt my leg again, then hurt my back. Then I went over the handlebars of my bike and bruised my ribs.
It’s been a long time and the nine miles I ran this morning along the beach in Santa Monica, California, is the most I’ve run since that day I got sick.
When I was doing bad-ass stuff–P90X, Insanity, Tough Mudder, running two-thirds of a marathon–I thought it made me bad ass. In a way, it did. The workouts I did were hard and I kept doing them anyway. My wife, who thought they were a little much at the time, credits them with helping me get through being sick.
If things go well, I’ll run a half-marathon the first weekend of February and a full marathon next winter.
If I complete them, I’ll feel deep satisfaction. You don’t complete a half marathon or a Tough Mudder or a full marathon without a lot of hard work. It’s special because most people can’t do it.
That last sentence didn’t used to be problematic to me. Now, it makes me pause. Those accomplishments are special–in part because most people can’t do them. It takes an awful lot of time and hard work. But it also takes opportunity.
God gave my health back and I’m doing what I can with the second opportunity. Having that opportunity is a privilege.
But there’s another aspect to the privilege. When you visit Los Angeles, you have to notice the homeless people. You can’t not notice them. They’re everywhere. A guy next to a shopping cart, wrapped in a blanket sleeping. Make-shift shelters in small groups. Tent cities under overpasses. And it’s not just in the poor neighborhoods.
Under different circumstances–with different choices and opportunities–some of those people could run nine miles, too. They could sit in a coffee shop, like I’m doing right now, and write a blog post on the tablet they bought because a laptop’s too big to lug around.
Recognizing those facts doesn’t make one a snowflake or a leftist. It means you understand that you’ve been put in a position to make good decisions and benefit from them. It means you’ve probably gotten a couple of breaks.
For me, it means I can take advantage of my health and run this morning. It means I can train for a half marathon.
What to do about the people who don’t have the opportunity is another discussion for a different time. It’s a discussion we should have internally and with others. It’s a discussion that requires humility and the ability to listen at least as well as we talk. It requires recognition that the causes and solutions are complex and difficult and no ideology has the market cornered on solutions and morality.
But for today, recognizing the high privilege of a nine-mile run is enough.