Past/Present

I turned and ran up the hill, across the crosswalk in front of the car turning left, then up the steep bank zigging to the left to disappear behind a group of trees. The adrenaline from crossing in front of traffic usually gives me the oomph to get up the steep incline. Again. As I traced this path this morning, I felt my legs pinwheeling and flying with the little leaps needed to hop up this hill. I had the strongest sense of duja vu. The run today, here, was just like the run last week, and will be just like the run next week.

I have circumambulated this neighborhood, this path, these roads so many times that it felt like time was collapsing in on me. The motion, the cadence, the feeling — all were the same. As I ran this stretch, I thought of a spot further on and played with the slider in my mind. Would it be any different this time than any of the hundred other times? What was the difference whether I had passed it or not yet? Did it matter? I tend to think of landmarks and features as sequential milestones; down the narrow road, turn by the school, stop at the spillway, sit by the tree, and so on. Predictable, they happen in the same order every time. But what if it doesn’t matter and being in motion pulls them all into play? My physical and visceral memory of the place, the feeling of running up the hill persists whether I have reached it yet or passed it a mile back.

I extend the logic and ask, how is this different from the next time? The run that has not begun, the one I expect to take next week in a future that is not guaranteed. Even though I expect it to happen, I cannot lay claim to the unknown. If I could, is this what it means to collapse time? To experience the past, present, and future all at once? I cannot grasp this concept for the whole run, but when I think about this one hill challenge, I can see it. In the summers, I have collapsed behind that cluster of trees and laid on my back until I catch my breath. In the winters, I have bounded up and past so quickly I hardly noticed that I was actually flying. Always the same, always slightly different; on days that I feel good, light and endless, on days that I pick up and plop down feet made of lead, crossing an empty stretch of road, or earnestly making eye contact, wary of the driver, waiting for a sign that they see me. It doesn’t matter, I’ve filed away all of the possible variations of the trek or expect to, in the very near future. What does it matter whether it has happened yet or not?

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