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Second Lap

Let your heart journey in simplicity
be one with that which is beyond definition
let things be what they are
have no personal opinions
this is how everything under heaven is ruled
-Daoist Prayer

[a note on the use of the word “God” in this piece. I could say Dao, gods, Pan, spirit, divine consciousness, etc. etc. And I do use all those words, at different times, in my own conscience. But when it comes down to it… have you ever seen the movie ‘The Great Escape’? Early in the film there’s a U.S. spy speaking German with some Nazis, pretending he’s one of them. Everything’s going groovy until out of nowhere one of the Nazi soldier smashes him in the head. It seems quite arbitrary, but it’s a test: The American spy yells ‘shit!’ – IN ENGLISH… revealing his true identity. When you get hit in the head, you swear in your mother tongue. Same thing with religion (and now I’m drawing from a conversation I had with a regular at my cafe who used to teach religious studies at Loyola who told me about his theory that the religious tradition we’re raised in acts similar to our first language). When life hits you over the head your shout of pain is in your mother-religion. When shit hits the fan, I don’t yell, ‘O Dao’ even though I agree with the ideas of Daoism much more than I do with Christianity. When someone dies or my world crumbles beneath me I shout, ‘God!’]

These days, I pray. Haven’t always. Like most people, somewhere along the way I gave up on God. I remember when. It was the time He failed to fix my broken leg.

I was in fifth grade when I started running cross-country. Then in sixth grade, I poured myself into it, and had some success. After a race at the Junior Olympics, somebody offered to train me. Mr. M, we’ll call him. Mr. M promised me that if I followed his training regimen, I’d be great. A state champion.

The program required me to run forty miles a week, split into six days of workouts. Day 1: Long run, seven to eight miles. Day 2: Two mile warm-up followed by ‘intervals’, 8×400 meters, with minute rest in between. Mile cool-down. Day 3: Five mile run, followed by sprints. Day 4: More intervals, this time 8×200 meters, including three miles of warm up and cool down. Day 5: Tempo-run, 30 minutes fast. Day 6: Intervals again, this time a combination of 200, 400, and 800 meters with minute to two minute rest between. Day 7: Off. Day 1: Long run, seven to eight miles… and so on… all summer.

When fall came it was time to start seventh grade and run cross-country at my middle school. But we wanted to keep up the regimen, so on orders from Mr. M I went to the teacher/coach requesting that I do my own training outside of school, joining the rest of the team for races only. Not surprisingly (but I was surprised and upset at the time) my coach said ‘No’. What did I do? Give up practicing with Mr. M and run with my team? Decide to be a runner amongst runners, a seventh grader amongst seventh graders? No. I decided to run both practices.

I would run my regular cross-country practice with my teammates. Then, my mom would pick me up from school and drive me to Mr. M’s for a second practice. It went like this the whole season, me running ten workouts a week, until one day- three weeks before the state championship- my shin began to feel tender. It hurt bad enough that I couldn’t walk. We went to see a doctor. He asked if it hurt as he pressed on my shin and I winced. He took an X-ray. Something showed up. Stress fracture. Broke a bone from running too much.

This is where God comes in. Or rather, He didn’t.

At the time, I ardently believed in God. I prayed, prayed and I prayed for God to intervene, to heal my leg in time for the state championship. You can probably guess what happened. Nothing. My leg remained broken; I was unable to run the race, much less win. I lost my faith, disappointed in God for failing to meet my demands.

Recently I told this story to a friend and he said, ‘Maybe God did intervene- by getting you away from Mr. M’. Maybe. But odds are the raw physics of the situation: I was a growing boy running long distance twice a day. You throw an egg against a cement wall, the egg’s going to break every time.

Sparing the details… I pray now, but not like I used to. My idea of God has changed. It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free-god. I don’t pray asking God to fix my problems. Usually it’s on a very tiny scale like, ‘What should I do next?’ Or, ‘Do you see the crazy shit I’m seeing?’ Or, ‘Come with me’. Other times I just need somebody to say ‘Thank you’ to.

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