Running for Perspective

I love to run, but unless I have a really good soundtrack or running buddy, abhor running on treadmills or tracks because I do not run merely for exercise, I run for perspective.

This is why I cannot run on a track only. After a while, I get bored watching the same people play the same sports on the field as I listen to the same playlists and circle the same route. I’m bored just typing this.

But if I run elsewhere… oh the perspective it brings! I might not get the maximum speed I could on a track, but I gain something infinitely greater: reflection, restoration, reminders…pretty much any nice word that starts with “r.”

Tonight I had an especially good run, following my usual route off of my college campus through several tunnels, past a lovely neighborhood, to a park with green hills, a creek, huge trees, and all variety of life.

As soon as I pass through the first tunnel, I feel a weight lift from my shoulders, as if I am shedding the pressures of college life. In leaving campus and feeling the powerful movement of my body in running, I remember there is more to life than the stress of a student.

As I pass the neighborhoods, I am comforted to look at homes. Actual homes with families and tacky Thanksgiving decorations. Homes where parents are returning from work and cooking dinner and children are shouting in play. It’s so peace-giving to see homes instead of dorms. One represents stability and comfort whereas the latter, though nice, is temporary and functional.

And then I reach the park. Its green fields open up before me like the pages of a well-loved book; Celtic music sings in my earbuds and I rejoice as if I am once more running along the Caledonian Canal in Scotland. An autumn breeze makes the boughs of a willow tree dance and the hanging leaves of another catches in my curly hair, ruffling it like a teasing brother. Birds sing in choruses on either side of the creek and dogs pant with the joy of a walk with their humans. The sky, a burnished orange, reminds me of home; Arizona’s sunsets always will be the most beautiful…

My heart is refreshed by nature. Perhaps I am reading too much Wordsworth (kidding- no such thing!), but as I drink in the evening air, I exhale poetry in gasping breaths. A thousand verses all bloom in my mind and I feel the rush of creative power in my muscles as I press onward.

I pass a young family, the son grumpy in his dress clothes and the parents beaming as they take the photos that will announce the coming of their second child. Only a half mile later, I pass a proposal and, when the couple and their loved ones leave, I run on a trail of rose petals. And, between these two golden moments, I see older couples walking hand-in-hand and elementary children racing their scooters. I find here a perspective; life goes on and wondrous things lie ahead with lovely little things in between!

Oh, there is a wealth of love and poetry in the air tonight! More than my small heart and mind can absorb at once! And so my run turns to dance and a smile lifts my face toward the sun, which has flickered into street lamps as dusk falls.

Another mile. No, two more. Hmmm… another. It is a sorrow to leave this glimpse of paradise. I smile at every passerby and they smile back. It’s easy at a park full of families and puppies and sunshine to forget the hardships of life; everything is gold-tinged at sunset here.

I set my face toward school once more, but with a lightness to my step that I lacked when first setting out. The longer I run, it seems, the freer I fly. I barely feel my feet touch the uneven ground as I race myself back.

Then, naturally, the poetic spell was broken as I almost stepped on a hawk. (It could possibly have been a falcon.)

Yes, you read that correctly. As I sprinted the final stretch of nature before reaching the pavement of campus, I had the misfortune (or was it?) of stepping within two inches of the largest bird of prey I have every seen up close. It flew- annoyed, no doubt- up and away, leaving behind its mangled dinner.

Too surprised to stop and take a closer look, I ran on, laughing aloud with sheer wonder and a little fear (after all, Wordsworth would say beauty and fear are often realized in the same experience). I probably should not have been so surprised, as I have met this hawk before, though I had never presumed to interrupt his dinner!

Thrilling with poetry and humor (and endorphins), I sprinted the last few steps back and with a pulsing spirit set to recording my run in words rather than statistics.

Readers, I encourage you with all my heart: when life feels overwhelming, run to a park. The exercise and perspective will do wonders for your spirit and imagination.

But watch where you step. 😉

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Dystopian Reality

Dystopian novels have been “in” for several years now. The Hunger Games and Divergent were the most popular reads of my high school days. Brave New World, 1984, and Anthem were on the AP reading lists. I continue to devour Ray Bradbury’s work.

However, we forget the purpose of dystopian fiction, which is to warn and protect us from creating such futures in reality. Dystopian fiction remains fiction only so long as we read and heed these books as warnings, not merely as disturbingly entertaining tales.

While we continue to be shocked by the dystopian stories we read, we are at the same time allowing ourselves to fall into them. By labelling them as “fiction” we are separating them from our reality and from our future. We feel terror and disgust as we read them, but can easily brush them aside as “mere stories” once we close the covers.

Ray Bradbury once said,

“You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

As much as I’d like to say Bradbury is inerrant, I would like to alter this statement ever so slightly for the sake of clarity:

“You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop believing them.”

As soon as we assure ourselves that dystopian societies are just monsters created by authors, they lose their power to prevent us from growing into such societies. The moment we begin to read these books as fiction, when we stop believing that such horrors and degeneration might be possible, is the moment we begin to descend into dystopia ourselves.

images-1.jpgIf children were to read the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel as merely a story that could not possibly have any truth to it, the preserving concept of “stranger danger” loses its impact. We cannot read this story to children without explaining its moral and begging them to heed its lesson.

In the same way, adults cannot read dystopian novels simply as futuristic fairy tales; we cannot consume them only for their shock and entertainment value. Rather, just as we would hope that children learn caution from Hansel and Gretel, it is our duty as responsible readers to learn an even greater caution from stories such as Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and even The Hunger Games. 

It is of even greater importance now in 2017 than when these stories were originally penned, even if that was not long ago. We already have turned deaf ears to the warnings of these stories and are already reaping the consequences as we slip into dystopia.

Consider the following: 

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 Remember the citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins? We were bothered by them for their selfishness, their vanity, their degenerate morality, and their obsession with entertainment. But are we equally concerned by such lifestyles in reality? Or do we shudder at them between pages and then act as they do in our own lives without even realizing?

download-2In The Giver by Lois Lowery, another YA dystopian novel, babies who are not up to standards are “released.” I remember my friends and I crying over this chapter in elementary school. Yet now so many former young readers champion the killing of the pre-born because of detected health problems, special needs, or simply because the child is unwanted. How can we justly promote in reality the things of which we once read with sorrow?

download-3Fahrenheit 451 is fairly explicit in its message (Bradbury makes no attempt at subtlety -bless him). Yet while we read of the death of literature, we retreat without a thought into cheap entertainment as soon as we finish the book. Worse, we ignore his clear warnings and are happy to glean our information through soundbites and social media blurbs rather than through thorough reading, considerate conversations, and serious thought. Are we, too, mindlessly “watching our stories” without discernment or contemplation?

fullsizeoutput_161Perhaps the most shocking dystopian novel I’ve read is Brave New World (Aldous Huxley). At least, it was shocking when I read it four years ago. Now, it feels rather ordinary. (Has the world really fallen so far in four years? Perhaps I am simply older and sorrowfully wiser.) As I read this book, I was horrified at the unrestrained sexuality of it; most characters sought only their own pleasure, cared nothing for relationships, and procreation was a thing of the distant past. But is this so far different from today? We find ourselves living in a generation that boldly protects promiscuity and demands consequence-free pleasure while conservative approaches to relationships are scorned as old-fashioned.

download-4.jpgAyn Rand’s Anthem centers on a character called “Equality 7-2521.” Everyone is equal, but, ironically, no one is free; every member of the society is equal to the extreme that none of them may differ from others. Today, are we perhaps striving for a dangerous equality like that of Anthem? We must certainly protect and value all people equally; however, Anthem warns against forcing equality of thought. Although we read this warning, do we follow it? The minute someone expresses an idea that we consider offensive, are we quick to aggressively silence him or her rather than admit that we all have the right to think freely?

I am not saying that everything in these dystopian novels will come true, but they are not nearly as far-fetched as they once seemed. Certainly I do not expect America to be divided into factions or our teenagers to be sent into battle against each other or for us to mate according to selection by governors. However, there are undeniable dangers to reading dystopian novels as fiction, just as there are dangers to ignoring the morals of fables and fairy tales.

We ought to read dystopian books as seriously as we read history books. It is said that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and so we diligently are set to studying history from the minute we enter school. We also are encouraged throughout our school days to read dystopian stories, but we must not be satisfied with reading them as mere fiction. Rather, we must read them with the discernment and diligence with which we study history. It is imperative that when we read dystopian books, we read with great awareness of their relation to reality so that we are not, like poor history students, doomed to live them.

 

Dear High School Seniors… (an open letter from a graduate)

Dear High School Seniors, class of 2018,

I just had a weird dream. Maybe to you it will sound like a nightmare, though. I dreamt that I was back at my high school with a neatly-printed, seven-class schedule full of the AP classes and electives that I thought I had finally finished years ago. About to enter my third year of college, though, the dream was sort of comforting. It was so vivid. I saw my high school squad, my regular lunch table, my favorite teachers, the familiar hallways… And I knew that, at the end of the day, I would return home to my mom’s cooking, my brother and my dad shouting at sports on TV, my dog’s waggling tail…

Enjoy it.

That’s really my only reason for writing this letter, to tell you to enjoy every seemingly-eternal moment of your final year of high school. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me right now, thinking your senioritis is already bad and you’ll have no fun aside from prom this year.

You’re wrong.

I had senioritis like crazy; in fact, I think I caught it my sophomore year of high school. But that is no excuse for letting your senior year slide by without working hard and making memories.

Study hard. You’re going to hate it and pray for the end, but study hard. You’re teachers have likely already told you that college is worse, but you’ll find that college can be surprisingly manageable if you push yourself in high school. You don’t have to load yourself with AP classes like I did (I said “work hard” not “stress yourself out”) but show up, take notes, turn in every assignment, and prepare for tests in whatever classes you do take.

Connect with your teachers. Not only is this helpful for getting letters of recommendation/references for your resume, it can be fun! Strange as it sounds, with each graduating class, teachers get senioritis too. Laugh at it and enjoy getting to know your teachers as more than just lecturers with red pens. One of my favorites brought us peanut butter and bologna sandwiches, swearing she used to love them in college. They were terrible, but it was a fun memory and I’ll never forget that literature class.

Stay connected with your friends. I admit that most of my high school friends have become just Facebook friends. I still care for them and pray for them and love seeing what amazing things they are up to, but I have only a small circle of high school friends that I still talk to regularly. Hang onto your best friends for dear life, but don’t stop making new friends just because it’s almost the end. Three of my best friends I did not truly get to know until my senior year and two of them I barely spoke to until the last three months. Still, we ended up becoming a #Squad. 😉

Go to prom…or don’t. I didn’t want to go to prom and to be honest, I did not enjoy the dance. If a loud, sweaty room full of screaming peers appeals to you, go for it. But one of the best nights of my high school existence was eating ice cream and playing board games with my squad after spending only twenty minutes at the actual dance. Either way, make memories and be safe. I know, I sound like a mom, but I had to say it.

Keep volunteering. Sure, you’re leaving and probably wishing you could be up and gone already, but don’t stop giving back to your school and community. Volunteer for choir council, set up for events, go on outreach days, help at tutoring. Don’t just do it to fill up hours on your service record, do it to leave your school a better place. Love it or hate it, your high school has been your home now for almost four years; show it and its members some kindness.

As you count down the days until graduation, try not to just breeze by, zoning out and wishing the seconds would go faster. In three years, when you’re about to head back to your out-of-state college, you’ll find yourself (almost) missing the days when the farthest from home you had to drive was ten minutes to school, maybe fifteen if you went for snacks afterwards.

Maybe you read all the way to the end of this letter or maybe your senioritis kept you from skimming past the first paragraph. Better, maybe you’re saving brain power for essays. Either way, just know that this might end up being one of the best years of your life. I sincerely hope that it isn’t the best year, because there is a vast, exciting world out there beyond graduation. But, I promise that if you keep your head in the game (High School Musical becomes cool again in college…no lie), this year will zoom by and, before you know it, you’ll be walking off the football field with your diploma in hand and your future ahead of you.

Have an excellent year, class of 2018! Finish strong!

Sincerely (and a bit nostalgically),

A class of 2015 grad