August 9, 2011

Running From the Past, and to the Future

There was a time, not so long ago, when the idea that I might jog around the block seemed ludicrous. Running was something you did if chased, but otherwise, was best left to the sadly anemic looking people prancing about Lawrence's pavement. Perhaps, if pressed, I could keep up with the older generation, who wore fluid belts and shuffled more than ran. But then, maybe not. I was, to put it nicely, out of shape. I didn't suppose that I looked it, but perhaps today told me otherwise.

I was in line to buy frozen yogurt (which somewhat contradicts the point to come, I'll grant), when I saw a former high school classmate. A few seconds passed, and then a mutual recognition took place. It took a moment because, to use his words, "We've gone opposite directions since school." I am, in the barista tradition, thin. Or, to use his words again, I weigh "Like, nothing." I smiled, and conceded that I'm a touch more active now than I used to be.

Moments like these are revealing, because they expose the extent of change that our own perception is blind to. We see only increments, and so we see nothing at all.

But that progress is there, and to have it noted by an outside source is especially gratifying. It's not that I need to be told I look thin - I'm not that self conscious - so much as that's an aesthetic marker of the changes I've implemented. I can, for instance, run for just about as long as I care to now, occasionally indulging in several short (2-3 mile) runs on an otherwise open day. I've raced 14.5 miles, and though I nearly broke my right leg in half doing it, I survived.

I am now one of those sadly anemic looking prancers, jaunting along sidewalks (and that nice strip of grass placed usefully beside them) in shorts that earn the name. And though I'm not fast - not really, honestly - I've never been passed by someone shuffling with a fluid belt.

This is, in so many ways, analogous to my barista efforts. When I first laid eyes on a coffee bar, it never occurred to me that I could (or would even want) to work behind that counter. There was foreign equipment that, if handled improperly, roared like a balrog. (Yes, that reference was needed.) I saw the pours, the artistry of it all, the urgency of it all, and decided that I had best stay away.

And now? As with running, I wouldn't say I'm good - not really. But I might allow myself to think I am. I might entertain the thought that, given the local population size, I could compete around these parts. And unlike running, since there are not competitions, there's really no way to dissuade me of this private fantasy, no one to leave me gasping and flailing, minutes behind.

In both cases, however good I am, it took me years to get to this point. And in both cases, how good I am is ultimately beside the point. Alchohics Anonymous lists, as one of its signs of addiction, that you couldn't go six months without a drink. That, I could do. But I could not go six months without spinning my legs, or without steaming milk. I couldn't go six weeks. Six days, even, would be hard.

And that's the point. It's not how good you are, but what you are. And that's defined, largely, by what you do. People will notice the changes, whether for the better, worse, or somewhere in between the two. Maybe they will comment, maybe they won't. Regardless, you'll keep doing, keep progressing, keep being and becoming.

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