Bad Runner

Ten days ago, my youngest son, always one to make a gymnasium where there isn’t one, gashed his leg on a sharp wire protruding from a broken-down piece of furniture in our apartment. We rushed him to the Pediatric ER at Beth Israel for stitches, and while my wife stayed with him, my other son and I walked around the neighborhood. It was early Sunday morning and the streets were quiet. A perfect morning for a jog, I thought, as I glimpsed a runner sprinting down the middle of 17th Street. He was picture perfect. Shirtless, his sweaty torso glistening in the sun, he seemed to be everything I wasn’t as a runner, especially these days: strong, fast, totally focused. For me, it’s been all I can do to get out the door for a short three miles, in what feels like a desperate push back against the weight of all the sad and ugly and scary things infecting our world and weighing me down physically and emotionally. I feel better after I’ve run but it’s not the release it used to be. When I’m out there now I feel like a street rat scuttling through every workout, constantly darting this way and that to avoid people and crowded areas. I’m winded even at a slow pace from the bandanna over my nose and mouth. I feel vulnerable, unable to push myself hard. I wished for a moment that I could be the runner this guy was. But as the godlike creature came abreast of my son and me on the sidewalk, I noticed he wasn’t wearing a mask. As if on cue, no doubt aware of us just a car’s width away from him on the sidewalk, he put his finger to his nose and blew an enormous snot rocket. Two steps further on he spit. Shocked, I stopped us in our tracks and we spun around, hurrying away from whatever plume he’d just left behind. I realized that though he could beat me in so many respects eight ways to Sunday, this selfish, entitled covidiot wasn’t even half the runner I am in my piddling, pathetic way. If anything, he’s part of the problem that we’re all struggling with these days, as we try to stay on the right path to a better future.