Hands and Feet

I uncovered this essay a few weeks ago while looking for a poem. I wrote it in college, when I was running ten miles every morning, regardless the weather {my, how times have changed!}. Talking to my friend Amy recently about the transformative power of knitting, I was reminded again of this essay, and thought I would share it here for your enjoyment. Blessings. Sometimes, when you least expect it, life sneaks up on you. Living takes hold of your breath, forcing you to be conscious, aware of the oxygen coursing across platelets and cells, the carbon dioxide leaving through your nostrils, whistling past your teeth and gums, through parted lips to the waiting atmosphere. It is in these moments that possibility floods through me, and I feel invincible. Life, with its vigor and ceaseless enthusiasm, carries me through dark moments and wondrous experiences. If only I could capture these moments, carry them with me, pull one out when I need that inspiration to carry me through another moment, and hold tightly to it.

* * * * *

I love the feel of the wind through my hair, past my earrings, across my skin. I have a love affair with the morning breeze. Late-rising birds, squirrels waking up for the day, and even the rabbits keep me company as I breeze past sleeping houses and waiting coffee mugs. Even on the days when my breath hangs still in front of me, I carry on, push forward, living in the process, in the experience; not running toward a destination, not running from somewhere. Just running.

When I run, I think I should be able to go farther, move faster, run longer. It is hard to turn off those mental tapes and just be in the moment, the movement of running. I rely on the breeze, the rustle of leaves and dead grass, the groan of ice pulling from lakeshores after months of deep cold. The sounds and silence of a day beginning pull my focus from distance, from time, and clarify the reason that I enjoy being awake in these moments, the solitude I find when the human world is quiet, and the Earth is alive.

Running wakes up every muscle, every joint in my body. When I run, I feel each intake of breath pass through my circulatory system, catching onto blood cells and traveling to limbs, organs, tissue. I feel the tiny capillaries, criss-crossing my body like dirt roads on a map, come alive, pulsing with each pound of my feet on the pavement. The rhythm matches the thump of my heart, and I am at once connected to the entire universe.

I am aware of my body, the physical skeleton and skin casing that holds my spirit from escaping, floating freely in the air and ether that we exist in. Sweat beads on my forehead, pools between my toes, and wells up from beneath my arms. I enter into this forgotten world of sunrise, surreal as the mist rolls back onto the lake with the morning steam rising. I leave behind the thoughts of a warm bed and an even warmer shower, escape the chaos and responsibility that awaits and, if only for an hour, enter into the calm serenity of solitude.

I could knit instead of run. I could easily sit down with my needles and yarn, glance at a pattern infrequently, and be content to stare into space as I twist string around itself, creating some masterpiece or mundane item. Knitting fills up the space between life and living. I knit whenever I have a free moment, even stealing time as if it were rationed, putting my hands to work on some new project.

I dislike knitting in front of others. For me, it is a solitary practice, a time for reflection and meditation. Unless the people around me are knitting, I am too often bombarded with questions and requests, people ignoring that I am doing something, and unavailable. Knitting does not mean idle hands, a willingness to stop on command and put it aside.

I have found that, when I run during the day, I get very self-conscious about others watching me, seeing me have to stop and walk a bit, seeing my form (which may or may not be perfect), and it makes me nervous. I enjoy running in the mornings much more. Fewer people to stare, fewer eyes waiting for you to walk, to fall, to make some mistake. It is quiet in the mornings. People don’t think you are unoccupied. They understand you are moving, acting, doing something. Unlike knitting, more than just your hands is in motion.

I have also realized that I would rather run over time, not over distance. I think, to begin, I need to just focus on running for a certain amount of time. Granted, distance running might get me further, but that isn't what it is about. Running, like knitting, is about the process. It is about the feel of movement in your limbs, knowing that you are doing something, making something, going somewhere, without regard for the ending. Too often in life we are goal-oriented, and that seems so foreign to me. I can fake it when I need to, be a part of a process that has a goal. Most days, I just wonder deeply about the process of life, of living. Too often, when one process breaks down, falls apart, malfunctions, we are lost, unable to determine the next step, because we forget about the process, the journey.

I knit for the process, too. I start a project, not really worrying about how or when it will be completed, but enjoying each moment I spend working on it, each challenge it presents, each new skill I must learn. I started a scarf with twists the pattern called “cables.” I needed to learn the technique, wanted to challenge myself. I have yet to finish it, though it is a gift. I can’t focus on cables when I want to learn lace. Lace is my newest fascination. I can’t get enough of the patterns, the stitches. I want make shawls for my friends, my lovers, my mothers. I want to make shawls to warm the heart of each person in my life.

Instead, I run. I take the time I could be sitting “idly” by and I move my body, carrying my entire existence through time and space. Running, like knitting, is a meditation, a reflection, a prayer. When I run, I seek answers, knowing that I will never find them.

* * * * *

Birds sing of dew-laden fields and concrete, squirrels creep from their homes to spend another day scavenging. Rabbits and cats stare each other down for the last bit of darkness in a world of growing sunlight. The air is crisp, breath hangs heavy on branches and limbs. I close the door gently, locking it before turning toward the road. My sneakers hit the pavement, my feet inside them, and I am carried away on the breeze.

This time, I am not running away.

I am running toward myself.