Running on a Rainy Afternoon

For the first time in two weeks,
I feel well enough to seek the solace
of running in the woods:

the dizziness of the ear infection
and the pain of a six-week series of migraines
are somewhat diminished
and sometimes feeling better is more choice than chance.

The ground has thawed deeply enough
that the mush has turned into mud
and much of the mud into something
that seems more solid.

I push up the first steep slope,
taking the deep fast breaths
of a man not yet at race stamina,
forcing my feet to something faster than walking.

Blotches the color of fallen leaves
mark the trace of the trail,
giving way to the blonds of winter grass
in the pass at the top of the hill.

I trot along the brief flat,
then turn faster on the first downward run.

“Quick feet, quick feet!” I urge myself,
wanting to keep this pace
but knowing that sudden slowing
on wet leaves in a place this steep
would not end well.

As I turn off the trail onto my own path,
I note sudden movement high in the trees,
see the graceful swoop of a huge horned owl,
startled from its roost.

A four-foot span of brown wings
sweeps silently through the maze
of trunks and branches
as I jump across the unfrozen creek.

The owl disappears quickly
and I run on up the next hill,
where black cows graze in the green field
bordering the barren woods.

Less than five minutes in,
I have already been given
much more than I seek.

H. Arnett

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A Delicate Balance

Sometimes the morning comes a bit too bright; the light feels harsh against eyes not yet ready for the seeing of another day. Mostly, I like the sun and the sight of a cloudless dawning, a brightening red forming the beginning. Sometimes, though, especially when sleep has come slow and restless, the night measured too closely, I prefer to wake to a gray day.

It seems that the expectations are a bit lower, not so much demanded of a day that has its beginning in a cloud-shrouded dawning. The light eases in bit-by-bit and it might be mid-morning or later before a glaring brightness finds its way around me. Sometimes, when the front is low and long, I might make it through the whole day without a disturbing light to ache my eyes and remind me that this is the season of migraines and vertigo.

It is a selfish thing, I know, to want the rest of the world to walk in sorrow and grayness just because of my private pains. Even more selfish once I admit that the headaches aren’t really all that bad; it’s just that they’ve become an almost daily thing over the last six weeks or so. It doesn’t take much reflection, though, to remember others I know who are dealing with cancer and loss, surgeries and darker fears, the nearness of death’s coming or passing. And if the storehouse of sympathy be a bit limited, it is better shared with them than me.

I can take my waking slow and my bending and raising even slower and make it through this day just fine. I will find good in this day and share its unfolding in good appreciation. I will pray for those in greater pain and deeper concern. I will remember the good my Lord has given me and draw upon his grace to face whatever petty trials might come my way.

But I think I might also finally schedule a call to the doctor. Sometimes we waste ourselves in struggles others can help bear. Even a virtue as fine and precious as determination is best tempered by wisdom and humility. Otherwise it passes into sheer stubbornness.

H. Arnett

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Spring Training

The man who owns the motocross/hill climb course near our house gave me permission to use his layout to train for my mud runs. Less than a half-mile from the house, it’s an ideal training spot.

There’s a nearly flat field, perfect for parking, between the highway and the hill climb. Ron built a bridge, or had one built, that crosses Peter’s Creek. Spectators and contestants can walk or ride across the bridge and access the competitive opportunities. The trails branch off into the woods and hills. These are ideal for working on distance and speed. The bare hill, which is so steep I have to go up on all fours, is great for working on hips, thighs and calves as well as stamina. So far this year, I’ve used the course a half-dozen times.

My first run on a Saturday in January started out in the rain and ended with snow. On the next two, the trails were covered with snow. On the most recent ones, it’s been a mix of snow and bare leaves, depending on the shade and the sun. On all of the runs, the surface has varied from slick to absolute muck and mush. Even with our recent spate of temperatures hitting the seventies, there are still places where the ground has not completely thawed.

At some spots, there is an inch or two of mud on top of the frozen shelf. In others, the mud is as much as four to six inches deep. It was one of those spots that grabbed my shoe off of my left foot on my last run. Even though I was only running at a slow trot, it took me several steps to get stopped. Somehow, in spite of all my hopping around like a drunk stork, I managed to keep my sock from getting completely gunked up during the process of turning around and going back to pry my shoe out of the mud. Even with that delay, I completed the lap with my best time to date.

While anyone out for a pleasant walk or run would find the conditions a bit repulsive, they’re perfect for what I want.

The slipping and sliding helps me strengthen my core muscles, improve my balance and reflexes and increase strength in my hips and thighs. The extra weight of the mud caked on my shoes helps improve speed and stamina. And the possibility of face-planting or falling on my butt without notice brings a sense of heightened awareness and alertness.

It really isn’t that unusual in life that less than desirable circumstances bring about benefits for us, even in our reluctant moments. Our greatest growth often comes from such situations. Still, it’s a good idea to get in the creek and wash off most of the mud before we head back into the house. We need to keep in mind that even when something benefits us, others may not appreciate all of the implications.

H. Arnett

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Morning Illusion

Were this the first time I’d ever looked out this window, I’d think that long sloping shape to the east was a large ridge, not far away. It has the look: big bulge gradually fading away in the distance. The color is right, too, that dull blue shifting to a softer gray at the edges. In fact, everything about it that can be known by looking from here in this particular lack of light says, “There’s Randolph Ridge.”

In point of greater fact, though, I know the actual ridge is much lower than that with no rising bulge. There is no five hundred foot tall ridge in this part of Doniphan County. Or any other part, so far as I know. There are some nice bluffs along the river and some of the creeks but nothing that would look like this.

This is the sloping wedge of a passing cloud front, densely shaded in the dim light before dawn. It has the same shape and tones, the same form, but nothing of the same substance. No matter how convincing the illusion, it is still just illusion. In brighter light, there would be no confusion.

There are many clouds in this world and in this life. We often mistake the suggestion of form for the need of reality. Because of that, we substitute excitement for satisfaction, sensation for sensibility, stimulation for actualization. Desiring the richer real of our deepest longings, we substitute intercourse for affection, attention for approval and flattery for encouragement. We may spend our lives in pursuits and accumulations of various types and never know the joy of having stored up the truest treasures in a place where they cannot be taken from us.

Unless we find the wisdom of the True Light, we will come to the end believing that we will finally stand upon the hill and instead find ourselves falling through the cloud.

H. Arnett

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Beyond Sugar and Chocolate

For the past two days, I’ve been in data meetings. (Pleaseā€¦ try to restrain your intense feelings of jealousy, envy and resentment.) Our college is working with our software company’s consultant to try and improve our system and processes. Apparently, we have numerous opportunities.

On the morning of the second day, one of our colleagues brought in a container of homemade chocolate candies. Another brought in two boxes of donuts. Kind of a sweet start to the day and one that several of us genuinely enjoyed. I think that even the ones who are trying to avoid sugar appreciated the thought. Maybe it was more calories than any of us really needed but it was still a nice expression of sharing and thoughtfulness. Maybe some protein would have been good but no one thought to bring a couple of packages of beef jerky.

Having grown up in a previous century in the South, I admit to still carrying the cultural burden of believing that food is an appropriate response to most any human situation. Death in the family? Take food. New baby? Take food. Wedding? Take lots of food. Bankruptcy? Take food. New neighbors moving in? Take food. Old neighbors moving out? Take food. Two days of all-day-long data meetings? Surely by now you’ve caught the pattern.

Frankly, I rather doubt that this is strictly a Southern response. It seemed the same way in central Ohio, northwestern Missouri and northern Oregon when I visited there. I suspect it’s pretty much a worldwide phenomenon. A universal sharing of the human condition and widely accepted demonstration of empathy and caring.

Maybe it would be healthier if we showed up with bags of carrots and sliced apples. But let’s be honest, is there really anything that says “I care and I’m in this with you” the way that sugar and chocolate do?

To get very far beyond that you’d have to throw a cross on your back and say, “Hey, folks, I got this.”

H. Arnett

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Mirror, Mirror, in My Desk

As you wind your way along Randolph Road heading north out of Blair, Kansas, you leave the narrow, flat bottoms of the creek pretty quickly. The road drifts north and west for a while. If you happen to do your traveling in the hues and views of a dry October, you’ll notice the colors vibrant above the dust line of the gravel roads. The powdered limestone coats everything low and on both sides of the road. Even the autumn brilliance of sumac barely shows through the hue of tan. But in the hills, the full shine of the season takes over: golds, tans, yellows, reds, and tints of orange charge the hills for miles.

Between the thin ribbon of the flats of Randolph Creeks and the miles-wide bottom of the Missouri River, one of the downhill sweeps takes you past the still-standing specimen of an old one-room schoolhouse. It sits downhill, between the bank of the road and the near bank of a little creek that spills over stones on its way to the river. Many years ago, a teenage boy sat in a row just in front of a girl he “was sweet on.”

“I kept a mirror in my desk,” he confesses, “So I could look at her without turning around.”

His crush cost him. He explains with a chuckle, “I couldn’t pay attention to her and pay attention to the teacher. I ended up having to do eighth grade again.”

I can’t remember if the mirror ended up being confiscated or not but at any rate, both of the kids eventually graduated from high school. She went on to college and taught school for a while. They married and bought a farm. He also worked a day job at the Quaker Mills plant in Saint Joseph. Over the years, they’ve kept the home fires burning and last month celebrated their Golden Anniversary. His eyes still light up when he looks at her.

Sometimes those old school infatuations last a lifetime.

H. Arnett

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Bored to Tears

Over the nearly forty years now of my career in education, not counting the years of my own actual schooling, I’ve been to more than a few trainings. Many consisted of mandatory in-service days. Some of those focused an entire day or three on a specific topic; others utilized a series of short sessions. A few of them involved a whole week. Sometimes the ones that lasted two hours seemed like a whole week.

Along with the variegated time segments, there was at least as much variation in the perceived effectiveness and pain thresholds represented as well. Some were quite engaging and others had all the inherent magnetism of watching paint peel off a rotten fencepost. Some presenters read their entire presentation from the manual that had just been handed out to the attendees. Others talked about something of apparent great interest and importance to them that was completely unrelated to the topic or description listed in the program. I’ve been in sessions that were truly engaging and worthwhile and some that seemed to be an utter waste of time and energy.

One thing I’ll admit, though, is that I was almost never bored when the topic at hand was something of genuine interest to me. Even when the presenter’s style was rather bland, his or her voice a bit lacking in inflection or the graphs and charts a bit plain, I could still find something either in the presentation or the handouts to pique my interest a bit. That didn’t mean I suddenly offered my accolades or lied to people about how wonderful the session was; it just meant that I recognized that my own interest was a pertinent factor.

I can’t help wondering if maybe God makes similar observations when folks start nodding off at church or decide that they’d rather play golf on a Sunday morning. Then again, as preacher maybe I should just figure that I need to put a bit more effort into the delivery. Sometimes that fine sword of logic cuts in both directions, doesn’t it?!

H. Arnett

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