Expect The Unexpected

Whenever we ran by Jupiter, we had no choice but to pick up our pace.  After all, Jupiter’s gravity was never to be taken lightly.  And when your running partner was Moe Johnson, well…all you really cared about was self-preservation.  In fact, if the forces of Jupiter’s gravity were to somehow sneak up on Moe and annihilate him, then so be it.  Sure, an unfortunate ending for Moe, but at least you got your ten-mile run in.

Let’s rewind the scene if I may…

Fulton Ranch Road, just on the outskirts of San Marcos.  Moe and I had decided to do a long out-and-back run on a road that was entirely caliche. There were no fences, just rugged countryside where longhorn cattle roamed.  Jupiter was the largest steer on the ranch. He was massive with a horn span that could easily skewer Moe from head to toe.  One quick, swift flick of the head, and Jupiter could send Moe sailing into the air like a rag doll.

It reminds me of the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey when early man discovers tools, and with tools he discovers power.  The scene transitions into the future of the space odyssey as early man, in his discovery of using a bone as a weapon, throws the bone high up into the air.  In slow-motion, we watch the bone flip end-over-end up into space.  That trajectory—that endless flight of bone—is how I perceived Moe would have travelled, had Jupiter had his way with him.  And there I would stand, looking upwards, thinking, Wow, look at you Moe!  Not only are you in the movies, but you’re headed into the future! Farewell, my friend!

Of course, Moe never did make it into the movies nor did he ever travel into the future.  But he did take flight, thanks to all sixteen-hundred pounds of Jupiter who had decided to charge him. The memory of Moe is still quite clear as I watched him evade Jupiter’s attempted manslaughter, and sail over a large cactus. In his moment of airborne grace, he flew with the look of confidence, as if exclaiming to the world, “I GOT THIS!!!”

If you’re curious where I was this entire time…well, I was a few strides ahead of Moe, having foreseen this inevitable moment, and sped off the caliche road to hide like a coward behind a large stone water trough.  I would have fought off Jupiter, but elected not to as I was quite familiar with Moe’s powerlifting records.  Besides, he was older and wiser than I, and it would have been premature of me to suggest any plan of escape other than whatever Moe already had in mind.

And then he hit dirt—hands and knees first, like four twenty-pound kettle bells simultaneously thudding to the earth.  You would have thought from the sound of his fall that Moe was just going to park his body right there and surrender his fate to Jupiter. But giving up was not an option. Moe had grown up on hockey rinks and had basically lived out of weight rooms. If he wasn’t living in a state of pushing his limits, then by his standards, he wasn’t living at all. One hard crash to the earth was nothing more than a paper cut to Moe. Adrenalized, he was up and running towards my cowardly hiding place in no time. “Can you believe Jupiter!?” he shouted, short of breath. “He tried to kill me!”

And there Jupiter stood on the far side of the cactus, staring at us as he swung his head back and forth in disgust. And there we stood, looking at each other, our heads swinging back and forth as well, and wondering, Now what?

*                    *                    *

We plan our runs. We know where we’re going. We know our pace. We know if the route will be hilly or flat, long or short. We know that if our hamstrings are sore, we’d better monitor them a little more closely than usual. We know if our legs feel heavy or fresh. We know a lot going into a run.

But what we don’t know are the unexpected moments that lie ahead. The unforeseen encounters. No different than everyday life, that’s true. But running has a way of heightening our awareness. A way of seeing the world with a bit more clarity. Whether it’s contemplating a thought or seeing something out of the ordinary, when we run our focus becomes sharper. We are, without a doubt, in tune with our surroundings.

I once ran alongside a butterfly that stayed even with me for nearly 200 meters.  In its bouncy, erratic flight, it held my pace three feet apart from me. Everything—I mean everything became secondary. Even the fact that I was running seemed to blur.  I once had a similar experience with a deer that ran parallel with me for over a quarter of a mile before disappearing into the woods.  It was truly as if it knew we were moving together—as if some sort of communication was transpiring.  I could not ignore the magic of that moment.  Unable to write it off as mere coincidence, I soaked up every second we shared between us, and acknowledged the deer as a momentary gift of the uncommon. But an insect?  Was it even possible that the butterfly was acting upon some form of a thought, or a recognition that I wasn’t a threat? Was it possible that amongst all of its natural innate instincts, that something as miraculous as a chemistry between us was at hand?  Or was it just pure luck that I got to run, undisturbed, with a butterfly for an eighth of a mile?  Either way I looked at it, one thing was for certain: running had amplified an experience that gave a whole new meaning to the term, “the butterfly effect.”

*                    *                    *

But not all unexpected moments while running are uplifting. Some stop you in your tracks and wrench the emotions straight out of you. These are the moments when you wished you had taken a different route. When it would have been better to have woken up with a slight fever to keep you in bed for the day. But run you did, and the events leading up to that unexpected moment could never be reversed…

Everything was fine as I ran on the sidewalk along 15th Street in Austin. It was a typical busy Friday afternoon with traffic having arrived in full force. The term “rush hour” seemed a slight understatement.  Perhaps “mad rush hour” was more apropos.  I had just crested a hill when I heard the screech of tires, and a sharp, loud cry of a dog.  No…no, no, no. Don’t look. Don’t get involved in this. Just keep running. This is someone else’s business. There is nothing here for you. But I did look, and that was the moment I immersed myself in the unexpected and unfortunate scene.

The driver who had hit the dog failed to stop, and continued on, leaving behind a line of cars that crept by with curiosity.  I ran out into the street and knelt before the dog. It was a mutt—a male, maybe 15 pounds with brown shaggy hair. His eyes were closed as his head lay in a small puddle of blood. I picked him up, and set him on a patch of grass where I checked for signs of life, but his life was gone. He had a collar with a license tag.  I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know where he lived.  I didn’t know what to do, except let the sadness overcome me and honor his presence with my sudden grief.  He was somebody’s companion.  He had gotten loose, and this was his last day.  A car pulled up next to me and stopped by the curb.  It was a couple in their twenties.  The girl was in the passenger seat, her window rolled down, and her eyes red from crying.

“Oh my god,” she sobbed, “Is that your dog?”

“No,” I said, “I was on a run just now when he got hit.”

“This is so sad. Is there anything we can do?”

“Could you take him to the nearest vet clinic? Maybe they could find out who the owner is.”

“Certainly,” she said, “We can do that.”

Her boyfriend got out of the car and opened up the trunk, where there were some old blankets.  Before we wrapped the dog up and gently set him inside, I petted him several times before telling him goodbye. It was the first and last time I would ever see the dog.

Life is fragile.  It can snap in an instant.  It can be taken from you when you least expect it.  I ran in mourning for three miles back to my apartment. I couldn’t shake the thought of the owners who would eventually receive the phone call.  To this day, over thirty years later, whenever I run in Austin, the memory of that dog always finds me. I didn’t want to get involved with its death.  I wanted to stay clear and move forward.  But once the couple drove away, I remember feeling like I had done the right thing—that instead of ignoring or abandoning him, I had taken care of the dog right after his final parting moment.  It was the least that I could do. After all, he was somebody’s best friend.

*                    *                    *

Unexpected surprises while running can not only awaken you to your surroundings, but can stir a sense of discovery within yourself.

Years ago I once finished a run at Sewell Park on a quiet Sunday morning. I was going to take a post-run dip in the river when I noticed a teenage boy shooting a basketball at the outdoor court. It had been years since I had touched a basketball, let alone shoot one.  Though I played the game for most of my life up to age 20, there came a point where distance running became my fitness addiction.  But on that Sunday morning, something in me said, “Shoot the ball.”

I walked over to the boy and asked if he wouldn’t mind if I shot a few.  He passed me the ball and pointed to the rim.

Running had consumed me.  I was training for the Houston Marathon, logging up to 80 miles a week.  Weight lifting, swimming, biking—any form of cross-training was non-existent.  I was 6’4” and weighed 165 pounds.  Friends said I was too thin, that I looked weak.  I dismissed their comments as ridiculous.

Standing just inside the 3-point line, I spun the ball backwards in the air and let it ricochet off the court, before bouncing back to me.  As I held it loosely, I could tell that the rhythm of the game hadn’t left me.  But as I looked at the basket and prepared to shoot, an unexpected thought occurred:  Damn, that basket looks far away.

The instant the ball left my hands, was the instant I changed my life.  There was no denying what I had just felt—the shocking discovery of the absence of strength.  All my friends were right…my shoulders were bony, my arms were rails, and I was unable to shoot a basketball three-quarters of the way to the rim.  It was more than an awareness of my weakened condition.  It was an outright disaster.

One shot was all it took.  I turned my back to the boy, and walked away.  I must have done 200 push-ups later that day.  From that point on, my entire outlook changed regarding overall fitness. And I must say, I owe it all to that basketball.  Funny how things play out.

 *                    *                   *

Here’s my advice to anyone who runs:

Take it beyond running, and take in your surroundings.  You might surprise yourself as to what you’ll discover. If something piques your interest, stop and look at it.  Oh, don’t worry, your guilty conscience will get over the cardinal sin of stopping during a run. Become familiar with running in unfamiliar places, and, in doing so, expect the unexpected.

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

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Watch Over You

It was the day after Christmas, and my car was the only one in the parking lot. Morning light was just arriving as I sat on a curb to tie my running shoes. I had my iPod playing “Watch Over You” by Alter Bridge. The song moves you in so many ways, and I have listened to it more than any other song in my collection of over a thousand. My intent was to run four easy miles with nothing but Alter Bridge turned up. I think I ran ten strides before I stopped, turned around, and walked back to the car to put my iPod away. I have no idea why I did that. Though later, I did wonder.

*       *       *

I took the trail along the river that cuts through town. I was not just the lone runner, but was the only person to be seen. Three sounds could be heard: the crunch of the gravel beneath my feet, birds chirping in the trees, and my breathing. Eventually, the trail turned and took me away from the river, leading to a long straightaway that ran adjacent to a street. On my left was a baseball complex, and on my right was a neighborhood. It was there that I heard the fourth sound: a woman’s voice.

“Excuse me….excuse me,” she said from across the street. Her voice was weak and sounded desperate. She was in her mid-30s, forty or so pounds overweight, and was pushing a two-seat baby stroller. As I crossed the street, I watched her wipe some tears off her cheeks.

“You okay?” I asked. The stroller was occupied with an infant and a child no more than two-years-old.

“I need to get to Siesta Mobile Home Park. Do you know where that is?”

I used to be a UPS driver in my town. There’s not a street I don’t know. “That’s over on Uhland road,” I said. “Kinda far from here.”

“How far?”

“At least two miles.”

Her face dropped. She was exhausted. She might have come from the nearby bus station, or had left a domestic dispute from within the neighborhood. Perhaps she hadn’t slept much all night with two restless children. I could speculate for hours, creating endless scenarios that would’ve led her to this moment. But I had no idea, nor did I know how long she had been walking that morning. Though I was curious as to why a mother of two was out at dawn, crying, and not knowing which direction she should travel, I didn’t ask. I was simply concerned with her current situation. But my options for finding help were few. Neither of us had a phone. I knew no one in this neighborhood, and the streets were silent. To give her directions to the mobile home park would entail many street names and turns. In her condition, it was very unlikely she was going to retain the information.

“Look,” I said. “If you see a police car, wave it down. That’s your best bet. I’m sure they can help.” And that was all I had to offer. I felt empty. Here was a woman in a helpless situation, shuffling through town with no idea where to go. I pointed her in the general direction. She thanked me for stopping before we parted ways. In an hour I would be home, taking a hot shower, while she would be…well, there was no telling.

I continued my run on the trail that led around the baseball complex. The fields, dugouts, and concessions building looked as dormant as the bare trees around them. Winter was here. Just what exactly was her story? Why the tears? How lost was she? I could only assume her Christmas was not much to talk about. When was the last time someone had given her reason to smile?

As I contemplated those questions, and rounded one of the baseball fields leading to a small parking lot, I found my own reason to smile. I came upon a police car. What were the chances?

On this quiet morning, as criminals and mischievous people were sound asleep, the cop was taking a break. As I approached his car, he rolled down his window.

“Excuse me, officer. I have a question.”

“Well,” he said, “I’ve got an answer. What’s up?”

I told him about my encounter with the woman. I said that she appeared legit—that she wasn’t putting on an act or fronting some kind of scam. She truly seemed lost and in need of assistance.

“Well then,” he said. “I’ll check her out.”

As he drove away, I resumed running, reconnecting with the trail that, again, continued along the river. This portion of the trail gave me an open view of the cop. I slowed my pace as I tracked his car approaching the woman and the stroller. Stopping alongside her, he rolled his passenger side window down. She leaned over and spoke while pointing in the direction I had told her to go. Moments later, he got out, walked around to her side, and opened the back door.

This was when I came to a stop, as emotion knotted in my throat. I watched him take the stroller as the mother situated the two children into the car. I thought about my iPod—about those first ten strides I had taken before making the decision to put it away. The only times I have ever returned to the car to not use it has been due to threatening rain. Other than that, I continue on. And what song did I last play that stayed in my head until I met the woman?

“Watch Over You”. How fitting was that?

I had come to a “Y” in the trail. If I went right, it would take me further along the river. I chose left to go past the cop car. The mother was bent over, adjusting her children in the backseat. She would never see me again. Whether or not the cop had mentioned me in their discussion was insignificant. All that mattered was the last sight I caught of him as I ran by: a reassuring smile. Even if a day late, it’s a beautiful thing witnessing the spirit of Christmas.

The song, putting away the iPod that later allowed me to hear the woman, the suggestion for her to wave down a cop, and then the cop. Sometimes a sequence of events can leave you speechless, but wondering. And because it’s greater than you can comprehend, you just have to stop and marvel at the unexplainable.

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

The Burp

Last week, I burped several times during a run. Not little innocent burps, but rather the heavy-duty kind that grumble with the guttural force of a mufflerless hot rod.  Up through the esophagus the gas climbed, before its volcanic pressure spewed a foul aftertaste into the atmosphere.  Each time I had to stop to belch.

All I wanted was one continuous easy run. Just an easy pace through the flat and shady neighborhoods that captured the serene ambience of a lazy summer day. But that was not going to happen.  Acid reflex was in control.

Why did I stop?  Because the alternative not to would’ve resulted in an implosion of gas distributing massive amounts of pressure against all walls of the belly chamber—much like a birthday party of 6-year-olds bouncing their indestructible bodies in all directions inside an air-filled jumping castle. Did I want to stop? Hell, no! We distance runners are a stubborn species.  We’ll push through any pain or discomfort just shy of a broken femur.

But apparently not gas.

We take a lot of pride in not stopping on a run.  In our obsessive minds, if we do stop, it can be classified as “FAILURE”.  As I feel the gas percolating, my mind wanders, imagining a dreadful encounter with another runner….

He’s running on the opposite side of the street, and notices me bent over. I can feel his eyes. I look at my watch, as if that’s a reason for me to have stopped.  He says, “Gas, buddy? That was quite a burp.”

“No,” I reply, “No gas. Just a side stitch.”

“In your throat?”

“Yeah, it’s a big one.” I wave him off like a mosquito.

“Don’t wave me off like a mosquito!” He says, raising his voice to a mild but pointed holler. “All I did was ask a question.”

“I didn’t wave you off. It was a fly.”

“Fly my ass, buddy.  I know your kind.”

My kind?  I’m now a kind? What kind of kind? Like a mischievous vagrant? I swear this mosquito is a pest.  I take a stand and say, “You know what…buddy…you’re a…”

My sentence is interrupted. I can’t speak. The gas pressure fires up through my esophagus, then quickly expands into my mouth that, for an instant, inflates my cheeks like a pufferfish. And then…that all too familiar sound: the comical quick burst of a burp.

Busted.

“You got issues, buddy. Not that you’re burping, but that you feel guilty for stopping. As if checking your watch made for a legitimate reason to stop. Like it’s against your running religion. You, my friend, need the Twelve Stop Program.

And that’s where my imagination peters out, and the man continues his run, dissolving into the distance. I’m left alone with a superego that is creatively trying to convince my ego that despite the discomfort of acid reflux, stopping during a run for a some needed burp relief, really isn’t such a bad thing.

I never did get to explain to myself just exactly what enrolling in a Twelve Stop Program would entail.  My imagination decided I might be better served just accepting things and moving on. So, I fess up and shoe denial away. After all, like the man said: it wasn’t the burping that was the issue—it was everything else in my head.

We humans can be an obsessive breed for sure. Stopping on a run is really small potatoes. No need to feel guilty. Life will go on. And, eventually, so too will the run.

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

 

Running Sdrawkcab

Every day it seems as if a latest and greatest idea is introduced to help improve your health. There are endless diets to make you want nothing more than to quit them cold turkey. There are home exercise machines that you would never allow yourself to be seen using in public (the Horse Riding Fitness Ace Power is one such piece of genius that specializes in ultimate personal embarrassment). I’m sure shadow boxing with coffee grinds in your socks is just around the corner, as is 3-meter springboard yoga diving, and cross-eyed jump roping.  Of course, many of the ideas and products have a lifespan equal to that of a housefly.

I’d like to point out one idea that I find completely useless:  backwards running.

The idea is that by running backwards you will strengthen your calves, quadriceps, and shins more so than by running forwards. That’s all well and good, but for me the problem with the idea is that I don’t run well backwards. Nor do I particularly run backwards in the safest places. In fact, there really is no good reason why I should run backwards other than for getting in touch with my inner child. (Obviously, my inner child is lacking in some departments, such as street smarts.) When I run backwards I hit things like parking signs, buildings, sturdy oak trees (they’re actually worse than buildings), and old ladies (well, I haven’t hit one yet, but I’m sure old ladies are much worse than trees because bowling them down requires a complete explanation to the paramedics and police as to why I was running backwards)…

Cop: “So, why did you run backwards into Mrs. Thompson? Do you realize you broke her collar bone?”

Me: “I’m so sorry, but thank God I didn’t break her neck! What a mess that would’ve been. Look, I was merely trying to strengthen my calves, quadriceps, and shins. It was an accident. Kinda wish she were a tree, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

Cop: “Well, we are having this discussion. And excuse me, but you wish Mrs. Thompson were a tree?”

Me: “Yeah. A big oak tree.”

Cop: “Mr. Hill, I want you to stop right there with the insults. I think you owe Mrs. Thompson an immediate apology. Do you understand me?”

Me: “I already said I’m sorry.  I have to say it twice?”

Cop: “You know what…I’ve had it with your type! Turn around, you scum.  I’m cuffing you. Taking you in for disobeying a police officer and aggravated assault.”

Me: “Aggravated assault!? Are you kidding me? All I was doing was running backwards, trying to put some bulk in my quads.   Old lady Thompson’s dang lucky I didn’t knock her into a passing car.  Then what would you cite me for? Murder!!!?”

(Memo to self: Do not smart-mouth cops.)

I fear an immediate sentencing of guilt is just around the corner. I fear the misinformed newspaper headlines: “ELDERLY WOMAN NARROWLY ESCAPES LOCAL MAN’S ATTEMPT TO DISFIGURE AND DISMEMBER HER WHILE BACKING UP”. While “backing up” what?  A car? A truck? NOOOO!!!! It was just me. It was an accident!!

So, I decide to flee the cop and begin running forwards instead of backwards. But I only get as far as the total collapse of my neuromuscular system will allow. In other words, the cop’s Taser has hit, and the world goes to black.

*          *          *

So I wonder: Just how important is strengthening my calves, quadriceps, and shins, if I’m going to have a high chance of ending up in jail or suffer other dreadful outcomes?  If I run backwards along a lake trail, it’s a given I’m going to trip and take a dip and, in the process, hit my head on a large rock.  If I run backwards in Ireland, I’m going to be the butt of the jokes at the pubs. If I do it in New York City…well, forget it—I’m not attempting to run backwards in New York City.  Really, the only place that I can run backwards safely is the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  Oh, how convenient.

Of course, proponents are out there.  According to runaddicts.net, there are many benefits with running backwards:

 It will improve your posture. Wrong.  A few hundred falls on my tailbone and one trip into the lake, I will have no posture.

Your senses will be heightened. Your peripheral vision will become more acute.  Are you kidding me?  I need eyes in the back of my head. Literally!

You will have fun.  Pay me about ten grand and I’ll have fun. Last I checked, I never found running into revolving doors, mail boxes, construction workers, city buses, cactus, my mother-in-law, or man holes as necessarily being fun.

You can still run while you are injured.  The last thing I want to do is something completely counterproductive while healing an injury.  Look, after just five minutes of running backwards, rest assured I won’t be running backwards.  I’ll either be in the Emergency Room, the Operating Room, or the morgue.

Maybe I got it all backwards about running backwards. Maybe I simply need to accept that I am a backwards failure, and should move forward with my life.  It’s a wise suggestion, but there is a problem: I am a very curious person, and now fear I might try an alternative to normal forward running.

I am a slow learner.  Watch out people, because here I come…running sideways!

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

In Memory Of

5K running races are pretty much all the same. Arrive to the event about 45 minutes early. Do a little warm up. Stretch. Then five to ten minutes before the starting gun fires, head to the Port-a-John for one last moment of peace and relief. After that, run the race, grab the free fruit and energy bars, hang around for the awards ceremony, and then head home. Same song and dance, race after race.

Or at least I thought that was the case until my daughter and I ran the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K in Austin, Texas. This was her first race and I wanted her to start things off with a unique event. I had chosen the “Race for the Cure” for two reasons: she would enjoy running through the streets of downtown Austin, and it would be fun for her to experience such an event with thousands of other entrants. While I am a very competitive runner and will often push my body to its limits, my daughter prefers to move along at a relaxed, conversational pace. That made no difference to me. I simply wanted her to experience a 5K event. And as simple as the plan was of her participating and completing the race, I had no idea what awaited me. You see, 28 minutes and 48 seconds after the starting gun would set us off, I would cross the finish line, emotionally spent, knowing that I had run for an entirely different reason than what I had come for. In a word, I was awakened.

Let me explain…

Seasoned 5k race participants, like myself, often go through a ritual of preparation from the moment we exit our cars upon arrival at a race site. We perform specific warm-ups, some of us jogging half a mile, some two miles. Some of us stretch, some of us don’t. Some of us have a special drink we consume at a specified time prior to the staring gun, while others are simply too nervous to drink. Some of us arrive at the starting line 15 to 20 minutes early, while others arrive with a minute to spare before the gun fires. And some of us have so much pre-race anxiety, we don’t dare tread too far from the Port-a-Johns, knowing that once we walk out of one, having done our business, it will only be a matter of minutes (sometimes seconds) until the race jitters have us standing back in line to go again. And again, and again. Such is the life of a competitive runner. Your focus is you, and only you.

The Susan G. Komen 5K Race began no differently, as I had my daughter jog/walk about a mile to warm up, until we had made our way to the main race area where thousands of entrants were ambling about. In my mode of preparation, I wasn’t paying much attention to the surroundings, other than the fact that the sheer numbers of runners and walkers as well as race volunteers was impressive. And while I knew the race was created to raise money for breast cancer research, it was still simply another race benefiting a worthy cause. I knew my entry fee was going towards helping that cause, but beyond that realization, running the race itself was the focus I had come for.

Moments before the starting gun fired, all of that changed. This, you see, is the awakening part.

One of the items that you receive in your pre-race packet is a sheet of paper that has printed at the top, “In Memory Of”. This paper comes with four safety pins that allow you to secure it to the back of your race shirt. What you write on this paper are the names of people who have died from cancer.

There are moments in everyone’s life when time has a way of stopping. When the world around you suddenly seems to freeze all due to a dramatic change of events. Standing amongst that crowd and looking at those pieces of paper pinned to the backs of so many entrants, I could not help but feel for how fragile and vulnerable our lives are, and how important the human connection is.

In Memory Of.

I did not know these names, these people, but I wanted to. Even if it would have been during their last moments, I wanted to meet:

Janet, Alice, Trish, Aunt Ann, and Aunt Doris. I wanted to meet the mothers, the stepmothers, the grandmothers, and the great grandmothers. I wanted to meet the sisters, the stepsisters, the cousins, the nieces, and the best friends. I wanted to meet them all and…

And as the gun fired, and my daughter and I began our 3.1 mile run, I was overwhelmed by the numbers of people holding hands while running or walking. As we snaked our way through the crowded race, those pieces of paper could not go unnoticed. Some had one name, while others had ten. Cancer had taken its toll, but the legacy of so many victims would never die.

Yes, those names, I wanted to meet them all and tell them one thing: that though I did not know them, I knew for certain that their lives had mattered. With tears welling in my eyes and a rock lodged deep in my throat, I ran the race to the finish, knowing that I had not simply contributed to a worthy cause, but that I had been awakened.

Fully awakened.

Copyright Ros Hill 2015

 

God Knows What

Everyday coincidences are those that don’t exactly blow your mind. Such as when the toast pops up at the moment you were wondering if the toast was going to pop up.   Or when your daughter asks you if you would take her shopping right at the moment when you were hoping she wouldn’t ask you.

Then, there are those situations where the chances are rare that they would happen but, still, not earth shattering. When you have two home runs in two consecutive games, and each one happened when your shoes were untied. Or the same telemarketer calls you on three different occasions when, each time, you were boiling eggs.

And then, there are the mothers of all coincidences. The ones that leave you shell-shocked and speechless. These are the ones that have you searching all over the vast landscapes of religion, the supernatural, and the meaning of life—looking for concrete answers. They are situations that lead you to believe that a higher power is at the helm. Suddenly there’s a lot of truth to the saying that God works in mysterious ways.   But if you’re going to show proof of your existence, wouldn’t it be a lot easier if you just shook my hand? How about a postcard? A text? Why do you have to do it in such a bizarre fashion? Or is it you in the first place? Something is being communicated to you through the coincidence, but it’s far too difficult to decipher. So there you go—trying to explain the coincidence—bouncing back and forth between God and, well, God knows what.

For me, I had my mind blown on August 4, 2007.

Here we go again: I had lost my keys.

As a runner, I was ready to hop in the car and head to an area in town where I like to do my hill training. When I woke that morning, my legs felt strong, and the outside temperature was pleasant for a Texas summer. I had a small window of time to do the workout, as I had to return home to shower before heading to a meeting.

I made my way to the door leading into the garage. Next to the door was a little wall mount that had hooks for hanging keys. My spare set of car keys was there, but I noticed that my main set, that had a very important church key, was not. The key gave me access to a church gym in town where I coached my ten year-old daughter’s basketball team. The church secretary entrusted me with the key to the main door. Her unforgettable last words, “Have fun with basketball and, remember, don’t lose that key.”

Don’t lose that key. Don’t lose that key. I had lost that key.

There are two classifications of people who buy these key holders. There are those who actually hang their keys on them and always know where their keys are. Then there are the absentminded others, who buy the hooks for the purpose of hanging keys but, instead, end up using them to hold school backpacks, belts, dog leashes and, of course, misfit keys that neither fit any lock in the house nor do they start any vehicle. It would not be unusual for many of those items to remain on the hooks until the day you sell your house.

The frantic search began immediately as all I could think about was if I didn’t find this original set of keys it would mean no hill training. When a runner misses a much anticipated workout, they become sour, ugly people. Much like taking tools away from a carpenter, or depriving Kevin Hart of comedy.

High and low, far and wide I searched the house. My mood was swinging like a wrecking ball, threatening anything in its path. I reached a desperate situation whereby I said to my three kids, “Ten dollars to the first person who finds my keys.” No one budged. “Okay, what about fifteen?” A couple of raised eye brows, but no big stir. “Twenty?” I said, though I kept silent the fact that I didn’t specify dollars or cents. The troops began moving about, combing the area.

With the scheduled meeting an hour and half away, my window of time for running was narrowing. After twenty minutes, I called an end to the search as my running addiction overcame me. I grabbed the spare set of car keys from the wall hook, jumped in the car, and headed for the hills. As I drove, I mentally retraced my steps trying to recall when I last had the keys. Where did I put them? How would I explain the loss to the church?

I’m the worst having to admit I screwed up. I always want to create some kind of blame, because I hate to disappoint. You loan me a car, and I’ll tell you I’ll have it back tomorrow by noon. Well, noon rolls around and I’m racking my brain to come up with some explanation as to why the front axle is split in half. I wouldn’t dare admit that I drove it into the pit at the oil change service bay. So I attempt to blame it on how it hit a deer. You look me in the eyes and say, “You hit a deer? Can you please explain how only the front axle was damaged? And really, split in half by a deer?”

I want to blame the world for this lost key. I want to tell the church secretary my son threw it at a bird, and the bird caught it in its beak and flew away. I want to tell the crazy person lie: Excuse me ma’am, but I don’t remember any key. Before long, my fast-acting conscience drops a bucket load of guilt. The burden of this predicament rests on my shoulders. Perhaps a good run will clear my mind and help solve the key mystery.

The entire drive, I couldn’t shake it: Where are those keys?…Where are those keys?…WHERE. ARE. THOSE. KEYS!? A quarter mile away from my running destination, I turned onto the road that led me to my training hills. The church had trusted me! As I drove, I noticed there were a series of direction signs that indicated this was also a detour route for another road had been washed out due to recent heavy rains. There were three signs with bold direction arrows strategically placed to guide people along the detour. I thought nothing of these directions until I noticed the last sign that was located at a “Y” in the road.   The sign was secured to an A-frame support by a large bolt that was pierced through its top.

Here everything shifted into slow motion. Super slow-mo. Like the folks dodging bullets in The Matrix. There, on that bolt, hung a black object—an object’s shape I was all too familiar with: the shape of my car’s security remote device. Like a turtle I stretched my neck forward, trying to visually absorb every inch of curiosity towards that hanging object. “No way!” I shouted. I spun the car in a U-turn and parked on a grassy shoulder. Out of the car, I made my way to the sign. Hanging on that bolt were, in fact, my keys and—save my life—the church key!

Everything quickly fell into place and began making sense. I had run in this area with my son ten days before. When I parked, I had hid the keys under the car. It turns out that after our workout, my son had gotten in the car first, and had started it with a spare valet car key that I keep in the driver’s side door. When I got in, I thought nothing of the fact that a spare key was in the ignition as opposed to the keys I had hidden. I absentmindedly drove away, leaving the keys in the grass.

Though there was an explanation for why the keys showed up that morning—that someone had found them and put them on the bolt, thinking that by chance the owner might be looking for them—I couldn’t help but wonder, Was there something else going on? This was more than just a coincidence. Coupled with hammering my brain about the whereabouts of my keys, and having taken a route at that same moment that led to them hanging on a bolt for me to see, I was completely speechless.

In the midst of the excitement and relief of that bizarre discovery, questions arose: What is this all about? I know it’s just a set of keys, but is this a God thing? Or is this just plain luck? Is it a little of both? Football players thank God for winning games. Survivors of airplane crashes thank God for life. What about the losers? Who do they get to thank? Oh, thank you God for allowing us to miss that last second field goal that would have clinched the championship. We look forward to your unfortunate blessing same time next year.

What about all those people who never found their keys? Or found them too late, only to miss a very important appointment? They’re not thanking anyone. At most they’re blaming someone for their problems or are kicking chairs and piles of dirty laundry. There’s nothing like having a bunch of inanimate objects around the house to beat up on when the going gets rough.

For whatever reason, one-in-a-million coincidences evoke immediate feelings of a higher power. Yet even if God is to be our go-to reason, that wasn’t what eventually consumed my mind. What struck me was how alive I felt. It was exactly that—living that feeling. How neat it was to experience such an odd and mysterious moment. I was speechless and giddy. The fact that I was adamant about going to those hills to run coupled with the fact that I knew I had to find those keys, resulted in a finding that was beyond the odds of luck. It was much like the feeling experienced by anyone who’s seen the Grand Canyon for the first time—mind blowing. Taking in the moment for all its worth was what mattered.

But now, eight years later, as I look back on that day, something else matters: who or what allowed for that moment, that incredible coincidence, that gift? To that, I have my certainty, and to Him I say, “Thanks.”

Copyright Ros Hill 2015