The next day, Vancouver was a hard blink: cherry blossoms, this impossible ocean, the mountains immediate from everywhere.
When I left university, it seemed to me that four years was a very long time to spend in one place, doing one thing. I've blinked again, and here is ten years.
I would like to say I have changed. And, a various points, this would look to be true. The times when I was running, really fast. The times when I was in relationships, living with people, The times when my business cards looked really good.
These days, besides the daily application of eye cream and ownership of a melodramatic rescue cat, my life doesn't seem as different as it did when I was 21, living in a Yaletown apartment always covered by a thin layer of dust, my roommate sneaking cigarettes in our solarium and watching as the cranes slowly brought the construction workers higher and higher. I still get up earlier rather than later, still have coffee, still head out for a run, then to a job that still has to do with accounting (which is good, because I am still an accountant).
After ten years, the strip club outside my first apartment has long been torn down to make way for high end condos. The construction has moved south, towards Olympic Village. The seawall, however, is the same: sprinkled with a few joggers before dawn, empty on rain-slicked evenings, packed on warm summer nights, the bongos on Third Beach, the last hill up along Davie with the din of bass through open car windows. Running still feels the same; some days fast, some days stiff and sore, some days dreamy.
In life, as in running, you cover a lot of ground to ultimately return to the same place. With ten years it's the people and things that stay, that moved through the running miles, the life miles with me, and are all still here: sweaty and happy and with some or many unplanned stops, a few detours, not entirely sure how we all got here, but grateful that we did, and did it together.
Running, these last ten years, has shaped how I live in Vancouver. The people I meet, the places I go, how I spend my days (and, realistically, how I don't spend anything later than 9pm). The best way I can explain it is "Love what you love." But, really, it goes deeper than love.
Last weekend, I had Lucy and her family over for dinner. I moved my kitchen table into the living room, where we could see the light fading golden through the cherry blossoms outside. As good a time as any to talk about what we did, or didn't, believe.
My desire for something to believe is inversely related to how I can handle uncertainty, ambiguity, the emptiness that stares back when I search too hard for answers. The feeling of 5pm on a grey November Sunday. Reading the news and hearing myself say, over and over again, that everything happens for reason.
And I think this is called the human condition, And some people look to God, or to the ones they love, or to their art. Some drink too much or cry too hard or kiss the wrong people. And others, like me, when they feel that space in their chest where the world wants to crowd in, on days where the leaves are sharp and green and the softening of the air pricks tears - lace up their shoes and go out for a run.
In the end, most of what I've learned about running, about living in Vancouver, is about patience and persistence. A marathon doesn't happen at mile 6, or mile 20. What doesn't get told about running long distances regularly is how they make everything else recede. After hours upon hours outside, the rest of my life goes away: work and errands and plans and all the desires, all the wanting, slowly gone. After ten years, what persists with running are the people: meeting at weird intersections at awkward times in the morning, knowing where all the bathrooms are on a certain route.
A few weeks back, I was visiting Eastern Washington, The hike I originally planned out didn't work, because the access route was covered with snow for the last 5 miles. This type of scenario is not unusual when you hike with me. I remembered seeing parked cars, a sign that looked to be a map. A trail, almost immediately in snow, climbing up through sparse forest, looking onto granite mountains. Snow clouds moving grey through mountain passes. And the itch in my feet - to keep going, to see how far I could follow the trail.
What has persisted for years, through hard workouts and easy days, through stress fractures and aircasts and foam rollers and so many mornings around the seawall is the love of going to new places, wild and beautiful places, with my friends.
It's not a real answer to any of the questions that press on me at 2am. It doesn't make the things that hurt, hurt any less. But it means that, when I feel that emptiness, the answer isn't to shove it aside, to run it away. Instead, the only thing I can think of to do - clear more space, let in the light, see what will take root and grow.