One morning, I went out for a run. I had a busy, chaotic week ahead of me, with puzzles to solve and a full range of emotion to experience, and I wanted to clear my head, to shake out some anxiety, and to take an uninterrupted look at the world around me.
When I looked outside, the ground was wet and the sky was grey. Would it rain? I checked the weather on my phone, and it forecast no rain at all. I left my sunglasses dangling over my back door knob, turned on some music in my headphones, and headed out.
The rain overnight had left everything glistening with droplets of water, and the grey skies made every color seem brighter and more saturated. As I’ve done for the five years I’ve been running, I stopped whenever I saw something particularly beautiful, looked closely, and snapped a photo.
Not two blocks from my house, a father and son living in a row of townhouses have taken over their building’s street-facing garden. The flowers there are spectacular, and careful planning means that new blossoms are always greeting me as the seasons pass. That week, it was their pink hibiscus that was most prominent. I stopped, paused the music in my headphones, and took a photo:
I usually turn toward the lake after a few blocks, but that day, I realized that I hadn’t visited the blocks parallel to the lake all summer. Large, opulent old houses line those blocks, with fancy gardens and gorgeous porches. I turned up one such block and wasn’t disappointed. I don’t know these gardeners, but I invent stories in my head. Maybe some homeowners hire some of the local landscaping firms I see riding through town in the summer, trucks fragrant with annuals and equipment and bags of grass clippings and sacks of mulch. Other houses might be home to passionate cultivators who research the varieties of rose bushes and lilies all winter and come out at regular intervals to sit in adirondack chairs on the lawn and admire the sturdiness of the black-eyed-susans.
Finally, I was far enough north that I had to turn toward the lake or risk making my run longer than my day — and my legs — could reasonably accommodate. I headed east, past what looked like an abandoned hydrangea bush on a corner. I read somewhere that the color of the blooms has to do with the acidity of the soil, and wondered what accident of nature produced the magical purple that stopped me in my tracks:
And just as I snapped this photo, full immersed in the moment and the beauty, a drop of water landed on my head.
And then many more, and as I jogged south again, one block from the lake and still parallel, the sky opened up and released a torrent. I was nearly two miles from home.
At first, I denied what was happening. It wasn’t supposed to rain today. How could it be raining today!? I chugged on, getting wetter with every square of sidewalk. I was resentful and angry; my shoes would get soaked! My clothes would be soaked! My hair, not particularly well-kempt on the best of morning runs, would very soon be plastered to my head and face.
As the torrential downpour settled in for the long haul, I suddenly realized that my iPhone — delivering music and carefully recording every footfall — was not terribly well-protected in the nylon pouch around my waist. Ducking under the back stairs of an apartment building, I loosened the belt of my waist-pouch, looked around, and pulled my soaking, sweaty spandex leggings away from my waist. Setting aside dignity, I shoved my whole waist-pouch down my pants, yanked my dripping t-shirt further down, and took one last dry breath before plunging myself back out into the rain.
Once I’d protected my electronics from the rain, I stopped avoiding puddles. I stopped aiming for the tree-lined portions of the sidewalk where the rain fell just a little more lightly. I stopped trying to run faster than my usual pace.
Instead, I ran with abandon in the rain.
It was warm out, and I could not get any wetter. A part of me let go, and I felt something akin to joy and freedom in the sensation of having no more water to absorb, no way to make myself look dry, no point in calling for a ride or racing home. I had no choice: I relaxed.
Truly, this is the advice I’d treasured most when my children were born. A wise cousin once said, as I’d complained and wrung my hands over the amount of sleep my oldest child was getting: “Surrender. You’re not going to get more sleep. Stop driving yourself crazy over it and surrender.” It felt like radical advice, but it’s been true over and over; surrender, your baby is sick; surrender, the doctors have her now; surrender, this is how you have to cook; surrender, your child has survived.
Before that, there were the moments when my run was just beginning, sure that there would not be rain. There were the first few drops, finding me incredulous, denying. There was the beginning of the storm, thinking I could outrun it, thinking I could beat it. There were the times I hid in alleys and tried to stuff the things I needed most into the places they could be best protected, railing against the indignity and the cost. But always, there was the moment of surrender, when life distilled down to this most basic instinct: run at a pace you can maintain, because it’s a long way home.
So, why am I writing? Why am I telling this story, if I have surrendered? Because the photos I took — the moments I captured from within, crouched down, looking closely at them — they were beautiful. They were wonderful and terrible and necessary and heartbreaking and impossible to run past, but most of all, they were beautiful. I take the photos when I run, and I take the moments when I write, and in that way, they live on, remembered and treasured. They remind me to accept the moment I’m in, lower my shoulders and unclench my jaw, stop, bend down, and preserve my surrender, however I can.