Tennessee

In my last entry on New Mexico almost a year ago I wrote about giving up a time goal to enjoy the experience of running. I reflected on the cycles of running and writing and the balance I wanted to create between the two. Like the 34 states before, I wrote about my love of travel to new places with friends. My previous entries reflected on relationships, career, and training. And while some posts were about the beauty and experience of the state I happened to be running in, they didn’t tie one state to another as a whole country. I think of this project less about running through the U.S. and more about taking one state at a time: crossing each bridge when I come to it.

In Tennessee my boyfriend and I found an out-and-back trail that took us across a beautiful wooden bridge. Other than swatting the flies and bees that muggy morning, it was a pretty easy run. So easy that on the way back across the bridge I said, “Do you want to go fast?” We ran our hearts out across the final stretch because simply running was too easy. Even though we were hot and sweaty we sped across the bridge together because we had the energy to do so. We had “crossed the bridge” of complacent running to running fast and giving it our all.

Since November I, like many people, have been thinking of the intolerability of the state of our nation. It reminds me of what my mentor teacher during my 6th grade student teaching used to say to misbehaving students: “I’m not ok with that.” When a student was out of line, she didn’t start by reprimanding the student or implementing a consequence. She first gave their behavior a value statement. By stating “I’m not ok with that,” she took a stance. In the classroom there’s no time to reflect on whether or not behavior is ok. It’s a moment-to-moment job and all eyes are on you. There’s no time to wonder what’s right and wrong—you know it in your gut and it’s your job to lead by example.

In the “real world” outside of the classroom sometimes there is more time to decide what we’re “ok with.” It’s the way we shift our careers when a job becomes so intolerable we schedule informational interviews with dozens of one-off contacts in hopes that someday we will land in a role that truly matches our strengths and interests. I’ve done that. We decide what we’re ok with in relationships when we finally clue-in to the fact that a guy’s lag time in contact is just too few and far between to be a partner. I’ve been there too. Often, we think we have the luxury of time when deciding what is right.

The other week on the bus I watched a fist fight that nobody did anything about. I looked around waiting for someone to step in: someone tall and built or a strong-willed pacifist on their way to a job at the non-profit. But nothing. My fellow wide-eyed bus-riders and I watched punches thrown and we watched each other. We tucked our earbuds in a little bit deeper. I couldn’t believe it. Then, something else happened during the fight that surprised me. When the woman seated next to me leaned away from the fight towards me, I instinctively put my arm her. Then we sat there for another 30 seconds, maybe a minute, while the fight broke up. All three men fighting got off the bus. I was relieved, expecting that the bus driver would yell at them or the police would come. But nobody came. As far I could see the driver said nothing. Most appallingly all three of these men got back on the bus. The driver still did nothing.

This is America now. This is what happens every day. People display unacceptable behavior over and over again and we watch, feeling powerless or maybe just plain terrified. We wonder, “How did we get to a place where this is ok?” “Why do the people in charge not do anything?” This happens in blue and red states, in the most expected and unexpected places. A week after I wrote this paragraph, Charlottesville happened.

I know it’s pretty likely that if you’re reading this you too are not ok with the way things are. I know we each have our own ways of coping and making a difference. I know there are many organizations doing amazing things to oppose the leadership and policies they too are not ok with.  I did a little research and I like how South Poverty Law Center explicitly names the hateful and unjust attitudes and behavior they oppose. So, I ask you to join me in donating to this organization who addresses the “not ok” feeling because we’re on this bus together and the wheels are off the bus.

What does a “not ok” feeling have to do with running? Maybe running is a way to deal with things you’re not ok with. I’ve run because I wanted to be faster. I started running a 5K in every state because I wasn’t ok with my career, romantic relationship, or where I lived. I ran to help make them ok. I’ve taken my “not ok” feelings one step, one mile, one state at a time. And four years later, all three of those things got better. But now here I am at 37 states panicked at what is next for our country. We’ve crossed that bridge–I guess we crossed it a long time ago. Join me in picking up speed and giving it our all.

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