Leaving the House

It does not feel like a crisis anymore. I don’t know when it shifted, exactly. It was gradual. And perhaps we have just gotten accustomed to the barrage of news about disease, climate disaster, and restrictions of rights, which, to be honest with myself, continue. I know, intellectually, that there are ongoing crises and challenges and disasters, but for whatever reason, I no longer feel as though the entire world is a threat to my wellbeing. 

Somewhere we stopped consistently starting meetings with check-ins about the overwhelming nature of the world news. We are seeing friends we couldn’t see in close quarters in the more-than-a-year of emergency. We still wear masks, but we can travel, go to concerts, eat in restaurants again. I don’t flinch when someone sneezes anymore. 

And it has started to feel less urgent for me to do the things that kept me functioning in that year+ of mostly isolation. The daily meditation, writing, walk. A check in with friends in text or phone call, exercise after long work-from-home days to create a boundary.

But in April 2020, the only reasons we could leave the house were for essential activities. 

Grocery pick ups. Walks and runs. End of list. 

We walked around the block more than I ever have. And I ran, more ritually than during marathon training. 

On those walks and runs we would find friends–by coincidence or intention. That moment, chance encounter, might be the only social encounter outside our home for a week. Finding a friend on the path or unexpectedly at an intersection to run next to for a couple miles was a social nectar. A planned, necessary remedy and often serendipitous treat all at once. 

I would have been much, much worse last year without running. 

It was the thing that brought me the most freedom. I could move, breathe, see the open sky, get miles from my home in a quiet, still isolated, place. Even if I wasn’t talking to someone I found,  also taking a respite from their interior isolation, even if I was alone just running up an alleyway, it was a refreshing moment to breath. 

Now, I’m seeing people, getting outside of the interior of my home, in other ways. Since our household became fully vaccinated, I’ve traveled to other places, I’ve eaten in restaurants, I’ve seen friends outside my household in their household. I’ve gone to a museum, at least once! I’ve gone to a loved one’s wedding. 

And I’ve done running races, in person! I raced a 5k on a track; a half marathon, triathlons in 3 states. I have been having fun and running with friends and getting stronger. 

But for some reason a feeling has grown: that running is less important, that I should be prioritizing more valuable things, now that it’s not a crisis. (What is more valid? More virtuous? Is it shallow to want to be faster? To spend hours a week chasing running goals, when I could, say, be volunteering, honing professional skills, creating things instead?) Is it still important to do all those things that kept me at a better baseline through a global crisis, now that it doesn’t feel like a global crisis?

And then, with that growing feeling, I happened to run a route that I used to do at the height of the pandemic. 

When the mayor closed the lakefront trail (which we now know was a less-than-ideal move) and we all had to use the streets, sidewalks, and alleyways to the best of our ability, I used to run up a side street for miles. On that route, I discovered colleagues who lived in the neighborhood. I discovered a good friend lived three miles up that very road and also ran it regularly (she is now a much closer friend). I saw the friends, also running, who I knew well in my neighborhood and caught up on our anxieties over a mile or two before leaving them at their doors. 

And a couple weeks ago, I ran that street on an easy run, in a big week of my marathon training. At one intersection, by a traffic light next to a parking lot with a newspaper box, I viscerally remembered how I used to only be able to leave the house to run. My instincts expected to see one of my friends, jogging to escape a gloomy isolation, and say hello. And that moment I remembered all of this: how running let me leave the house and find a friend or two during that global crisis. It reminded me how much running saved me. It helped (helps) me think, it gave (gives) me space, it gave (gives) me connection. 

And it still does those things. Even when I’m not in constant crisis and isolation, I still need the support of this thing I love to do and the friends it gives me. 

As we get back to those things we’re now allowed to do, we all still need to keep the tools that helped (help) us get through the worst.

I have noticed myself saying “yes” to too much, or letting myself skip things that keep me healthy because they don’t feel as urgent. But it is still important, even when we’re not in crisis. 

So remember, you can and should still do the things that keep you feeling okay. You deserve to do the things that bring you joy, just because they bring you joy. And make sure you get out of the house sometimes.  

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