No matter what time of the day or night I walk, I always see her – running. She’s mostly a stranger to me save for the secrets revealed by the unnatural thinness of her frame. My “heart antenna” tells me she’s desperately trying to run away from something and that, in her mind, she can’t possibly run fast or far enough. Maybe she’s running from a mirrored reflection of herself that at some point stopped measuring up to what she or, more likely, others (or both) deemed to be the “appropriate standard” of beauty. Maybe she’s running from a broken, dysfunctional or, worse yet, indifferent home. Maybe she’s running from her past, though she seems much too young for that, or from a present filled with bullying, guilt or shame. Maybe she’s running from the pressure to succeed or the fear that she might fail. Maybe she’s running from feeling disrespected or simply feeling too much. Maybe, depending on the day, it’s a combination of all of the above – and more. However, one thing is painfully clear: She has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
I fantasize about the Runner. I imagine her pausing long enough for me to gather the courage to tell her that she’s not alone; that I know intimately the “places” she’s running from and the urge to flee that they give rise to; that I too have felt the pain of being ignored, of wondering if I would ever fit in, be accepted, feel as if I belonged; that, perhaps not unlike her, I spent countless nights in tears wondering if the seeming indifference of others would ever stop, whether those who were always so quick to bear their souls to me would ever take the time to listen, to set aside the wants of their hearts so that they could pay full attention to the needs of mine; that I am no stranger to fear, guilt or shame; and that I know, first hand, what it’s like to long for someone to want and need you simply for who you are and all that you have to give and the profound sense of emptiness that comes when the realization of that dream seems hopelessly far away.
In my fantasy, the Runner responds by sharing her heart – and I listen. And when she’s done, I share my own where she’s concerned. I tell her that the image that greets her in the morning mirror was intended to be her own best friend, not her own worst enemy. I tell her that the sculpture of her that she continues to dangerously chip away at was beautiful enough to begin with – a masterpiece in fact – and that her most-women-would-die-for-height, the lines and features of her face and the curly-frizzy-mind-of-its-own-never-looks-the-same-from-day-to-day-hair bouncing on the top of her head are all the physical attributes she will ever need. And lastly, I tell her it’s time to stop running, because few will understand her running the way that I do and because the more she runs the further away she gets from a world that is thirsting for the gift of her, her vulnerability, her sensitivity, her simultaneously fragile and resilient spirit – the power of her knowing voice.
Maybe one day, the Runner too will wonder – about the old guy with the gray hair, the one who walks the same mind-numbingly boring route (almost) every day, the one who seems lost in thought, but somehow always manages a simple “hello” and smile for her. Maybe in that moment her sense of wonder (and mine) will overcome the admonition of our childhood that we should “never talk to strangers” and we’ll find out that we’re the farthest thing from “strangers” the world has ever known!