I’ve never been particularly good at handling tragedy. I’m not able to reconcile the great sadness and hurt we see on the daily news—disasters cataloged as quotidian events, injustices tagged and numbered, loss of life indexed and archived and massaged into statistics—with the idea that life, somehow, should be just, nourished, and happy.
Even as a child, the news was a great source of anxiety for me. I’d see clips during an evening broadcast or read headlines in the paper, and I’d be plagued with worry and uncertainty, unable to balance the sharper edges of reality with my childish ideal. At an early age, I had the intellectual acuity to understand the magnitude and grief of a situation, but because I was so young, I didn’t have the emotional maturity to handle it.
For instance, I remember so clearly—of all things—when tennis player Monica Seles was stabbed during a match back in 1993. It seems almost silly now that, all these years later, this event is still so vivid in my mind. But it is.
I was 9. I saw the images of Seles crying and the swarm of people around her, calling for help, laying her down on the court. I was terrified. I played tennis with my grandparents. Tennis was fun. It was happy. Suddenly, my insular world of happy and good was tainted. I was afraid. I remember asking my grandma if someone could stab us while we were playing. I felt exposed and vulnerable. If a professional tennis player—surrounded by fans and security and witnesses—wasn’t safe, who was?
I think I haven’t changed that much since I was a little girl. I see the news, and I feel overwhelmed. Yes, I still feel scared sometimes, but mostly, I feel powerless. The problems seem so big, the chaos ever increasing. Television, radio, social media—we are engulfed by the turmoil. The hurt is deafening.
Running, more than ever, is a sanctuary for me. When I run, the clamor stops, if only for a moment. The road is there. I am there. I am breathing. I am moving. I feel my arms pump and my legs swing and my lungs take in great gasps of air. I hear the tree frogs and the crickets chirping their songs. I see the birds flutter, and sail, and perch upon branches, benches, picnic tables. The trees stand tall. The grasses and buds bow their heads. And just when it seems as if time itself has ceased to exist, I know the world will go on.
Running is a sanctuary. It is where I regroup. It is where I calm myself down. It is where I remove myself from the tumult and say, “It will be okay. You will be okay.”
It is where I think of those who are hurting, whose grief will not go away, whose struggle will not end. It is where my helplessness yields to How can I help? It is where my hopelessness gives way to How can I heal?
It is where I remind myself that every moment matters, and that while I cannot fix the world in one fell swoop—no one can—I can take small steps, day by day, to reconcile, to restore, to put right.
It is where I can greet a stranger, smile at him, wave to her. It is where I can say, “I am here, too.”
It is where I can be a neighbor.
It is where I take inventory of my community, my town, my city, and see that it is beautiful. Its homes. Its buildings. Its parks and schools and shops and cafes. Its people.
It is where I watch the sun rise in the morning and the sun set in the evening. It is where day becomes night and night again becomes day.
It is where my faith is restored.
It is where I am reassured that even though the world my little girl self imagined is broken, it is not wholly shattered.
Running is a sanctuary. It is where I am reminded that creation itself longs for peace. And not all peace is lost.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.