Running in the dark
Stepping out into the cool morning air, I gazed into the darkness. Although I had known full well that it would still be dark at 6 a.m., I was surprised at my own hesitance to begin my morning run.
Now, before my sisters and family members have a collective anxiety attack, I should mention that I was equipped with a good flashlight, my phone, and (yes, Dad) a neon yellow reflective vest. Still, I found myself questioning the wisdom of setting out alone in the dark. My rational self knew the area really was safe, and that the trail officially opened to the public an hour before sunrise, but as I broke into a jog and made my way from the security lights of the convent where we were staying into the sprawling wooded park, I felt fear nudging me to look back, even turn back.
The faint shadows of the deer sitting strangely close to the path, which I would normally find enDEERing (pun intended!) were instead unsettling. Once I scaled a small hill that opened into a clearing, I saw what I assumed was another, larger deer walking toward me on the trail. As my pattering footsteps neared the creature, I realized it was instead an older woman walking the path (mind you, with no reflective vest or flashlight … I wondered just how foolish I looked to her …). I’m sure she had no idea how happy I was to see her – what her presence meant to me in the darkness.
Then, as I turned the curve, I spotted a light bouncing in the distance. At first, I assumed it might be my own flashlight reflected in a puddle. I turned my flashlight off for a second to test my theory, and the other light kept right on bouncing. Glory be! Then another more steady light appeared on what seemed to be the front of a bike approaching at an intersection of the path with the winding road. I thought to myself,
“There are other bouncing lights!”
As silly as I knew my fear of the dark was – especially compared to the fear of people who live with the reality of daily violence and unrest in their neighborhoods – the knowledge of other bouncing lights was so hopeful to me in those pre-dawn moments.
As I ran on, I noticed that the darkness was still a reality. In fact I only encountered a couple of other runners in the next half hour. But knowing other bouncing lights illuminated the same path I traveled helped me move from a space of fear, uncertainty and doubt to a sense of hope and solidarity. I thought, “This must be what community at its best feels like.”
While my heart was enfolded by the feeling of this revelation, I thought of all the sunrises, beautiful cloud formations, brilliant stars, prayerful reflections and conversations with beloved running buddies that I’d have missed if I’d never run in the dark. Watching the clouds slowly turn a brilliant pink, I thought of all the bouncing lights that illuminate my path – people who bring me strength simply through the knowledge of their presence and support, even from afar. Strangers and dear friends came to mind, many who likely have no idea how much their presence has impacted me. I pondered untold connections – times when I might have been unaware that others walked in fear even as I shared my light with them.
I realized that there will likely be – and perhaps already have been – times in this discernment journey when I’ll be called to run in the dark, without any tangible or visible evidence of others … but all the while knowing that I will never really be alone.
My prayer as I concluded my run was that I might hold onto the moments when other bouncing lights have passed me and shared their glimmer; that emboldened by God’s grace, I might know the truth of community, solidarity and accompaniment even when the light is no longer visible.