I wake up not entirely sure where I am, blinking away my disturbed sleep and looking for an anchor, some detail that will bring me back to awareness. With my incessant travel and movement, this confusion isn’t unusual; what is unusual are the sounds outside and below. In the predawn darkness, I hear sirens, engines, movement, life. This symphony is so different from the silence of the mountains, yet familiar and soothing nonetheless.
When I was 12, my uncle took me to New York City. He had a work trip, and I of course had time. At that age I was just young enough – my adolescent brain still dangerously impressionable – to be promptly swept away by the unceasing vibration of it all. The crushing mass of people, the fast, uncaring pace, the impossible variety of sights and sounds. This place featured everything: dreams lost and found; unknown languages, cultures, smells, and foods; the swirling mosaic of people who, for the first time in my life, didn’t look just like me. New York showed me the possibility of something more than desert brown, more than the falsely safe, secure sameness of the place whence I came. New York taught me, too, that the day is never done – the clock keeps ticking whether we like it or not. It did before we arrived, and it’ll keep going after.
In the apartment, the sun crests the buildings to the east and begins to slant through the thin windows. Methodically, I prepare for my run. Light shorts. Socks and shoes (left first, always). Short sleeve shirt, holding on to the warmth of October in the city. I tighten the velcro on my watch, set the chronograph, snag headphones and sunglasses, and I’m out the door, running with no plan but to run.
At first glance, the places I cherish most don’t have much in common with New York City. But in my heart, I feel the same buzz, the same undeniable energy, as I did at 12, when the buildings blocking the sky made me feel so gigantically small. This blurred connection, the tenuous thread of my memory, strikes the right chord within me, playing a note without vibrato - the real thing, as loud and clear as it will ever be.
Miles in, my legs feel ever lighter. From the Lower East Side, I cross the Williamsburg Bridge, red and gray and full of scrawled and painted messages from those who have passed before me. “I’m happy you’re here. Now keep going.” So I do. I keep going through the cold morning air, keep going as I process my recent heartbreak, a surprise phone call that left me homeless in Montana. I keep going for those who can’t, for my friend Israel who died too young, for my friend Melissa who this year, for the first time ever, stood from her wheelchair and walked with the aid of her mother. I keep going until I find forgiveness and peace with the changing tides of my life and the people who move through it, knowing this peace is temporary, too.
Sometimes, in the high mountains, I stand over the abyss, looking out at ridges unfolding before me, cities and towns and entire lives in the valleys beneath me. I imagine the hopes and dreams of those souls that make up the whole, the stories no less full of color and love and sadness and joy than my very own. Even in the ripping wind, the unbearable cold, I look out with gratitude and wonder, but never for too long. The day is not yet done.
It’s one of those perfect runs, my legs now turning without thought, taking me across the city as if on wings. On the Brooklyn Bridge, I stop to marvel at the light dancing through the suspension wires. There’s another painted message here, next to an illegally-clipped lock with a Sharpie heart on it. “Smile. It’s not over.” So I do, and I know there is so much left ahead, so much happiness and joy in my future, so many memories I have yet to make. So very much to smile about. But for now, it’s simple: take another step, then another. Tighten up my stride, check my pace, stay upright, breathe with these lungs I’ve been given. Keep showing up and keep going. I’m so damn happy I’m here.