I love to run in new places. At home I run the same loop—it takes me down to Long Island Sound and it’s beautiful, but I know it so well that I can almost run it blind.
This morning I am running in Knoxville, Tennessee, where my father lives. I am a little stiff. My low back aches (from sitting in a chair playing gin rummy with Dad for hours on end?). I do a few painful stretches. I consider not running. I go anyway.
A morning half hidden in fog. The grass is pearl-studded with water droplets. Blankets of spider webs lay like gossamer silken sheets on lawns and hedges. The funnel-web spiders have been working all night.
Knoxville is mountainous, and I am struggling to climb the steep hills. But about a mile up the road I come to an enormous senior living center. Thank God. Flat parking lots. I jog around the vast complex, coming eventually to the end of the asphalt. To circle back to my path I must run on a sidewalk. I come around a bend and almost run into a man in a wheelchair, being pushed by a friendly aide who smiles at me. The man is expressionless, oxygen tubes flow into his nose.
He wants to see the glory of this morning, I imagine, and he needs someone at 7 AM to push him. I think: that could be me one day, happy to be wheeled through this world and hanging on for dear breath. I remember my painful stretches and I am almost fervently grateful for the pain I am able to experience. I can lace up my shoes and hobble.
As soon as I run past the wheeled man, a bush burns before me. Actually it is a dwarf conical fir tree covered in a cocoon of spider web. It is back-lit by the sun blazing the fog, seems to glow with a ghostly fire. The words of Moses come immediately. “I must turn aside and see this thing.” So I stop. Up close, it isn’t a burning bush at all. It looks like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, covered in tiffany cobweb.
My soul chuckles.
This will have to be good enough. And it is. Good enough to say, Put off your shoes. Or, Put on your shoes, for the place where you run is holy.