Runners have it easy when they visit another city. The only special equipment they have to pack is their shoes. Then in the morning before the day begins, they head out to see the place they’re visiting.
Nowadays, they can carry a palm-sized computer that communicates with satellites and, with it, track their path and progress. But they also can go without (as in the ancient days of, say, the year 2000) and trust their own wits to find their way back home.
One priest, staying at the old College of Preachers in Our Nation’s Capital, went out for a run and got lost. The streets were winding and hilly, the sun had not yet risen, and he just had to keep going. He returned after an hour an a half—the sun was up and he was wiped out by this, for him, really long run. I think it was a sighting of the National Cathedral that brought him back. He had a sense of having being caught without alternatives; not unsafe, but without cash or ID, just a key (or maybe it was just the mental knowledge of the entrance code). All he could do was keep running, think, hope, and pray.
Running as a visitor recently, I noticed that the residential street I had come upon was called Hickory Lane. Lots of streets in that part of the world are named for trees and are almost never called “streets.” Then a tune came into my mind.
I was back in grade school, in a world that really was a long time ago. We’re in the auditorium where we had music class a couple of days a week, and we’re singing a song that, even then, was old fashioned. “School days, school days, dear old golden rule days: Reading and writing and arithmetic; Taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”
I’m on Hickory Lane and my mind dredges up something half a century ago about hickory sticks. Corporal punishment was just an accepted thing then, but to speak of a spanking with the stick as a “tune” was even then a poetic transformation. The good and the bad are alike transformed and remembered with an equal gaze. Education, discipline, and love come together.
The song, of course, goes on with words we boys squirmed to sing: “You were my queen in calico, I was your bashful, barefoot beau As you wrote on my slate, ‘I love you, Joe,’ When we were a couple of kids.”
We’re all runners, of course. We’re all visitors, wherever we are. We carry memories that are themselves memories that bathe all they consider with love. And although we can get ourselves lost, that cathedral spire is there and might indicate the way home.
Out & About. This Sunday, November 11, I’ll lead a seminar discussion on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go. I hope you read the book and, if you can, join us at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in room 205 of the education building.