On running, privilege, and uncomfortable questions

I went for a run.

I had that option — to step away from the news of the latest vile manifestation of the worst human beings have to offer. I went for a run because that’s what I do. Sometimes it’s a hike or a bike ride. Occasionally a swim. The point is to heed the lesson I’ve learned from my inner athlete, that it’s good to get out of my head and into my body.

I’m not running away, mind you. I’m not running to forget or to get away from the world. I’m running because that’s one way in which I make sense of the world. Some people paint or play music or bake cookies. I run.

Running is a space where I can be with the questions. Big and small questions. Personal and global questions. I can be with the questions and not concern myself with finding answers. It’s not about finding answers. It’s about being with the questions, the uncomfortable questions, the questions I’d rather not have to think about and be with. Running is my space to be with those uncomfortable questions. Hell, I’m already uncomfortable. My lungs are on fire. My legs are spewing profanity in my direction. My skin is crying with sweat. Might as well settle into the uncomfortable questions as well.

Understand this is a privilege I have — to leave my house and go for a run. It’s a privilege on many levels, not the least of which is white privilege, which, in case you were wondering, is the privilege of not having to think about race. I can leave my house and run miles and never worry about how people’s perception of the color of my skin will impact the opportunities available to me.

But on this run, race is subject of the uncomfortable questions. And so I do think about race and racism and white supremacy. I run with questions of my own biases and prejudices I carry. Because no matter how much I’d like to think otherwise, I have biases and prejudices. This seems to be a fact of, well, being human.

On my route, I pass a row of seasonal housing for migrants who work the area farms. There is a group of dark-skinned men gathered outside, waiting to start their work day. I pass them twice. I smile and give them my runner’s wave — hand raised like a stop sign accompanied by a slight nod.¬†I realize their experience on this country road is far different than mine. I will never be able to fully understand their experiences.

How many people cross the street? How many turn around early so as to not pass the group of men? How many create a narrative that would rival a potential Law & Order episode? How willing am I to challenge those biases, both in other people and when they pop into my own head?

I’m guilty of silence, of not saying what I truly believed for fear of repercussions with friends, family and work. And this is one of the uncomfortable realities I had to face on this particular run. It was the examination of conscience we used to say weekly at Mass which we admitted “what I have done and what I failed to do.”

A strong, healthy body is useless without a strong, healthy soul. And both are pointless if I’m not willing to speak out, to speak truth to power, and to meet my fellow human beings with an open heart and compassion.

And so I go out on my run. I’ll meet different people. I’ll do my runner’s wave. I’ll say good morning. I’ll look people in the eye. I’ll feel uncomfortable. Running was never about finding the answers, or a finish line. Running was always about finding more questions.