I walk out,
hand in hand with the poem, crossing on the high
redemption bridge, to earth corrupted by tar and concrete,
where down in the darkly shiftless soil words crawl,
eyeless and eager. ~ John F. Deane
One morning, the rain had been pouring so thick that puddles flooded the streets to access the beach. Yet there was a brief let-up – a pause in the downpour – which I took as an invitation to jog.
On the sand, I took off toward the pier, striving for the object ahead like usual. The previous night, my mother-in-law observed that I make phone calls from my car in order to complete my to-do list. Check.
I circled underneath the old pier, raindrops falling on my head from the drenched planks. Resolutely I began my return . . .
But then noticed that my footprints were the only ones in the sand. I actually stopped still. Never before had my past been so clearly marked. Modern neuroscience has confirmed the observations of Proust about our memories, which are as shifty as the sand – subject to the changing winds of our perceptions and opinions. The more we remember, the more the past is being shaped and re-shaped in conscious and subconscious ways.
But here, my footsteps provided a complete record of events. Literally I could retrace my steps with unimaginable precision. There, I jutted out to avoid a wave; over here, I’d shortened my stride, gingerly picking my way on bare feet through the crushed sea shells. I watched as I ran. And so, the jog home was less about trying to finish, more about a journey with myself. Perhaps within myself.
“Distance brings proportion,” writes John Updike. Panting, I leaned forward – hands on knees – and looked down the beach. At the end of my run, the rain had begun yet again. I watched as those two sets of footprints – one going, the other returning – we’re slowly erased.