Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
Sitting at the edge of Penobscot Bay on a morning in which the fog and water met in such a way as to seem each were attempting to deny the existence of the other, a wall of blue-white vapor fading imperceptibly into silver-gray undulations, I read Hemingway and drank good coffee and contemplated the stark fact that such a mind as his could engineer its own demise.
A native Mainer happened by and we shared a cup of coffee over talk of fish and cold water and toasted one another over the mutual accord sportsmen may find, looking upon the water and saying, “I love it out there but I don’t want to die upon it.” It’s the kind of thought that comes to men of a certain age, and it strips away much of the philosophical trappings with which we insulate ourselves from strangers these days. It made me think of the bewildering complexity that is each of us; 37.2 trillion cells composing organs and muscle and bone and blood, all working in incomprehensible symphony, irrelevant without the complex brain that is our most mysterious aspect, and whether by intent or misadventure, the driver of Papa’s sad end and our myriad differences.
A friend says “You can’t love a man in slices,” a simple notion that implies an acceptance of fault, a celebration of goodness, and the extension of grace. I believe it to be true, though sometimes one must decide whether the whole seems too rotten to abide. It’s a hell of a thing, our humanity.
Everything in life is a negotiation I suppose. We decide what we will, or must, accept to become the person we want, or need, to be. We engage in becoming. Though sometimes painful and dangerous, I have to believe it is a process of which awareness is a luxury each of us so fortunate as to be afforded it must appreciate. Far too many of the 6.8 billion humans on this planet must become only what conditions demand of them, dreams be damned.
I read The Runner by Marcus Torgeby recently. A book about a man who chose, or perhaps was forced into choosing, an extreme simplicity, it was a gift from a friend, a fellow Marine and outdoorsman. I cannot commend it to you as a great work of literature, or even a source of encompassing wisdom in the way we seem to recommend some books as pop culture inoculations designed to protect our drive-through, venti skim latte existence. But the book was compelling in its simplicity, which may be the whole point. Torgeby’s description of the inexorable, glorious exhaustion induced by his first run in Tanzania, left in the red dirt by a group of Africans wholly dedicated to the race, reconnected me with a younger version of myself, one who ran to exhaustion and swam wearing a rifle and equipment and accepted endurance and fear as the price of becoming a member of a club I was never sure should have me.
Now I am fifty and as I have said to you before, whatever I thought I would be when I grew up, it appears I am it now. But still, I am becoming. Again perhaps, but nonetheless.
Cleared to run again following foot surgery, I ran 2.5 miles with one of my best friends, John Dailey. It’s a course winding through long-leaf pine, one we’ve used for years as a warm-up for our longer runs, now cheered on by a ten-year-long resurgence of bobwhites. We ran slowly, at my behest, and by extension of the same grace John has offered me throughout my injury and recovery, truncating his own training to spend time with me at my diminished level.
The last mile is a gentle downhill; a time to wordlessly increase our pace and lengthen our strides, seeking to surge past one another in the kind of perennial, meaningless, subconscious competition men of our stripe cannot resist. By the time I reached that point this time though, my arms and legs were already starved of oxygen and heavy with lactic acid, a feeling both disheartening for the quickness of its arrival and exciting for its portents of what may come with future efforts. It felt horrible. It felt sublime.
I recognize that duality from my long life as a runner and my more recent experiences as a hunter, pursuits built upon what may happen with time and fortune but also demanding experience that comes only with hard work. Truthfully, I’ve little interest in things predicated upon a predictable linear progression. It’s probably a rejection of the presumed narrowing of possibilities that comes with the creeping of my age, but I want obstacles to overcome. I want mysteries to uncover. I want the foot-shifting anxiety of lining myself up against a task I am not certain I can accomplish. I want the joy of becoming competent at something new or regaining lost abilities within an old passion.
I am becoming again, anew.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor in Chief, Tom Beckbe