Gravity’s aging, slightly embarrassing rainbow.

This is how I see myself when I run. 
This is how people under 20 see me. 

Aging is weird. I had 20/20 vision every year until I hit 41, now I have an astigmatism. I weigh considerably more than I did five, ten, and twenty years ago. I mend less quickly when I’m sick. I fall asleep during even a short time in a moderately comfy chair. And when I do, I snore. I worry about getting enough fiber.

In recent years, I have also fallen while jogging. Twice. I never fell while running as a young person. I mean, I’m sure I fell as a child while playing, but once I hit puberty, I recall having a pretty stable relationship with gravity and momentum. The first fall was in 2013. I went running on a very cold and icy day over Nina’s advice. We were cooped up with the weather, I was stir crazy, and I needed exercise. I think I said something to Nina about how runners go out in all conditions, and a little snow ought not to stop me from exercising (it turns out those are experienced all-weather runners, not me going out for my first ever ice jog. Who knew? It was a different time. ). I made it about 20 feet down our hill before falling slipping on the ice, falling hard on the sidewalk, and coming home bleeding from at least four places.

The other time was a year or so later. I’d been running regularly, increasing both my speed and distance, and I wanted to add a further challenge to my runs to make them more interesting. I started by running up onto the park benches I passed along the greenway. Then I got more daring and started to run across the stationary exercise equipment stations that are affixed along the route – balance beams, platforms for crunches or push-ups, stretches, and the like. Various configurations of metal pipe that afforded a kind of agility drill to break up my routine.  One day I tried to leap onto the parallel bars – about two or three feet off the ground — (in my defense I want to point out I’d done it before successfully!) just as a very attractive, athletic, non-falling, woman was passing the other way. I slipped as I alit and came down with one of the bars between my legs, only centimeters from a life changing experience.

If you go jogging, you may encounter an apparatus like this one along your route. I know the temptation to leap atop them and run from bar to bar the whole way across will be strong. But be wary; let my example guide you.  

In a way, then, I was prepared for today. I went jogging after work. The weather was all post-hurricane sunlight and, though the route was littered with branches and debris from the storm, it was very pleasant. About halfway through my run, I saw group of high school kids (I think? I’ve reached the unfortunate stage of life when all people from the ages of 13 – 20 look more or less alike to me) up ahead running. The kids divided into two groups as they entered the greenway: the boys turned left, the direction I was heading, while the girls started toward me. I could hear the girls chatting and laughing as they approached.

You probably won’t believe it if you know me, because I am so effortlessly cool most of the time, but I felt a rush of self-consciousness. Like I was suddenly the awkward one at an hipper, cooler party than I had any right to attend. I’m not normally consumed with self-consciousness, I didn’t know who the kids were, and I certainly didn’t see myself as part of their peer group, so it struck me as odd. Maybe – and I hate to even invoke a negative and potentially unfair stereotype — but maybe there is just an inherent self-consciousness inducing power to a pack of HS girls? I don’t know, I just felt momentarily rattled, not quite myself as they approached, though the likelihood that they even perceived me as I huffed and puffed to keep my forty two year-old body in steady forward motion, is slight.

For some reason, in this addled, self-conscious state, I decided it was my duty to clear fallen pine cones from the path. After all, our children were using it! Plus it seemed super cool to casually kick them from the path as I ran. I am a man who not only jogs, but nonchalantly betters the world as he goes. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking. Maybe my whole mess of impending mini-disaster was just a brew of being out in the nice weather, invigorated by exercise, but hobbled by the world – maybe I needed to impress someone, or be seen as less pathetic than I sometimes feel, and this was just my tiny, sad version of that? Regardless, I’m pretty sure the runners were impressed. Then, just as I jogged past them, I caught sight of my loose left shoelace. But I was distracted by all the pine cones, feelings of generalized overcompensation for indeterminate inadequacy, and jogging girls, so I kept my stride for several more yards.

Just then, I came upon a huge pine cone in the middle of the path — I lined it up for the society-bettering, ankle-saving kick it deserved, but as I was getting my aim on the cone, I saw my shoelace again, visibly untied. Now my brain was simultaneously telling me to do two things: kick the pine cone – an instruction already received and in mid-execution – and “stop and tie your shoelace before you trip” — a new instruction yet to be integrated into either my cerebral cortex or my straining body.

How I saw myself, nimbly clearing debris as I jogged. 

Apparently, this type of neuro-physical overload is the third rail of forty two year-old widowed brains. I neither made contact with the pine cone nor tended to my errant lace. Instead of the clean, Killian Mbappe style strikes I laid on the previous pine cones, making the greenway safe for jogging and enshrining myself in the “older hero type” teenage mental hall of fame (which I’m pretty sure totally exists), I struck the ground awkwardly about six inches behind my stride, stepping on my untied lace with the other foot, and crumpling to the ground, in a heap almost exactly in the mid-point between the pack of girls and the boys ahead of me. I skinned my left knee pretty good and got both my hands for good measure when I broke my fall.

How I appeared to others witnesses my feats of agility. 

I’m pretty sure the kids didn’t see anything. The girls were headed the opposite direction and I wasn’t anywhere near catching the boys. And I’m over thirty, so basically invisible?

Plus, like I said, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I’d not only fallen before, I had fallen only about twenty yards from the exact spot where I went down this time. It had been a while. But it’s good to know that my athletic ability is still an apt metaphor for my personality.

Anyhow, I knew what to do: I took a moment to assess the damage, but not wanting to seem overly concerned about the ungainly half-gainer I – a middle aged, beet red man, sweating profusely from every pore in his body – had just performed for a crowd of indifferent teens, I quickly tied my shoe, and took off at a trot for home.

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