Funny - you don't sound like a runner

STEVEN is a funny runner. Now by this I do not mean that his stride is peculiar, or that there is a wiggle in his walk, or that he sometimes goes by the name of Chantilly Lace. No. What I mean is Steven is an extremely funny person who also happens to be an avid user of Nikes, Reeboks, and other shoes affiliated with flying-feet activities.

Before I met Steven, I didn't think this combination was possible in a person. Maybe you'd find a good-humored cheetah joking in the jungle or vamping on the veld, but a jocular jogger? Forget about it. It seemed to me that people who ran did so with a grim look on their faces and a grimmer outlook on life. Not Steven. He is fleet of foot, quick of wit, and full of joie de vivre. In almost every way imaginable, he's hard to keep up with.

Now me, I'm a stroller. Always have been, although this may have something to do with all the years I spent pushing one (a stroller, that is). Yes, I've seen those baby-jogger contraptions, but frankly they scare me. I like to stop and smell the flowers, taste the Danish, maybe even sit for a while. I enjoy the great outdoors, but at my own pace, which is closer to a snail's than a gazelle's.

But Steven has pointed out to me, without his knowing it, that I'm a snob. I didn't think that humor and exercise went together. Now I know they do. They run or walk hand in hand.

I used to wish those joggers I passed on the road in the morning would smile every once in a while. I'd think smugly to myself that maybe they were just lost in thought, constructing the next bon mot they would inject into polite conversation, just as soon as they stopped panting and sweating.

But recently I've noticed a change in those peppy people who go whizzing past me while I walk: Their demeanor is less meaner. This change coincidently coincided with my change in attitude (hmmm). Once I admitted there was at least the possibility of poetry in motion, I had to allow that there might be levity in motion, too.

The other day I saw two women laughing together as they strode side by side. Maybe it's the time of year here in the Northern Hemisphere, or maybe runners aren't as grumpy as I've been pretending they were. All I know is I can no longer afford the conceit that you can either be funny or in good shape. I've decided to settle for both. I may never run a marathon - did I say "may"? Forgive me, I meant "will." I will never run a marathon, not even if they're handing out free chocolate-chip cookies at the finish line. But I do enjoy a brisk walk, a little aerobic activity, and - dare I say it? - weight lifting (with very light weights). I like doing this on a daily basis. Maybe it's because I spend so much time in my head, every now and then I need to make sure the rest of me still works.

The point is, I'm finally learning we don't have to be one thing or another. We can be a collage.

You can be a working mom who paints (I was going to add "in her spare time," but I don't think working moms have much of that). Or a stay-at-home who plays piano and the stock market, though not at the same time. You can be married or single, have children or not, work in an office, work at home. You can change careers - several times. You can move across the country, move around the world. Or you can stay exactly where you are.

I think all of us are collages, little bits of this and that stuck together over the course of time, resulting in a uniquely beautiful work of art. Or, at the very least, a piece of work.

Think of all the bits of you stuck behind your current form, the bits your kids would never in a million years believe were once you. Would never in a million years believe still are you. Like you playing piccolo in the high school marching band. Or maybe lead guitar in a rock band.

Maybe you used to be a surfer, only now you're a CPA. Stranger things have happened, are happening as we speak. My aforementioned friend Steve is a writer/singer/hiker/father/husband/teacher and a thoughtful, loving wacko. I think he dances, too. A serendipitous life is truly a masterpiece - one that requires neither painting nor modeling skills.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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