Three years ago, I decided with alarming thoughtlessness that I would become a D1 runner. Despite the fact I had not run in six months, knew next to nothing in terms of what being competitive required, and would be joining the team mid-season in the most awkward way possible, I determined I would do it. In my mind, the decision possessed the simplicity of flicking a light switch; one moment my inner competitor was off, the next it was glowing bright and with furious focus.
I ran 50 miles the first week I started running again. 0-50. *See Danielle was totally uneducated on how to go about serious distance running, and the phrase ‘slow mileage buildup’ was foreign to her vocabulary.
That decision has since brought me some of the most incredible highs of my college experience. It has also brought me lower than I knew it was possible to go. Looking back on my three years, I remember my freshman self and find it difficult to identify the swell of emotions it triggers. I am many, many things at once, but above them all, I’m thankful.
I am melancholic. Danielle at 18 was beautifully ignorant, empty of fear and full of idealism. I despise conceding that I no longer possess that optimistic zeal for everything life holds, and I refuse to admit it entirely. But I’ve certainly lost something… I still possess hope in people, humanity, Good triumphing over Evil… but it is a hope that exists alongside the realization that while Good will triumph, Evil might rake you over and grind you into the ground before that victory occurs. Life is Beautiful. But it’s also really, really shitty sometimes. And for all this I’m thankful, because I know more of the deep dark crevices of life, the shadowy alleyways and corners that so many travel through at some point. This knowledge is like a superpower because with it I can help others who go through the same long nights, and I can empathize greater than anyone who’s spent the entirety of their existence in the sun.
I am filled with doubt. All my life I have chased certainty with dogged persistence and methodical enquiry. And over these past three years I have realized with no small amount of terror that certainty doesn’t exist, at least not for the Big Questions. The continual pursuit of an objective guarantee concerning anything in life that really matters reminds me of my continual effort as a second grader to dig to China in the playground sand during recess. Although I would often try different angles and starting points, inevitably I would hit that solid clay wall that lay beneath the foot and a half of sand. China was never going to happen; it was an impossibility, as I was a mere child equipped with a mere plastic trowel. Now all grown up (in theory at least), I have swapped my plastic trowel for Pirsig’s analytical knife, but find my new tool similarly inadequate. We cannot rationally know everything, as we will always encounter that infinite paradox of truth that Kierkegaard spoke of with such reverent eloquence. Life requires faith, whether that means you have faith in God or faith in chaotic randomness, to bridge the gap in between the knowable temporal and the incomprehensible eternal. We will never possess the ability to gain a complete systematic knowledge of all the mechanics of the infinite, and similarly we will never be able to completely refute the existence of the infinite. Humanity cannot believe anything without accompanying doubt; it is the cost of making a choice and committing oneself to something. But I am thankful for the doubt that incessantly plagues my mind, because it pushes me to reaffirm my own faith, demands that I fight for it, and signals that I have, at least, made a choice.
I am humbled. Time, with an attitude of tough love, has hollowed away many of my previously held presumptions of capability, and provided me with an awareness of my own shortcomings. I have discovered weaknesses, mistaken assumptions, and whole new categories of struggle. This humbling occasionally deceives my mind into thinking I have become weaker, but the reality is I have just become aware of how weak I was in the first place, and that, in a way, is gaining a strength. And so, I am thankful for how these three years have broken down my false egoisms and made me aware, albeit sometimes painfully, of the realms of my life which need attention.
I am heartbroken. Before I began running, I talked it over with a few friends; a couple told me it might be too difficult, a few said it was a weighty decision, but Simon Greiner encouraged the idea with a fervor and confidence that solidified my own determination. All Simon ever offered was a grin as wide as the Oklahoma sky and an excited assurance of how fun the whole endeavor would be. I never would have joined the team without him, and through my many ups and downs in running, he always could ground me, remind me how petty and insignificant the majority of my concerns were, and coax out a laugh. He was supposed to be the eclectic uncle who visited on holidays and brought inappropriate gifts to my children; that was the plan. But instead, to my children he will be the vivacious best friend who taught me to dance that I immortalize in my stories to them. And there will never be a run of mine where I don’t think of him and the wonderful arguments we used to have while trotting along at some lazy pace. This sport that has burrowed its way securely into my heart’s deepest recesses, acting as a beautiful source of joy, now simultaneously breaks my heart. And for this, I’m so thankful. To have known Simon, to have loved Simon, to have the privilege of learning from him how to care deeply for and respect those who are different from you, is to be blessed in a way I don’t have words to convey.
I am overwhelmed with a sense of awe. Had I known three years ago what was in store for me should I walk onto the Tulsa track team, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to do so. The difficulties and hardships would have terrified me. But I am so thankful I did. In a way I don’t really understand, I know everything that I have gone through has pushed me forward and the me am I today is the one I’m supposed to be. There are moments when I wish again for the blithe unawareness and complete confidence in people and unwavering rosy outlook, but these moments are drowned out by an absolute feeling that I am where and who I am supposed to be. Even when I don’t understand how that’s possible or when it doesn’t logically makes sense to me. I don’t have certainty that it will be ok, but I do have faith that it will be, and for that faith I am thankful.
I started my ruminations over the last three years trying to honestly answer the question, “Do I regret my choices? Would I do anything differently if I could?” Part of me screams yes, if I could, I would avoid all the difficulties I encountered, the events that produced enough pain to permanently alter who I am as a person. But upon reflection, I don’t think I would; my hardships have become sewn into the fabric of who I am, and to reject them is to reject a part of myself. And because although I don’t understand why, I am gripped by the veracity that I’m where and who I’m meant to be. I’m flooded with the faith in an Infinitude much greater than my mortality.