Thursday, August 02, 2012

Running, Shadows & John Mayer

Recently, I went for a nighttime run. Confident I'd be home before absolute dark, I did not take my phone or my inconvenient pepper spray. When I reached the turn for home, I realized it was already darker than I anticipated and not as well-lit. I could have sworn there were more street lights along this route.

Aware now of every breath, every pad-pad of my feet falling on pavement and the sweat running down my back and forehead, my running became more labored. Glancing around with each new sound, I became ultra aware of my surroundings, birds in bushes, crickets, unidentifiable sounds.

And then, I spotted a man in a pick up truck who seemed to be watching me more than he should. Anticipating where I would run next, he drove forward, just a little. He did this a couple of times, and my heightened senses plus fatigue plus fear swallowed up my courage and rational thinking. I was a running mess of fear.

I turned a corner, shot backward glances to see if he was still following. No sign.

By this time, as if I were in a haunted forest, everything around me spooked me. I looked at the sidewalk, gasped and made a noise that came from the back of my throat: there was my shadow, and then ... one more! He was chasing me!

Within seconds, I realized the second shadow was also mine. I cannot express how relieved and stupid I felt. I looked up to see what lighting could cause this phenomenon, but I couldn't figure it out, and I'm still not sure how I had a double shadow.

For the next half mile home, I forced myself to stay aware of my surroundings and plan what to do should something bad actually happen.

And then I would see the second shadow and relive the terror again! I could not stop the inward jolt of fear at the sight of the shadows, but each time I reacted, I was frustrated with myself. "It's just a shadow. It's YOUR shadow--why are you so skittish? This is stupid. Just. Run." I was never so glad to reach my door.

Throughout my shower, my thoughts went two directions: First, I would never be so stupid again as to run at night without telling anyone where I was going, with no phone or spray. Ridiculous! Second, the double shadows--how did that happen? Why could I never get myself to stop reacting as if someone were chasing me? Why was I afraid of harmless shadows? I thought about how silly it was to be afraid of something I knew couldn't hurt me, and yet I couldn't stop looking at it, as if it could change form. It was powerless, even something I inadvertently created, and yet it had the power to distract me, slow me, scare me, take my mind off of my goal--get home as fast as possible.

My fear seemed to wash off me like the suds in the drain.

And then I thought about shadows in another sense--shadows as the events or people or fears that compel us to take our eyes and hearts off of goals, that distract us, scare us.

Past failures can be shadows.
Personal shortcomings, too.
People who hurt us or shamed us can be shadows.
Fear of the future or unknown can taunt us.

We may have done things in our lives that inadvertently created the shadows, but if only we could see that they are powerless when we see them for what they are: flimsy reflections behind us. They do not define us. They have no bearing on how we live, if we do not give them the power to haunt us. They don't predict what's ahead; they only report what was, and sometimes the shadows themselves are distorted, not a true representation of us, anyway.

I love John Mayer's "Shadow Days," especially these lyrics:

I'm a good man with a good heart
Had a tough time, got a rough start
But I finally learned to let it go
Now I'm right here and I'm right now
And I'm open knowing somehow
That my shadow days are over
My shadow days are over now.

May all of our shadow days be over. We do not have to live with them dogging us, controlling us. We have to learn to let them go, look straight ahead, and run our race the way we were meant to.


Melanie said...

I like this post a lot as I've been spooked by my own shadow while out running. And I've been a bit fearful of the future lately, too.
Lastly, I like that John Mayer song.

Country Girl said...

We all have our shadows. I guess it's how we view them that matters.

Linda said...

Lid, I keep thinking the 2nd shadow was there to scare off the guy in the truck. ; )

Roxanne Langley said...

Wonderful post!!!

ste-pha-nie said...

Two shadows are created by two light sources. (Interesting add to the already perfect and brilliant analogy.) I love the thoughts that come while running. Sometimes they wash off with the suds, but you captured yours so excellently! "All truly great thoughts are conceived by [running.]" Friedrich Nietzsche

LynnMarie said...

I've never seen a 2nd shadow but I've heard of them. Glad you got home safe and learned to be more prepared the next run. You're right, we all have shadows of our past, learning to deal with them is very important so that they don't continue to follow us around. Nice reminder. Great post.