The morning glory which blooms for an hour
Differs not at heart from the giant pine,
Which lives for a thousand years.
A Zen poem.
The sandy, dirt road stretches straight out in front of me several miles into the distance. It forms a red streak over the desert cutting sharply through squirly, tangled juniper bushes and broken up pieces of slickrock. The horizon is dominated by the La Sal Mountains, white capped, with bluish, gray colored flanks. The overcast sky gives off a flat light, occasionally pierced by pops of sunshine, highlighting the delightful hues and contrasts of the barren land. My footsteps sink a few inches with each strike into the moist soil. Despite maintaining a good running pace, I have no sense of forward progress. Rather, I feel as if I am moving in place, my flesh transparent, my mind thick, temporarily leaving the material for the spirit. I do not typically meet such clarity in shorter running events as lengthy time spent on trail seems always to be necessary to induce such states. The wear of distance allows me to let down my guard, to exist in the here and now, implying ironically that time is needed to negate its passing.
However, today is different. My health has met my sickness and no time has passed for the common to reach the insightful. Just last week, plowing up the mountain on my skis, I experienced one of those rare days of infinite energy, a feeling of invincibility, of complete oneness of breath, movement, and wilds. Now, I am overcome by fever, cramps and nausea. My body is weak and the strength that inhabited my body just recently is vanishing with every step.
The desolate landscape conjures an image in my head, a memory of Africa. The image is of my father as a boy, running shirtless, in cut off jean shorts on the scorched grasslands of Cameroon. He is smiling, playfulness and joy transpiring from his expression. The same lands would claim his life, several years later at about the same age as I am now. The image flickers in my mind, not morbidly or out of sadness, but rather out of distinct, raw awareness of the fragility and fickleness of our existence. In one moment, we are dancing through the prairies, in the other we are gone- a moment of love, a moment of suffering, all in the blink of an eye.
I woke up the day after the race to the news of Chad Kellogg’s tragic death in Patagonia in a climbing accident. While descending off of Fitz Roy, Chad dislodged a rock with his rope, which struck him and killed him instantly. I did not know Chad very well, having only run with him a couple of times, but in our few encounters he marked me as a kind man and a thoughtful listener. In light of the previous day’s reflections, his death affected more deeply than I anticipated. I felt his smile, his warmth, his presence in his living, rudely interrupted by his abrupt passing.
My first reaction is one of grief and sorrow, of wanting to rewind time for just a few minutes so we could forget this ever happened and bring back those we love. We are not so fortunate though, and just as we rejoice and celebrate life, we struggle and are confused with death.
When I think of my father, I feel no sadness, no mourning or regret in the choices he made and what could have perhaps prevented him from dying. He was following his heart and his dreams working in African refugee camps, just like Chad was pursuing his way in the mountains around the world. Everything we do, simply stepping outside the door, has inherent danger that could end this life. It is not about the time spent on this earth, but rather the quality and use of that time that matters. I feel privileged for every story I know about my father, for every ounce of inspiration, for the perspective his life has offered me. Equally, I am thankful for people such as Chad, who lived with intention and who even without knowing it impact me in the most meaningful of ways. With love, I lift my foot and continue on this journey.