I run. My feet move quick and heavy on the "dirt trail". My suburban neighborhood used to have a dirt path behind it that I enjoyed running on. That was in sixth grade. Now, my senior year, and the "dirt trail" is paved and houses line what used to be a scenic atmosphere. All the houses are the same, much like any other suburban neighborhood. Large, brick momuments with fences restraining cocker spaniels and two year olds. A pond sits behind a row of houses, the only bit of nature left. Croaks of frogs and the buzz of insects cease to exist.
I twist and turn through the neighborhood, listening to an alternative song, full of bass and drums and drive. I think about the day, not focusing on anything in particular. I make up stories in my head. When I cannot concetrate on the taxing act of storytelling anymore, I make sure to thank God for everything I see that amazes me. The clouds, the birds, the sun. People. As much as people can create a hell for one another, a bit of heaven can be found in most souls.
I cross a busy street to another neighborhood. It's infused with a speckling of trees, but from the sun's position overhead, they offer no relief.
I frequently run at the most uncomfortable times of the day. Hot or cold, most of the time, it's for convenience of time. But it also makes me stronger. At a time when I might have to run, literally, for my life, I will be prepared, rain or shine.
Strange logic, I know, but the mile and a half marker is just out of this neighborhood and onto the main street. I slow, trying to find another song to last me for the next mile.
I make it, but the last stretch seems longer than before. I think it might kill me, but I cannot stop running. No matter how much I want to. It's a promise I make myself before I start to run. My legs ache, my abdomen cramps, and I'm pretty sure that my foot is sprained. (Take note: My brain tends to exaggerate more than often.)
I plead for God to help me make it through the last mile. Give me a last bit of energy. Make all the pain stop. I don't want to do this anymore. It's not fun.
And I see my cousin Ryan running next to me.
Randomly. Yes, just like that. I wanted to stop running, and then I see Ryan. Nothing short of abrupt and surprising. Of course, it was most surprising because he died, three years ago in an automobile accident. Of course, it was only a mirage, but I could see him. He was running with me, cheering me on. Before, Ryan never would have been able to run, even a few feet. A drunk with heart and lung problems, he would not have been in shape. But now he was healthy as ever.
More people start to run with me. My grandfathers. (Both dead). My grandmothers. (Both alive). My brother. Oprah. Lassie. Anne of Green Gables. Hillary Clinton. Elvis. Patrick Dempsey. My third grade teacher. I could go on and on. So many people running.
You're probably running with me too.
And then I see Jesus. I know. How would I know it is him? It doesn't look like Jesus. There's no facial hair, no robes. Just him. I don't notice what he's wearing, but it's not robes. I guess I just know.
I tell him my foot was hurting. He looks down at his own foot, but doesn't speak. Suddenly, his foot loses all of its skin and muscle. I wasn't scared, for some reason, even though that would normally disgust me. He replaced my foot with his own and held my foot in his hand. My foot, now a skeleton, displayed a big red spot where it had been hurting earlier. He threw it over his shoulder, into the past. His foot felt comfortable and new in my skin. He runs without a foot in perfect balance.
I point to my abdomen. Again, he doesn't say anything, but touches my stomach. We keep running, still without stumbling. He sticks his hand through my skin, and I feel my muscles tighten, stretch out, then relax. Now, this definitely would have thrown me off, any other day. Do you know what it is like to have someone touch your muscles and be able to feel everything from the inside out? Creepy. Disgusting. No, it's actually very nice and warm, especially after a stressful day.
My legs might have been the most painful of all. Both tense and tired, they wouldn't be able to go much further, and I am still about a half mile away from home. I ask him to relief me, thinking he might do the muscle-relaxing finger magic again.
Nope. He smiles and reaches down. This time, only the skin is gone and it's on his lower leg. He pulls the muscle from his leg and the tendons snap back. It must be hard to run without muscles, but he's Jesus. He puts the muscle inside my skin, and I sigh loudly. Nothing has ever felt so wonderful.
I am confident I can make it home.
I look over and smile, enjoying our time together. He's running without a foot and a muscle still. I laugh a little and he does too.
I'm finally here. The last quarter mile. I keep the pace because even though my body feels great, the air in my lungs won't move quickly enough.
He puts a hand on my shoulder, and says, in a voice that should only be used for bedtime stories or sweet-nothings of lovers, "Run faster." He pushes, gently, on my back.
And I sprint. Faster than ever before. For him.
I speed up the driveway, and into the garage, slamming against the cool wood of the door. I look back. He's gone and it makes me sad. But I can see him smiling in my head, and that's enough to last a while.