Where we live between the lake and the river, insects behave in a peculiar manner this time of year.
It began last night. Some twenty feet in the air, between two electrical lines, I saw what seemed a puff of dark smoke about to dissipate and waft away. It shimmered slightly – changed shape – changed shape again – and remained, just as unsolidly there as ever.
A few minutes later I saw another one and seized Scottie’s arm. “It’s a bug formation” he said.
A mass of a thousand swirling insects is interesting to watch from the safety of a car, but the prospect of running through cloud after cloud of them is disgusting.
That was the prospect I faced last night as I took my run on the city’s bike path. Apparently things aren’t much better on a bycicle: I had hardly been on the bike path fifteen seconds before I came upon a swiftly-pedalling cyclist spitting vigorously and repeatedly as he went. I giggled but the next moment I had to break into a run myself.
Unfortunately, I am wide in the hips. It has always been my bane in the shopping mall, as the jeans I look good in from the hips down are miles too wide in the waist.
When I run, my ratios are equally disastrous unless I do a strengthening and stretching routine before taking off. Normally I would have done this at a secluded spot at the head of the trail, then walked the length of the trail, then run only on the way back. But the bugs changed all that.
Because walking calmly through a torrent of insects is nearly impossible to feminine nature, I found I had to run from the very first, dodging those buzzing curtains that hung over the exact center of the path as it twisted and turned. No time to stretch or strengthen. And then, halfway down the trail, it happend: my right hip popped out of joint.
I probably looked very funny, veering suddenly to the right like a car with one flat tire, my leg flying out helplessly in directions and at angles a human leg ought not to fly.
I found a relatively bugless spot in the grass, went through the short version of my routine, pounded my hip with my fist a few dozen times, then got back on the road. After repeating this performance about three times I was able to finish the run.
Run with patience the race that is set before you. So the holy scriptures tell us.
You hardly know what an apt simile it is until you’ve tried it. Failure in either kind of race – the leg race or the other – usually comes from losing heart. It’s a sudden feeling that overtakes you, rustling into your brain along with the mixed sound of swirling insects and overhanging leaves – that this hurts too much, that it’s only reasonable for you to stop for a while, to not take the next step till you feel better.
With what a laugh you can snap at that feeling, after you’ve pushed through it a few times. That sense of desperation is easily dissipated; but by nothing else than by actually taking that next step you dread so much. Think about something else, next step, stretch your arms behind your head, next step, look at the hazy pink sky, next step, and suddenly that desperate feeling is only the memory of a past illusion.
Patience is the thing, you see. Most of our religious lives don’t require a lot of heroism. But patience – to deny myself in this moment, and embrace my cross in this moment and follow Christ in this moment – that is asked of us all the time.
Just washing the dishes. Sometimes that’s all it means to me. But if I don’t, I’ve stopped running and suddenly I find I’m too weary to say my prayers, or forgive my two-year-old in the moment he really needs it.
And then, having passed through the weariness that always tries to overcome me halfway through the run, I passed a group of profane lounging teenagers opposite a private drive, and hit the last stage of the run at a real lope. My thighs stretched out; I was no longer simply trotting along making it. I felt a rush.
And looking down at the ground, I saw what looked for a moment like small puddles of rich red blood. They were rose petals. Velvet and single, strewn along the path. All the way down they lay, rather evenly distributed, until the bike path met Jefferson and ended. There the rose petals ended, too.
Naturally I wondered who put them there and why.
Had some boy, spurned by the girl he liked, run back along the path, taking his blossomy offering with him? Had he thrown those perfect petals down one at a time, muttering “She loves me not, she loves me not, she loves me not?”
Or had a wedding party passed there from the private drive to a car waiting at Jefferson, gaily, laughing, a little self-conscious because of their huge glistening attire, treading on rose petals?
I did not pick up one petal as I walked back the way I’d come. I’d have retrieved a single petal dropped by accident, maybe, just to touch the fresh vibrant velvet a moment before letting it die. But a string of single petals lying upon a public path must be left there, to mean what the person who put them there meant by them, wither though they may.
Strangely enough, as I walked back up the trail wet and tired I found I didn’t care at all whether a few insects stuck to me.
Reentering the drive of our appartment complex, I approached a group of adolescents of mixed race and gender, congregating in the parking lot. They were loud.
Adolescents terrify me. When they laugh, I believe with all my heart it’s me they are laughing at. When they peer at me while pretending not to, from under that peculiar lounge they affect, I feel that they are saying this:
We are enslaved to the inexplicable whims of people like you, people who get to boss us around simply because they happen to have been born a few years before us. But our spirits are untrammelled, and to prove it we have formed ourselves into a private world – we have formed as it were a cyst in the body of your society. We have our own rules and languages and assumptions. You will never be sure whether they correspond with your own or not. We may laugh at you; or devalue your property, or kill you. You do not know; you will never know until it happens.
I tried to wear a normal unfrightened face as I got closer to the group. They laughed loudly as I drew near. My stomach clenched. One of them separated from the group, while the others discussed some mysterious adolescent question in insolent tones.
Then, just as I passed them, I heard a startlingly familiar sound coming out of the night. It was the voice of the girl that had separated from the group moments before.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…” The rest of the group scattered giggling.
In my mind, at that moment, I was again lithe, sexless, ageless, swift in the dusk. Running was like breathing, rather than work done to ensure the survival of my size-twelve figure. I was frightened with a delerious excitement. I was frightened that my playmate would touch my shoulder from out of the darkness!
The moment passed; I was a twenty-six year old woman, trotting up to my appartment, laughing at myself for all manner of things. I passed, in the homely yellow light, a door through which a black woman sang a raucus, unintelligible song, and I felt for the first time that it was a friendly sound in some way.
I lunged up the last flight of stairs, and opened the door. The light was on, not as I’d left the place. I stepped inside and saw that my husband and son stood across from the door, staring toward me with delight. Scottie, my husband, was ridiculously draped in those green and purple blankets that our son Johnny insists on sleeping with. They’d come home minutes before me.
“There our Nana go!” Scottie said, while Johnny giggled insanely and opened his blue eyes at me as wide as they would go. I knew they had been singing the “Where’s Nana” song, composed by Scottie, just before I came in.
“Where our Nana go? Where our Nana go? Is she high or is she low? Where our Nana go?”
My son rushed at me; I seized him; over his curls my husband beamed.