The Lonely Pursuit of Significance
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
I wake up early. It never gets easier, but now my eyes usually open 10 minutes before the alarm on my phone sounds – be it 4:50am or 4:35am. I almost always turn the alarm off before it ever goes off. It’s been this way for more than 10 years.
Strange how it seems like yesterday that triathlon became part of my life and so did rising before the sun. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully embraced it, but the habit has certainly taken hold. I still go and look at each of you in your beds before I do anything else every morning.
My body aches when my feet hit the hard wood floors of our dark bedroom now. That’s new within the last year. I haven’t always been so tired, and certainly not so rickety, when I wake up. My joints pop and slowly straighten each morning. I hobble – really, I do – through the house like an old wrestler inheriting the legacy he fought so hard for. Third person seems an easier way to say this. But then again, I haven’t always been 3 months from turning 40.
I used to write about the other voice I used to hear – the voice of the “him” that drove me 20+ years ago. Writing that stuff was good therapy for me when I needed it – and someday I’ll let you read that too.
During a particularly difficult run a few days ago I thought about the things I’ve read over the years related to endurance athletes who achieve at a high level. It’s said that they embrace suffering more than other athletes and find a way through it. I’m not sure when I stopped embracing physical suffering the way I once did. Again, thinking back to that “he” who wrestled I remember “him” embracing the unparalleled pain of engaging an elite level opponent physically. The inevitable clash of heads, the simultaneous stars and whizzing sound that creates, the pointy tip of a bony elbow or the thin forearm twisting your nose and the metallic taste of your own blood – and the stars and whizzing sound persisting. Finding your way through the swirling thick hot depths of confused dizziness. The constant strain of isometric strength straining against itself driven by two determined hearts and minds willing and able to hurt one another, because both believe they’ve earned it. Behind the whizzing sound there is only the pounding sound of your own heart and straining breath of the opponent. And all the while a hollowness of deep real and true hunger in your gut. I loved it and every day I wish I were young again and able to feel it.
There is no slowing down or taking a break in wrestling – as exists in riding or running and life, I guess.
I’m not sure why I’m tempted so often these days to slow down to make it go away. I haven’t always been so willing. I thought about slowing down during my run, making it stop, but thought about wrestling for the final mile and pushed through.
I shared with a group of men who are studying the book Wild at Heart with me one morning per week this week that the reason I identify with the original Rocky film so much is that I’ve always felt the same deep motivating desire that Rocky must have felt –
the deep lonely pursuit of significance.
Just a moment when you feel your place in the world and it recognizes your existence and obliges with a nod of it’s collective head. When you can see through the stars and hear above the whizzing sound.
Each man walks alone in such pursuit. Or so he thinks. The void created 1000s of year ago. Bridging the gap with success and sometimes suffering and marriage and parenthood and service and greed, regret, breathless love at first sight.
I think Rocky felt it finding his way through a disappointing life full of unrealized dreams, even alone in the ring the night before the fight and again when the bell sounded and he and Apollo Creed collapsed into each other having given it all and finally finding significance – even for a moment.
I think I felt it as a wrestler. And certainly the day I wed your mother, and at 5:15am in March 2004 when I met you Izzy and again at 3:27pm and 3:28pm in October years later when I finally met you Max and Kate.
My buddy Bruce says he feels God when he runs. Sometimes I do too. And for those moments temperary separation from God and the loneliness it creates is defeated.
I also love the scene in the first Rocky film when Mickey comes to Rocky to ask to train him, Rocky refuses him – the lonely pursuit having become the only path he knew, but then chases Mickey through the quiet streets and accepts him into his life again.
I love you,
Tues: Ran 4 miles / Swam 2100
Wed: Ran 3 miles / Biked 1 hour
Thurs: Ran 4 miles
Sat: 52 mile ride + 20 minute BRICK run
Sun: scheduled 12 mile run