08 August 2011

Fork in the Road

I popped out of the house at eight-thirty this morning for a short three mile meander around the neighborhood. Despite being brief, slow, and untimed, it was one of the more significant runs I’ve logged in quite some time. On its own, it was significant just to go out when I did. To add to that significance, I came across a fork in the road. Really. A crushed, abused, metal, very real fork, ground into the pavement. It got me thinking.

We have a habit of pressing on and putting the bad news out of mind. The financial markets are melting as I write, finally realizing the bad news we as a global society have put out of mind – that we’re in collective debt hole a mile deep from overconsumption and frivolous irresponsibility. It’s something you can’t ignore, or it will get you in the end. And I’d been putting my own bad news out of mind – that nestled between the healthy heart and endurance and all that jazz, a problem has been brewing; a health problem that nobody likes to talk publicly about, but that you can’t ignore, or it will get you in the end.

I’ve stated before and will echo again: if you want a good scare in life, Google your symptom. Six plus years ago, doing that was enough to spur me into returning to the running life. Yeah, so sometimes fear is a good thing. Certain bodily events evoke fear by their very nature, multiplied by the implication of what they might mean. This time, that Google search returned everything from trivial to terminal cancer. I couldn’t put it out of mind any longer, brought it up in my last physical, and heard what I didn’t want to hear yet knew would be the answer: So what if you’re not fifty yet, doc said, you’re going in for the scope. Yeah, that scope. As in the scope operated by a gentleman named Ben Dover. OK, enough with the bad puns, we all get it now.

With the Big Event on the line for eleven this morning, despite being in the late stages of the joys of preparing for the grand experience (which, I’ve got to say, really did not live up to the billing of horribleness conveyed to me by many – perhaps it’s because we runners are already used to dealing with extreme bodily events?), at eight-thirty I informed my Lovely Spouse that I was going for a run. Knowing me well enough, she didn’t bother to question my sanity.

I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that my current eighty-one-day haven’t-missed-a-day streak wasn’t on my mind, but this was about more than that. This was about telling myself that I wouldn’t let myself be beaten either by the fear of what I might find out in a few short hours or even the nerves about the procedure itself. This was about positive thinking.

Thus the appropriate irony of finding that fork in the road a few minutes later.

Once my head cleared of insipid “fork in the road” jokes, I boiled the find down to two forks. First, while you always hope to take the healthy fork in life, life will at some point send you down a path where something will go wrong, no matter how healthy you are. That’s for fork in the road you can work to forestall, but can’t avoid forever. And second, when faced with that path, you have a conscious fork of your own: fold or fight.

Life chose to send me a curve ball, and in two hours I’d be injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected, to plagiarize the one and only Arlo, followed shortly thereafter by the news of what was what. I resolved right there, about a tenth of a mile of thought past that battered fork, that whatever came of it, good, bad, or ugly, I’d deal with it. If it was truly ugly, even if it was an unwinnable fight, I’d deal with it, and pray to have the emotional strength to post a shining light.

It’s all well and easy to write this now. The procedure was a breeze, the caregivers were angels as they always are, and the diagnosis was not ugly at all, being on the trivial end of the range of Google-listed outcomes. I would not have to fight that fight. A little more work to patch up the internal wound perhaps, but nothing requiring emotional or physical heroics of any sort.

But I’m glad I had the time to think about it. I’m glad that the running mind fueled enough defiance to get me out on the road in the face of something nobody looks forward to, at a time of high emotional vulnerability. I’m glad I found that fork, which made me think it through and steel myself for whatever might come. I’d hazard that someone upstairs put that fork out there for me.

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