Dear Life

The book that shows us how to live

‘Most runners run not because they want to live life longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. ‘

Haruki Murakami

While we’re whiling away the lockdown – and we’re in week 6 now – every item on self-imposed schedules and agendas thrums with significance. Some people say they’re living from meal to meal, especially people who love to cook and who have other people to cook for. Others are taking enormous pride in cleaning out their kitchen cupboards, sewing quilts or sowing seeds. It’s all there on social media, or described in great space-filling detail in the rather slim volumes of weekend supplements, as staff columnists scrape frantically at the ideas barrel.

Everyone has been given leave to ‘take exercise’ and, as would be expected, that has been roundly explored on social media too. TikTok videos of fat dads falling over back-garden steeplechase courses abound. My favourite is a honed and toned young woman in sports bra, pants and mascara carefully bracing her washboard stomach as she swings up her kettlebell with some vigour…and smashes the light fitting above her head.

For runners, it’s business as usual. Training early in the morning means you physically distance yourself from anyone else around, and the world is more beautiful then, anyway. Every run is significant. There’s the one that replicates the usual Tuesday track session, the one that’s all about tempo, the threshold run, the hills, the long and slow…they all mean a lot. Granted, the mass gatherings that bring you medals, T-shirts and exciting texts and emails are cancelled for the foreseeable, but we don’t all run to race. We run because it’s a celebration of life.

The scheduling, the goals, the hopes and dreams of running faster, longer or just running for five minutes when you’re coming back from injury, or a spell in bed after illness, they all help lift the fog of this confusing life. Now more than ever. As the poet said, man is a top piece of work, and being physically active rings that observation into sharp focus.

This week the outstanding spring weather that made the first five weeks of Lockdown almost dreamily beautiful – all blossom and blue skies that made that daily outdoor exercise like an intoxicating fix – dissolved into rain and cold, and the nation’s mood became noticeably more fractious. More mental health crises presented at Accident & Emergency departments of hospitals, where they had to be separated from the Covi19 admissions, as lockdown felt like house arrest.  No-one could see an end to this period and it was dispiriting.

Under a lowering sky, it became even more important to run from your demons, and make the very most of a healthy physical body. Reading the excellent book pictured at the top of this post helped me avert my eyes from my navel and throw myself into this wonderful self-indulgent period of my life. With no-one to answer to, and only the cats to feed, few deadlines and the occasional Zoom piss up/quiz/yoga class, life, and health, should be savoured. True, there’s no money coming in, but neither is there anything I particularly need to buy. I hope that HMRC freelancers’ agreement will stump up enough cash to pay the mortgage for a year or two. Most importantly, I’m fit and well.

Reading Rachel Clarke’s affecting descriptions of people who live life to the very fullest once they know they have a finite stretch of dear, sweet vitality left to them is enough to make your heart burst. For some, like 96-year-old Dorothy, it was reading the newspaper, cover to cover, and fitting in one last game of bridge on the Thursday before she died on the Sunday. For the others, like the young dad, Simon, frantic about leaving his wife and daughters, it was feeling well enough to enjoy the last couple of weeks in their company. Carefully modulated palliative drugs can do that.

Boredom and anxiety are energy sappers in lockdown. We’re all pissed off about not going to the pub/theatre/office but most of us are in comfortable homes with enough food and access to parks that still wear their vivid spring finery. Run, walk, skip or dance in them and enjoy the hours. While them away if you have to, but don’t lose them in the fog.



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