When I lived in the city I was accustomed to the kaleidoscope of smashed glass caught in the cracks and rough patches of sidewalk and road. Beautiful, but terrifying trash. I’ve stepped on enough broken drinking glass shards to know to keep my feet covered when I stepped outside. The day I spied a man running down my Baltimore street without shoes I looked once to see him, again in unbelief, once more in disbelief and again because why would anyone in their right mind run down these glass glittered streets without proper footwear? But up the street he ran anyway, not stepping gingerly, but in stride and purpose. Open and free. I just thought he and anyone else reckless enough to attempt such a task was crazy. Then I met one.
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Do you ever have a word pick you? Some people pick words to arc a season in their life or guide their path for a month or year or more. I’ve never deliberately chosen one, but last October a word chose me. I was running and realized I had my fists balled up as I fought against my body’s longing for repose and the length of the street in stretched in front of me. Open your hands. Open your hands. Open your hands. I obeyed the directions called to my mind thinking they must have heralded from some how to run article sometime, somewhere. Relaxing my hands did loosen me up and lent more fluidity in my movement, but lacking muscle memory to keep me that way I realized I was back in bad habit fighting form in no time. Open. The spoken word and accompanying action repeated through my brain again and again that inky dark before morning’s dawn and so many since whether I am running or not.
I met Catherine in a class last semester. She’s a whirlwind. The kind with more life stories than I can follow when she talks about them. I jest to others that I thought I was intense until I met her. She spins more plates that I can keep track of then says it’s keeping her balanced. I don’t doubt it, but I’m awestruck at how full her life is, yet she lives it so open and free.
We played travelling companions this week at a early modern literature conference. Feeling grateful to the friend that encouraged me to get my paper accepted, I happily agreed when she offered to make plans for trip. The encouragement didn’t end there. I listened and let Catherine lead. Hoping to be more open, I willingly let her. The three days of the trip were filled with firsts. We waited for the bus in lieu of a rental car and met an assortment of tripped up and helpful people. We stayed with a stranger she found on Airbnb. When the bus to campus didn’t show, she didn’t panic; rather, she suggested we put out thumbs. We hitchhiked to campus. Twice. We joined a free Krishna dinner on the sidewalk, and ate beans, rice, curried potatoes, and farina sweetened with stewed cinnamon plums. And then at Catherine’s encouragement I never unpacked my running shoes. I ran as barefooted as she regularly does.
It is a strange sensation to expose the skin you usually protect with moisture wicking socks and supportive shoes to the asphalt. I confessed my panic about glass on the street, but Catherine brushed it off, “You don’t run bare-footed in front of a frat house, but most places you will be fine. Just run light-footed and let your body lead.” Remembering my goal to be more open to the world. I did it. My feet were alive with feeling. Bumps of rough pebble pavement assaulted my feet when I walked slowly, but running light-footed and free made it easier, and on less rugged stretches- pleasant and fun. The knee injury I’ve been nursing along for months didn’t cry out once. I felt so unprotected and free, but I was okay. I couldn’t believe I was really doing it.
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In all those times I’ve been told to open my hands I realized that I was supposed to let go to free myself to catch something new. After a few months of this thought coming I understood what I had to let go of. My husband and I and our kids are moving to Davis, California from the home we’ve made in Texas. The decision was nothing we had expected or planned for. We are all going to leave behind friends, associations and opportunities we regret (including an unfinished graduate program for me). This is not easy or something we wanted; it is difficult to let go but I’m trying to open my hands to let it all go rather than fighting through this hard thing. I have hope that they will fill with something good. Catherine told me it affirms her faith in God and good people. Being with her was good practice; I’m feeling better already.
I learned something about myself last weekend with thanks to my friend. It may be hard to let go of my protective running shoes, it may be easier to do what you know (to rent a car and stay in a hotel and the like), and ball up your fists to fight through hard things– but something amazing can happen when you let go and open your hands to the world. I met good people that renewed my faith in humanity that I wouldn’t have encountered being as closed off as I sometimes am. Muscles that I had never given thought to in my feet and lower legs are aching from new use– but that pain is good. It reminds me that I can open my mind, body and heart, retrain my muscle memory to release myself, to open to something new as I must let go of the old. I have to free myself to catch something new. I’m waiting, looking to the skies, hands open, crying out, Okay, I’m ready.
What are you doing to open yourself to the world to give and take more freely?What new things are you attempting that challenge you to be more open?