It’s been an unusually warm November. Early today I am in the garden, pulling up dead stalks of vegetables and flowers to prepare the ground for winter. But I am wearing shorts, and it feels more like spring. A day like this is pure grace. If I focus my vision on the bare soil in front of me, blocking out the withered leaves and stems, I could pretend that it’s April. It’s a tempting thought.
Later, I go running, and I feel as though I am flying through the Crum. More grace. It is a magical morning, the spring-like warmth and the light like liquid gold through yellow leaves. There are, this morning, no ominous clicking sounds in my knees, no wobbles in my ankles as I negotiate roots and rocks. If I focus my vision upward on the golden leaves, away from my knobby knees and spider veins, I could pretend I am thirty again: my body lithe like a deer, before babies and then arthritis and then the little aches of middle age slowed me down. It’s a tempting thought.
I come out of the woods onto the stretch of road I always dread when I run this route: a steep hill, no shoulder, cars whizzing around the curve. But today – grace upon grace! -there are orange cones marking off the westbound lane of traffic, and signalmen have stopped the cars that were heading up the hill. They wave me on and I lope up the long hill like a lone track star, amazed at this magic. Around the curve I see the reason for my luck – they are tree men, taking down an enormous oak whose severed branches already litter the pavement. If I focus my vision away from the disfigured trunk I can pretend that my moment of grace is free, and not at the expense of this massive tree. It’s a tempting thought. But instead, I say a prayer of gratitude for the tree, for this morning, for the continuing grace that reveals the deep connection between everything in life, and in death.
And so, running, I come to the top of the hill where I always turn. I am tempted to prolong the magic. I could run another mile, two, even four on this golden morning. I could block out the knowledge of my aging knees and pretend that I can run forever. But as I have learned to ride the wave of grace when it appears, I know also that each wave must break, and run itself out upon the shore. I wheel to the right and take the familiar path across the campus. The warm November may continue for a day or two, but it is not April. I may have many more good runs, but I will never again see thirty. Grace happens, and we soar in its wake. It is not of our own making, nor is the magic meant to last forever. The seasons turn, the oak tree falls. One day will be my last run. But running or not, I am on my way home.