Why I run at the CemeteryJun 17, 2021
I felt a slight tug as the passenger-side mirror of the blue Subaru brushed against the fabric of my running shirt.
It didn’t register right away. I remember looking up and seeing a “Love Your Mother” sticker with an illustration of the earth on the car’s bumper and the driver’s outstretched hand waving. I waved back. That’s what you do in a small town here in rural southwestern Virginia.
A loud honk startled me. Another car was trying to turn right onto the road where I stood midway through the crosswalk. Jolted out of my mystified state, I waved at that car and finished jogging across the intersection.
That’s when it hit me. I’d just come within a few inches of being hit by a car on my daily run.
I was shaking uncontrollably. The adrenalin kicked in as my mind wrapped itself around what had just happened. Cautiously I recrossed the street and walked back home to gather myself.
The irony was too obvious to ignore. Just a few days after we’d sold our farm, I nearly bought the farm.
I began my daily running ritual when we lived on our farm at the end of a long, lonely dirt road. Overweight and approaching age 50, I was determined to do something to regain control of my health. A daily one-mile walk increased to a five-mile run over several months. I lost 75 pounds.
To maintain my routine after we moved to town, I mapped out a five-mile run from our new house to the town cemetery and back. Since it’s the law to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks within town limits and the rest of the run was on sidewalks, I assumed my route was safe. But the close call I’d just experienced revealed this wasn’t the case.
I couldn’t imagine not getting my daily run in. Not only was it part of my identity, but my life was busy and stressful. My running ritual wasn’t just about exercising my body and keeping my weight down. It cleared my head and helped me maintain my sanity.
What to do?
By the time I got home, I’d decided. If I didn’t want to end up in the graveyard, I’d have to drive to it to get my daily exercise.
The next day I rose with the sun. I slipped into my running shorts and shoes, got in the car, and drove to the cemetery.
My run through town had brought me to this place where I promptly turned around to run back home. Entering the grounds for the first time, I was struck by how much of the Blue Ridge Mountains that run through our county were visible. The way that the Saddle, Panther Knob, and other ridges poked through the dissipating fog was quite stunning.
And the acreage itself was beautifully landscaped with fruit trees, flower patches, and secluded sitting areas. Beyond the tombstones lay fields and farms. Through the mist, I spotted a deer family at the far end of the grounds and heard cows lowing in the distance.
I stretched and started my first loop around the path that encircled the graveyard. My attention turned from the beauty of nature to the gravestones that dotted the lawn all around me. The words of Marcus Aurelius popped into my head.
“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly.”
My run is no longer a public jog through town dodging traffic. It’s a solitary, safe trot around a final resting place. My daily cemetery run reminds me that living fully and well requires embracing memento mori, “remember you die.”
Scott Perry, Difference-Maker Coach at Creative on Purpose.
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