Friday, July 20, 2012

Humpty Dumpty and me

Weekday mornings, I do a two-mile run in my own secluded neighborhood. Running in solitude has its merits; I can be as focused and meditative as I wish during those morning runs, when it’s unusual that I see more than one or two other people out dog-walking or biking.

But sometimes I miss running in more populated areas. Sometimes it just feels good to be surrounded by other likeminded athletes, to trade in the feeling of solitude for the sense of being part of a vibrant community. So I’ve developed the habit this summer of heading for the Minuteman Bikeway in Bedford on Sunday mornings to run amidst a steady flow of other runners as well as walkers, bicyclists, and in-line skaters.

And most of the time it’s energizing to be part of that community. But last Sunday my run took a turn for the worse shortly after the two-mile point where I turned around to head back to the parking lot. Somehow I tripped over a small frost heave and saw the pavement rushing toward my face before I could even get my hands out. I landed full-face on the asphalt.

I’ve had a few bad spills in my 27 years of running – maybe two or three – but this was the first time I’d fallen face-first. Though it was a relatively high-traffic time on the Minuteman Bikeway, only one person was behind me at the time, a bicyclist who stopped just seconds after I fell.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

In those seconds, I had already determined that I was conscious and able to move. I picked myself up and moved over to the wooden rail alongside the path, which is the right height for sitting on. “I’m okay. You don’t have to stop,” I told him.

Without another word, he pedaled off, and I regretted what I’d said. I’d answered reflexively, based on my own aversion to anything that makes me stop mid-workout. I suspected he didn’t want to interrupt his ride to check on a stranger’s well-being. But as soon as he left, I wished he hadn’t. I felt awful: my face hurt, my mouth hurt, my palms stung (I guess the hands did catch me at some point along the way, but apparently that was after my face had taken the brunt of the fall), my knees hurt. And yet because I was already sitting on the rail aside the trail, no one who passed me even moments later knew anything was wrong; it’s not unusual at all to see people hunched over alongside the path, catching their breath.

Within a few minutes, I’d patted off most of the blood with the hem of my t-shirt and started up again at a slow jog. After all, there was only one way back to the parking lot, and waiting, or walking rather than running, just meant it would be longer until I was done.

I kept thinking about the bicyclist who rode off. I wished he’d stayed a little longer. I could have used just a few seconds of company. But in my usual attempt to be obliging and not inconvenience anyone, I’d told him he should keep riding.

Despite the throngs of Sunday exercisers, no one else knew anything was wrong as I ran my last two miles back. What felt like a lot of blood coming from my lips and chin was really just occasional droplets welling up, and I was blotting them with my t-shirt as I ran. Besides, the people passing me from the other direction saw me for only a split second, if at all, as they pedaled or ran by.

Back in my car, I drank some water, cleaned off some more blood, and then drove to the bagel shop where I often stop after using the Bikeway for a dozen bagels to bring home. Normally I grumble to myself about the counter service at this shop. But today, the same woman who in the past has seemed to me to be much more interested in chatting with her co-workers than helping customers stared at me and then handed me a plastic bag full of ice cubes. “Hold this against your face for the swelling,” she said. I thanked her – for the ice pack, and for the unexpected concern.

It was a reminder that human nature can surprise you. I blamed the bicyclist for not being more solicitous, but the woman at the bagel shop surprised me with her compassion. “No head injury; no orthopedic injury; some scrapes and bruises are really not that big a deal,” I told myself on the drive home. “Like Humpty Dumpty, I just had a bad fall, that’s all.”

And that reminded me of a goofy line from my son’s recent middle school play, in which, a little girl wandering through a fairy-tale forest comes across Humpty Dumpty sitting on his wall. “I heard you had a bad fall!” she says. “Yeah, but I had an awesome summer!” he quips.

And as it happens, I am having a generally awesome summer, so as corny as the joke is, it made me feel better. Like Humpty Dumpty, you had a bad fall, that’s all, I told myself. But it doesn’t change the rest of the summer.

So now I’m nursing the bruises and hoping the swelling goes down within the next week or two. I look like I was in a barroom brawl, and when I close my eyes I still see the pavement rushing toward me, but I’m fine. Bad fall. Awesome summer. It was good enough for Humpty Dumpty, and for me as well.

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