Please welcome today’s guest writer, Shannon De Jong (‘14). Shannon graduated with a degree in international development studies and proceeded to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda. She currently lives in Seattle, WA, where she investigates workplace discrimination and does enough hiking and coffee drinking to feel like a native.
Running a new route:
The idea came to me unbidden, unexpected.
It’s 2:00 p.m., partly cloudy, but it might rain later. Go now—you might not be able to later. Go now, what’s stopping you?
I go, and I’m feeling great. I breeze by all the other pedestrians on the sidewalk. I run my new path like one who is truly adventurous and daring. Down the sloping hills I fly.
Not too far in, I start to slow my pace. The hills in this land of a thousand of them are curving up now. Conserve your energy, this route is long. My body warns me, and I listen but keep pushing. Pushing my limits. Don’t you know? This will help you grow.
The big hill is here. The sun blazes. I’m walking now but still going, propelled by the idea of completing the new route. You will run again, just make it to the flat road.
But the climate: I’m at the top of the hill and the sun is in my eyes. Damn you, clouds. I was counting on them. Like lousy friends, they are nowhere to be found when I need them most.
I could take a break, but if I stop now I might not start again. Instead I press on, yearning for shade that isn’t there. People and cars pass within feet of me, yet I feel as though I’m stumbling through a desert alone. Don’t you like being invisible? Don’t you crave anonymity?
My vision begins to get fuzzy. Specks are moving on the sidewalk. My body is screaming, but I’ve learned to mute it. If you don’t stop right now, you are going to collapse. It hums in the background like white noise.
I lean down and put my head between my knees. I am miles from home. I have no water, money, phone, or sunglasses. This run was ambitious and I am woefully unfit and ill-equipped and alone. I stumble on for a few more minutes, then have to stop to put my head down again.
What made you think this was a good idea?
You are going to faint right here on the sidewalk.
You are making a fool of yourself.
Once and only once, years ago, I had a breakdown on the side of a busy road in eastern Rwanda. I started crying and couldn’t stop. I hid behind a tree, but a concerned passerby noticed me and stopped to ask if I was okay. I calmly persuaded him that I was fine, and then as soon as he walked away I resumed crying.
It is okay, sometimes, to not be fine.
My body begins to reason with me. You don’t have to collapse on the sidewalk.
You may have messed up, but you are still strong.
You have gone through worse, but you are still here.
You can still make it to the end.
Just keep going.
Slowly but surely, I keep going, shielding my eyes from the sun with my hand. There is simply no other choice. I push all other thoughts from my mind. Doubts, regrets, fears, frustrations—I silence them to focus on what matters most right now: Breathing in and out, putting one foot in front of the other.
Just keep going. You’re almost there.
The clouds mercifully come, like I’d hoped they would.
I eventually reach the shade, like I knew I would.
I try to jog the last stretch, but my body rebels.
You’ve reached your limit today. Try again next time.
I complete the run. Not the way I’d originally expected, but:
I’m still standing.