Monday, December 22, 2008

Quote of the Day

One of my favorite books is River Horse, by William Least Heat-Moon. It recounts the author's trip from New York City to the mouth of the Columbia River in the Pacific Ocean - all by boat. He does have a few dozen miles of portage - but, most of the time he travels the rivers, lakes, and canals of America - which gives him plenty of time to talk about history, geography, and ecology. I think what interests me most about the book is how a voyage like this is a very strong metaphor for life - especially a voyage on such a flowing and ever-changing thing as a river.

This quote is from a part of the book where he is on the Missouri River in South Dakota.

"I thought how far I was from where and when this journey began, how I was so distant from that fellow passing for me twenty months ago, the one so eager to learn the secrets of river passage. Could he - the me of that moment - and I sit down together, he would want to know what I knew and absorb what I had experienced, and he would regard me enviously, just as I do those men who have returned from the moon. But there would be forever a difference between him and me: I went and he did not. He set the voyage in motion, but he could not take it. Just as I, who lay on the Dakota hill, could not know whether Nikawa would reach the Pacific, he could never see the outcome of his preparations, unless somewhere, on some far other side, time permits us to meet our past selves, all those we have been. Our physical components change every seven years, so our brains are continuously passing along memories to a stranger; who we have been is only a ghostly fellow traveler. As for me, what might I learn from him who laid out the voyage or from all those others I once was." . . .
"What a report I might deliver to them about where they have sent me! And how they could remind me of first kisses and death, the Haitian mountains at sunset and the Ozark hills at night. They could redraw the faded lines of the long map of my journey here, point out clearly where it was I took a road other than the one they intended, and they could tell me whether they liked that divagation or not, whether they found it a good one or rankly stupid. Were human memory total and perfect, perhaps I'd be only one person from start to finish, but forgetfulness cuts me off from who I've been so that hourly I am reborn. To twist Santyana's words, I who cannot fully remember my past am condemned to proceed without it."

The last sentence seems to say that our imperfect memory is somehow a limitation - but, he's really saying that the fading of memories allow us to change - which is not only positive, but it's necessary if we are to adapt and thrive in a world that is ever-changing.

To outsiders it might seem that running is about routine and familiarity. But, for me, running is addictive because it's about transformation. Whether it's a six-month marathon training cycle or an easy four miler - I run because I expect that the experience will change me - if not from who I am, than from who I might become. Thankfully, the painful memories of past marathons are only good enough to help me to change my methods - but, not so perfect to stop me from doing another one.

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