58. Cosmic Engineering

58. Cosmic Engineering

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Cosmic Engineering

Maybe men and women aren’t from different planets…. Maybe we live a lot closer to each other. Perhaps, dare I even say it, in the same zip code.
~Sarah Jessica Parker

Three schools in two states before third grade — it hadn’t been easy for my eight-year-old daughter, Heather. I’d dragged her from the asphalt jungles of Southern California to the wilds of Northern Idaho. The students at the new school hadn’t been very welcoming, and then even her “friends” turned on her.

All this time I was going through a lot of stress at work and in life. Changing jobs, company problems, layoffs, reduced pay, long hours and a long commute got me focused too much on myself and not enough on Heather’s needs. She was growing up, facing challenges I wasn’t really aware of and I was losing contact with my precious little girl. I sensed she was unhappy, but I didn’t really understand her anymore. I wondered what had gotten into her. She seemed moody… distant.

You may have heard of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. I began to wonder if children are from Pluto! (This was back in 1999 when far-away Pluto was still universally recognized as a planet.)

But when Heather told me about something called “Bloomsday” practice she was doing at school, she got my attention. My little daughter was in training for a 12K race to be held that spring across the state line in Spokane, Washington. Every year, 50,000 people gather in Spokane to run or walk the approximately 7.5 miles for the glory of receiving a Bloomsday T-shirt!

I’ve been a jogger for years — it’s about the only exercise I get with all that time behind the wheel and behind a desk. It may not have given me a runner’s high, but it has always been a nice way to ease into the day. So when Heather mentioned Bloomsday, I was in! I thought it would be a great way to spend some time together and share this positive hobby.

I hadn’t entered a race since my school track days. I had no illusions about winning — I still had the cinders in my shoulder from my first race wearing cleats, when I beat my best 400-meter time and then tripped on the final curve of the 800-meters. Besides, I needed to stay with Heather, and her legs were only half as long as mine. I didn’t want to lose her in that crush of humanity!

Over the months before Bloomsday we had the chance to train together a few times — not nearly as many as we wanted because of sickness, business trips and a busy life. But I’ll always treasure those times, as running, walking and talking about the things on her mind gave me a much greater grasp of what things were like on Pluto.

On the day of the race itself, Heather and I headed out early, caught the shuttle bus from an outlying mall and made our way through the crowd to a starting position far back in the pack.

Heather was shocked and dismayed that even after the race officially started, we weren’t able to go anywhere! When our part of the crowd finally started moving, it wasn’t even at a walking pace — we were waddling more like penguins. Slowly it picked up to a walk, and then we found an opening and began to jog.

It was a beautiful day, and we were doing this together! Truth be told, I wasn’t that interested in getting to the finish line. I wished it could go on forever. I hadn’t really had time to study the route, so I honestly couldn’t tell how far we had gone or how much we had left. So since neither of us had run a race at this distance, I suggested we conserve our energy and walk for a while. Sooner than I expected, off in the distance I thought I saw hints of the finish line.

Heather couldn’t believe that all the people around us were still walking if we were so close to the end! She took off like a bullet! I could see that all her training, her young legs and our energy conservation had paid off, but I feared I would lose her! I never overcame her head start, and she beat me handily across the line. I lost the race, but thankfully I didn’t lose her!

We grabbed our T-shirts — the green ones Heather said looked like they had squirts of ketchup, mustard and grape jelly on them! Someone was selling cotton candy, and Heather’s eyes lit up. Just this once, I thought. It was a special day.

Epilogue:

Recently I pulled that old Bloomsday T-shirt from the bottom of the drawer. It still fits, and it brings back great memories. Heather’s little shirt is long gone — that was more than half her life ago — but mine brings back memories for this amazing high school senior too.

“Want to go running, Dad?” she asks. We take off at a leisurely jog through our tree-lined neighborhood in Ohio, talking about the differences between men and women (she’s read the Mars/Venus book too). She tells me that men are always trying to fix things, instead of just listening. I take the hint and listen contentedly.

The conversation drifts to calculus, college choices and cotton candy. She still remembers that after all these years. “I thought it was pretty special just hanging out with my daddy,” she says.

I’ll never forget Bloomsday either. We didn’t set any speed records. But still I think we did a little cosmic engineering — moving Mars and Pluto just a little closer to each other.

~R. Mike Bennett

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