I lived my twenties hopping from job-to-job and state-to-state—Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Washington, California—before finally ending up back here in SC where I grew up.* But for the better part of 36 years, I’ve lived in or around Charleston.
Still, it wasn’t until I was 36 that I saw a bluebird here. And not because global warming has suddenly forced them here. As far as I can tell, they’ve been here all along. I was just never outside to see them.
Now, whenever I run in my neighborhood, I can almost always spot a couple of them swooping and dodging. And every time I do, I feel simultaneous flickers of excitement and twinges of regret. Excitement because they’re just so damned lovely. Regret because I spent so many years shut up inside my house—and inside my head—that I never knew they were here.
And the bluebirds aren’t the only ones. A few days ago, as I ran across the Shem Creek Bridge, a flock of 7 or 8 pelicans sat resting—before their dinner or after, I can’t be sure—on a nearby roof, so close I could see the contours of the scruffy, wet feathers on their necks. I’ve been over that bridge thousands of times and seen a few spectacular sunsets from my car. But I’d never crossed it on foot before.
Over and over and over since becoming a runner, I have turned myself inside-out and found reserves of ability and determination I’d never known were there. And maybe it really was that simple all along. Going from the inside to the outside. Soaking up the sun.
I mean, it’s not all rainbows and moonbeams. My long run last week was miserable, with every step a struggle. There are days I shudder at the thought of trudging up another damned bridge. Days when I’m frustrated by the limited external evidence of all my hard work. But even the worst run in the rain or the wind is better than countless hours I’ve spent over the course of my life cooped up inside, restlessly dreaming of some something better that I could never name. Because even in the worst run, the next footfall is a victory, something better than the one that came before it. And every bluebird feels like a medal to me.
* Three cheers for your faded youth if that sentence just made you sing the theme song to WKRP in Cincinnati.