Saturday, July 12, 2008


I ran yesterday. It was torture. Here's the thing. I'm in fairly good shape, I think. I've been running consistently since January. I know what this feels like since I've been running the better part of my life. And it shouldn't be torture at this point. There should be an endorphin release here and there, maybe an occasional runner's high. And I'm used to fighting either wind or leg strength on a run, but its usually been just one or the other, not both constantly. Torture.

This is actually not an old age rant. I feel fortunate to be running at all given recent knee surgery and ridiculously skinny quadriceps. The point is that what I once experienced as powerfully expressive of self I now experience as alienating. What I once experienced as closeness or proximity, I now experience as distance. And while this is currently related to running, this is something I have always experienced in other ways. 7th grade dances. Serving a large institution. Discovering that I'm not the parent I thought I'd be. I have experienced this type of self-alienation all along. Running right now is bringing it all into sharp relief.

We are in many ways "other" even to our own self. Otherness, or distance, is important to knowing what we know. Apart from the other, there is no occasion for transcendence, for an interruption of self-preoccupation. Apart from other, there is no Spirit, no chance for anything but self-absorption, or to put a fine point on it, Sin. Apart from other there is no self. That is, apart from family, friends, enemies, earth, sky, there is no reference point from which to know my self. And all these things precede me, are given to me in a sense. They are incorrigibly other. My sense doesn't come on-board. There is no essence, only relation. Even internally, I am an other. Due to both my gifts and limitations, I experience my life as contingent, needing others as a way to meaningfully narrate, account for my own inner alienation.

In Sin, most of us take the self as a given, as a fixed center, a stable subject around which all others are objects. Ironically, by embracing my own limits, my own brokenness, my own sense of self-alienation, I have the opportunity to overcome Sin, to experience Spirit and transcendence, to be transformed, to be always living and growing even as I experience decay. I am always interpreting my life in relation to others, even the other within myself. So, I am learning not to mourn my loss of sense of self-possessing power in running. I am learning. That's the thing. And in learning, I am less interested in being a self, than a person. This may be wisdom.

My sources for this series of observations are Michael Stipe and Paul Ricoeur. A very wise friend told me about an interview with Michael Stipe in which he was content to be in the moment he was in, even as a 48 year old rock star. I'm experiencing 48 in a much less well-adjusted way. Ricouer helped me understand the importance of distance for knowing, even the distance within our own sense of self. By way of Ricouer, I hope to be more like Michael Stipe soon (especially given how rocking the new REM cd is).


Richard Beck said...

Hello My Friend,
Welcome to the blogosphere!

Regarding this post, as if you don't have enough to read already, I've just started a new book by Alan Jacobs entitled Original Sin: A Cultural History. It's a very good read that hits on some of the themes you outline here.

Jerry Neill said...

Missed you around campus these past several D.Min. seminars. I'm thankful to keep up through this page. "Distance" tells me that you are well. It also tells ME that I am, and am not.