A Lion Hearted Rabbit
Just to that light pole. Okay, just to that trash can. Keep breathing. To that water fountain. Pick up the pace at the picnic table. But I’m tired. Pick up the pace anyway. Will I make it to the bridge? Pick up the pace. Keep going. One more light pole.
I never know if I’m going to make it. I always have doubts. It’s a new challenge every morning. I set new goals every time. First, it was the first trash can. Then the second light pole after that. Then the fourth trashcan. Then the second bathrooms. So on and so forth. And despite consisently hitting these goals every time, I still have my doubts. I doubt not what I can do, but who I am.
I run at Legg Lake with a few of my chaplain classmates. Some are heading for the military, like me. Others just like to run (crazy bastards). We go in the morning three days a week. I started in May, a few months after begining my strength training regime. The circuit we follow is 2.36 miles according to Google Maps. I am very slow, but I’ve gotten to the point where I run about a mile and half of that route. I wouldn’t call it an acomplishment, but for me, it is something important, not so much for the act of doing it, but for how it challenges all my preconceived notions of who I am.
I was the girl in gym class who’d make it less than a lap around the gym before slowing to a walk, an invisible knife in my side. I was the bane of every PE teacher. The scrawny one who could barely run and barely lift. The lazy one who didn’t want to try. The one picked last for every – single – game. (I was, however, amazingly useful at dodgeball, seeing as I was small and nimble and hard to hit, but I still couldn’t throw worth a damn.) I was weak and I made up for it by being fierce, or at least putting up a good front, so I wasn’t physically bullied too often.
I’m not that girl anymore. But I am. And even now as I run, I expect that sideache to come tear me open. I wait for it to pounce. Every gym teacher I had tried to “run it out of me” and they all universally failed. Every gym teach tried to get me interested in fitness and sports and were met with sullenness and resistance. I couldn’t stand to see the disappointment on their faces as they handed me yet lighter and lighter weights and watched me fail to lift them, basketball after basketball and watched me fail to reach the rim. It’s not that I didn’t want to try, I just didn’t want to live with them telling me how weak I was. I already knew that.
Yet I was physical. I ran around outside for hours, usually in bare feet. I climbed every tree whose first branch I could reach. I chased my dog, rode my bicycle, swung on the tire swing, had snowball and water fights with the neighbor kids, scrambled up and down ravines, and swam like a fish in the pool at my dad’s gym. Despite all this, I’ve never seen myself as a particularly physical person. In my mind, I’ve always been the weak one, the bookworm, the intellectual.
That identity is still there, but it’s also changing, being slowly shed or augmented or let go, however you think about it. It’s my karma, the flowers of seeds planted long ago. It’s also my ego, the delusion that I “am” anything fixed and definable at all.
I know I have this karma, this ego, that says “I’m not a runner. I’ve never been a runner. I’ll never be a runner. I hate running.” I also know it’s all a lie, but a true lie, a lie that exists nevertheless. So I have a running mix. I call it “Happy.” It includes every song that makes me smile. So that when my past karmic seeds, my mental habits, crop up, I can spray on a little weed killer.
There is one song that has particular resonance of late, “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” by Forence + The Machine. She’s singing about confusion and a desire for something better, but she’s too weak to direct her own life. “Here I am a rabbit hearted girl / Frozen in the headlights /It seems I’ve made the final sacrifice.” But she’s found something that is worth ridding herself with these old habits. “I must become a lion hearted girl / Ready for a fight / Before I make the final sacrifice.” What’s interesting is the sacrifice is still before her, but in order to achieve it, change is necessary. “And in the spring I shed my skin / And it blows away with the changing wind … This is a gift it comes with a price / Who is the lamb and who is the knife.” Something must be given up if something is to be gained.
I feel like that now. I was the lion-hearted rabbit. Now I’m trying to become the lion-hearted lion. The goal is the same. I’ve been trying so hard to understand other people, originally for my sake, but now for theirs. This motivation has led me to Buddhism and to chaplaincy and, eventually, the Navy.
When I went on drill with my friend and the California National Guard, we stopped to talk to the small number of women in the unit to see if they had any wisdom to share. “It’s a sacrifice,” they said. I needed to be prepared.
So I’ve spent the last six months preparing myself not only physically, but also mentally. That includes strength training and running, but much more importantly, sheding this image of myself as the weak girl who doesn’t do those things. On the outside, it’s very mundane. “Oh, you’re exercising. Good for you.” But on the inside, it’s altering everything I think about myself and the way I think it.
Everytime I tell myself I’m going to make it to the next light pole, then the one after that, then the next one, everytime I set the goal, I’m telling myself I am not who I think I am. Everytime I think I’m tired and I hurt and I want to stop and I keep going anyway, I’m telling myself I’m not what I think. This gift comes with a price, but the gift isn’t being able to run a few miles or pass a Navy physical fitness test. The gift is letting go of a little bit more of my ego every day. Not bad for the price of a few early mornings and sore muscles.