Why To Exercise Today: So We Outnumber The Stony-Faced Boston Runners

This is a rant I wrote last spring just for catharsis, and today's warm weather reminded me of it. My point: Sharing exercise with others can be a uniquely uplifting, warm feeling. Too bad more of us don't do it with the strangers we pass on the street.

Explain this to me. We’re running around the reservoir, you and I. I’m going clockwise; you, counter-clockwise. As we approach each other, I see you, and I see you see me, and I smile in greeting. You look away. Or down at your feet. Or over my shoulder. Deadpan. Your lip doesn’t even twitch.

My first thought tends to be, Maybe you sat on a tack this morning and it’s still in your fleshy parts.

Then: Maybe it’s a chewing-gum-while-walking thing. Maybe your brain is working so hard to pump your legs that it can’t handle a smile or nod at the same time.

Maybe you’re so deep in Marathon dreams or Zen meditation that you don’t really see me. You look like you see me, but really you don’t.

Or maybe you’re suffering and don’t have a smile to share. You’re troubled or depressed, or have shin-splints and lower back pain.

Or maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m a fool to expect any answering warmth in a city known to be one of the unfriendliest in the country. If I want people who smile and greet strangers, I should move to the South or the West. I’m violating a social norm by meeting your eyes and smiling at you, and you may just find me weird.

So since I can’t understand you, I’d like to explain myself.

When I smile at you, what I’m trying to say is: Here we are, you and I, both human beings, out fighting the good fight for health and fitness and fresh air and endorphin highs. The water is sparkling and the swans are fluffing their feathers; the sky is big and the air is good and we’re so lucky to be alive and in decent enough shape to run. Yay, us!

If you don’t feel that way, that’s fine. But I’d like to let you in on a little secret. I’m not the only weirdo out there who smiles or waves. There’s a cabal of us, a club that’s always accepting new members, and we know something that you don’t:

There’s a magical moment that may come only once or twice on the long dusty path around the reservoir, but that buoys us and carries us for miles afterward. When one club member approaches another club member, and we both smile, and we look into each other’s eyes for a second, we cheer each other on as surely as the crowds who line Commonwealth Avenue cheer on the marathon front-runners. We connect. We acknowledge each other as fellow creatures both struggling to wring the best out of our resistant bodies, and glorying in the sky and water, and sure to die but right now feeling very alive.

I swear, even as I huff and puff and plug along, I experience this meeting on the path as a wash of pure pleasure that warms my laboring heart. The words that come into my head sometimes are “That was a live one!” Meaning, I suppose, that I saw a lively spirit peeking out from those eyes, and when it greeted me, I felt energized. And briefly blessed.

I’m not sure it makes sense for me to invite you to join this club. I’m not sure you can. But if you want to, there’s just one little thing you have to do....

This program aired on December 13, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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