The still, small, voice…

When I finally stopped gasping for air I realized what I had done.

After plodding along for the past few years with no attention to speed I decided to see if I could run faster. I looked around and found many recommendations and decided to try interval training: Run a lap at normal speed than run the same lap faster. Repeat. And repeat again and again.

After panting I realized I was able to increase my speed by 20%, if only for a short period of time. I did not know what I had accomplished while I was running, only after I stopped.

The Jewish high holidays have concluded. The liturgy for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is filled with images of the majesterial as we proclaim God the Master of the Universe. We listen to the primal sound of a ram’s horn, the shofar, to punctuate the day. And in one stirring paragraph we describe the power of that sound upon our hearts. But that sentence is mysteriously juxtaposed to the most enigmatic phrase of the day. The sound of the shofar will be sounded, the prayer states, and a “still, thin sound will be heard”.

That phrase comes from the book of Kings 1, chapter 19 and concludes a section about Elijah the prophet who had reestablished God’s honor before crowds of idol worshippers, including Israelites who had strayed from their belief in God. Tired from his battle for truth Elijah beseeched God to end his life. God responded by sending an angel who led Elijah on a 40 day journey to a cave from where he witnessed a sound so loud it crushed rock, caused a devastating earthquake and a great fire.

“God is not there” we are told after each cataclysmic event. Elijah did not find God in the maelstrom. But than a “still, small voice” appeared and there is where Elijah reconnected to his Maker. Immediately afterward we read Elijah leaves his cave and re-enters the world, appointing a king for this nation and for that one. He begins to re-build the world. 19th and 20th century naturalist writers have borrowed this phrase as well and often refer to the “still, small voice” they hear in the forests and the fields.

And I thought of this scene finally standing upright after bracing myself on my knees doubled over, oxygen deprived, the lactic acid burn starting to ebb. We don’t know what we have accomplished in the midst of the thing, in the middle of a run, or long hike. Or in the midst of raising our children. Indeed, physiologists believe that endurance is increased not during the quickened pace while running but rather in the moments right afterward when the the cardiovascular system adjusts to the new challenge.

It is only in the calm moments that follow our accomplishments that we, like Elijah, can realize the truth of our lives, and the work we have done and the work we have yet to accomplish.

The Power of New Shoes?

Of course new shoes can make your feet feel better. But can they really help your soul?

I ran a trail yesterday I have run many times before. I did not see the Great Blue Heron I once saw there feeding not 15 feet away. Nor did I see the Northern Oriole building its dangling hollowed ball  shaped nest I’ve seen before nor the spring irises lining the trail here and there. Yet I felt newly exhilarated despite the sameness of the scenery. What was different?

Not much. Just my shoes.

New shoes.

The old (Asics Trail Sensor circa 2009) and the new (La Sportiva Wildcat circa 2013)

The old (Asics Trail Sensor circa 2009) and the new (La Sportiva Wildcat circa 2013)

New shoes I had researched and pondered, read reviews about and weighed pros and cons before arriving at my decision. I looked for them in stores and ultimately ordered on the web. Even guessed right on the European size.

I am loyal to my shoes. Not the brand specifically but actually to the shoes. I do not part ways with them easily. I wear them until they are frayed. Until chunks of rubber are missing from the sole. Until I am pretty sure the mid sole layer has lost its cushioning. Yet, I have seen pictures of the poorest of the poor running around or carrying water in tattered shoes, or no shoes and I know even at their worst my old shoes are quite adequate.  And so I relinquish them reluctantly and don new shoes undeservedly.

But I am attached to old shoes for quite another reason too. We have traveled together for so long. The rubber rand covering the front of the shoes is peeling. The lining around the heel has worn completely away after thousands and thousands of steps on streets and sidewalks and grassy fields and trails criss crossing county and state parks, as my shoes and I have hiked our way together across rocks in a fast flowing brook or run across a wooden bridge while looking upstream at  riffles of frothy white water. They were with me when I ran a trail race and badly sprained my ankle and they were with me the following year when I redeemed myself on the same course.

Old sole, new sole.

Old sole, new sole.

I look at the worn sole but don’t see shoes worn out. Rather I see miles walked, hiked, run.

Yet the trail does seem more fresh and alive and spirited with my new shoes, a feeling which I attribute to more than better cushioning and less fraying. I am inspired by the possibilities of the new, real or imagined. The shiny sole of my new shoes with their special features to provide traction on uneven terrain beckons the deep forest trail. And I will even take inspiration from the picture on the shoe box, of men I know not, running toward towering mountains I know not where in a place I will likely never be.

Photo on the cover of the La Sportiva Wildcat shoes

Photo on the cover of the La Sportiva Wildcat shoes

(Old shoes: Asics Trail Sensor. New shoes: La Sportiva Wildcat)