This volunteer year is a test of endurance in many ways. There are the tough situations at work, when undernourished children don't have enough to eat at break time or suffer from sores on their little bodies, betraying the secret of their illness. There's the challenge of living with three like-minded, strong-willed women who don't get enough sleep at night. There's the 6000+ miles between my four favorite people (and two cats) and me, and though God gave us Skype and GChat, there's no e-equivalent for the comforts of home.
And, as if these things weren't testing my endurance enough, I've taken to running. My shin-splinting, asthmatic, tired body is subjected to a couple of miles most evenings after work, before the sun sets.
I was never much of a runner; at best I could sprint the 200 meter dash, and when I got to high school, a track team didn't even exist. The prospect of running 5 kilometers as part of the varsity cross-country team was daunting, but I decided to join and working on my stamina was a project I tried for years to accomplish. In college, I tried to keep up with running but late nights in the library coupled with seasonal illness and a side of college nightlife made regular runs hard to come by.
Now, though I find myself more physically exhausted by work (and occasionally play, to be completely honest) than I've ever been before, I make a special effort to drag myself around "the loop", a mile-and-a-half stretch of quiet suburbia across the road from our house. I've taken great comfort in spending thirty minutes with just my iPod and my thoughts, and to my surprise, the fixation on exhaustion and breathing trouble and sore muscles I'd struggled with in the past has now melted away.
Today, on a particularly beautiful Friday afternoon, a U2 song filled my headphones, called "Running to Stand Still". It's an old one, from The Joshua Tree, but I was struck by the lyrics as I cooled down and stood looking over the valley.
And so she woke up
Woke up from where she was lying still
Said I gotta do something about where we're going.
And there it was. My mind is no longer thinking about exhaustion, or muscle pain-- it's simply too preoccupied with other thoughts to focus on the physical aspect of exercise. I enjoy running so much here because I've finally got things more important to think about than myself, and I'm really glad to reach that realization. One of my goals of my time here was to focus on things other than personal issues, and it seems that my mind's inevitably begun to shift that way.
The service I do here is time-consuming and draining; it often requires a complete commitment of mind and body to get through the days. And so, when it comes time to reflect on my life here in South Africa, the best way I've found to do so is by physical activity-- it's when I'm most active that I find a quiet moment or two. It really is running to stand still.