Running In Circles

It is six in the morning and I am running in circles around my neighborhood. The front few streets are full of single family suburban homes with sidewalks and satellite dishes. In the back it’s still mostly undeveloped vacant lots with trees and grass and empty bottles.

I have run this circle enough that it has become as familiar as the sun that will soon raise the temperature by ten degrees in as many minutes. On this morning I have begun earlier than usual to avoid the impending heat. It is just dark enough to make the unoccupied streets in the back of my neighborhood vaguely foreboding.

Under the last few moments of street lights and summer moon I notice a scattered parade of doodle bugs slowly making their way from one side of the street to the other. Along a stretch of about a hundred yards I take care to step over them in respect for their relatively epic journey.

I’ve seen them before—the doodle bugs. And I’ve often contemplated their curious behavior as I jog morning after morning through the quiet houses and the whisper of sprinkler heads. 

What could be so great about the other side of the street that would make them bother with such tedious effort? Why not stay where they are? Is it so much better over there? Is it so much worse where they came from? How could they even know? They’re just bugs. Maybe some instinct tells them to strive for something better, or if not better, something… different.

These thoughts enter and exit my brain as I wipe the sweat and humidity from my forehead. I am thirsty and my left shin has started to cramp but I’ve only got another mile and then I can quit for the day. I listen to my breath and watch an SUV up the block backing out of the driveway.

I have been in training since April for a race set sometime in the future. In reality I am only doing this because I have literally run out of excuses. I’ve spent the better part of the last decade taking care of my family, taking care of my parents, taking care of my career. And now, by some twist of fate, I have avoided calamity long enough to find some spare time and motivation to take care of myself.

It’s about a half a mile around the loop, and by the time I return to the uncivilized part of the neighborhood the sun has risen. Around the bend where I first spotted the doodle bugs I now see birds hopping back and forth enjoying an easy feast. At this point I realize that my careful efforts to protect the bugs has made me an unwitting, albeit compassionate, accomplice to their demise.

As I pass the scene my presence only bothers the birds enough to fly a few feet away and then reconvene their morning meal behind me. My pace slows slightly but not entirely as I absorb the moment of futility I have just witnessed.

Next week I will add another mile to my run and I will likely get up even earlier than I did today. I know I will see more bugs then. I look at my watch and calculate how much further I must run until I can return to the comfort of home.