Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Largeness of Memories

"Time and memory are true artists; they remold reality nearer to the heart's desire."
- John Dewey

Many years ago, in my early teens, I started running for exercise.  Not in pursuit of any racing goals, but rather to perform better on the soccer fields.  Many of these runs were around a lake near my house.  At the end of a lap around the lake I was usually wiped out.  I recall the first time I finished two laps around the lake, and felt like I had circled the globe.  I never pushed beyond two laps, but the accomplishment remained happily filed away in my long-run memories.

We’re  currently in Northern Virginia visiting my wife’s parents while my kids are on spring break.  They live just a few miles from that lake where my love of running started to take shape.  Faced with a 7-mile run this morning, I decided to head back to the lake.  Based on my memories, I assumed the lake path had to be around 2.5 miles, so I figured I was looking at 3 laps.  Once I got underway, the memories came back.  The canopy of trees is much thicker, and many of the houses, like many of my body parts, have not aged particularly well.  However, the path is vividly familiar and felt good under my feet.  My mind wandered as the Foo Fighters growled in my ears, and before I knew it I was finishing the first lap.  I glanced at my Garmin to see how the stats were looking, and didn’t make it past the distance number.  1.46 miles.  Huh?

How could the path that seemed so daunting when I was young and ‘fit’ only be 1.46 miles long?  5 laps of the lake later I finished up my 7-mile run.  I felt a little sad that circling the lake twice so many years ago, which had seemed so Herculean at the time, was actually less than a 5k.  Time and memory had built that youthful run to a glorious length in my mind, and a cold, windy unremarkable training run had muddied that memory with the cruel yardstick of reality.

Not too long ago my mind would have rapidly extrapolated this experience and began to challenge the largeness of many other memories from my younger years.  The vastness of the Grand Canyon and the Badlands, the majesty of the Grand Tetons, the glory of goals scored long ago, the seemingly endless fights to land countless ‘lunker’ fish.  Time, however, has also taught me to value and enjoy these memories rather than question and diminish them.  Just let them be, and draw on them fondly.

I will not reshape the past when there is nothing to be gained.  I will grip furiously to the largeness of my memories.  I will allow the perception of how things were be the unwavering reality of how things are, and how they should be.  I will conspire freely with time to shape great into greater.


  1. Everything seems bigger when we're younger. 1.46 miles is a huge accomplishment for some, even as adults. Think of it as how far you've come in your running life, not how disappointing it is to look back.

  2. I think it is best to let the memory be what it is rather than try and recreate the past. It's never as good the second time around.

  3. That's great to see how far you have come! :0) Love this post!

  4. This is a great post!

    But you know what I bet? I bet that canopy of trees was blocking your Garmin signal. I bet that loop was really as long as you remembered it being.

    Sounds good anyway, right?

  5. I had a similar experience 2 years ago. My daughter had practice close to my home town. I decided to run the loooonnnggg 1.4 miles of yester years. It seemed so short and easy now.

  6. I agree with Jamoosh - best not to shatter those childhood memories!

    But what an amazing road you've been down, huh? So inspiring!

  7. Getting all philosophical on me, eh? So what Foo Fighters song was on the ipod? :-)

    When I recently went back to the neighbor where I grew up, I was really surprised how small the houses were. I used to walk from my house down to "The Store" and it seems like a marathon back then. I was shocked how short the actual distance is.

  8. I've had the same experience. I used to run a 2 mile route in my neighborhood when i was young, and it seemed so far! And now I've realized it's not even a full 2 miles...ha! Amazing how things change over time.