“STOP STARING AT THE FLOOR, ULI! HEADS UP!”
This, shouted at the gym as I attempted some weird squat-thrust-back-jerk-heaving maneuver. After years of attendance here, you’d think I know better, but….you’d be, well, wrong. If you lift weights while looking at the mats, you betray form and risk injury. Pretty basic. You keep your head down in hockey, you’re gonna get drilled into the ice, and end up spitting out teeth like Chiclets. You stare at the sidewalk long enough, you’re gonna bump into something or someone you’d rather not.
Dealing with a deep and dark fear of rejection has caused me to approach life in much the same way. It’s far easier to stare at the floor than to risk confrontation and rejection. It’s far easier to make those around you laugh than to own up honestly to your fears. In a perverted twist, it can be easier to reject those around me than to allow them too close, where they will see my niggling fears and insecurities, laugh and reject me. “Keep them at arm’s length and compensate” could be a slogan for how I stumbled into adulthood. Self loathing never goes out of style, according to the literature.
There is an old adage that goes basically like this:
A chieftain is talking to his people about two dogs inside his mind: one a white dog that is good and courageous, the other a black dog that is vengeful and angry. Both dogs are fighting to the death. A youngster, unable to wait for the end of the story, asks, “which one will win?” The chieftain responds “the one I feed.”
I’ve spent years feeding the wrong dog. This was the predominant thought in my mind as I approached the running trail. I’d invited her to go for a run with me, and she declined. Rejection. Again. I hadn’t run in too many months; she was staving off a knee injury. I had to burn off days of being pent up with my boys, the little arguments between them causing the cacophony between my ears to escalate to ludicrous levels. I’d hoped she’d join me, if for no other reason than I’ve missed her company, and running together was a way we used to be able to slough off reality a few miles at a time. I thought about turning around and going home. I was staring at the ground, head down.
And I was tired. So tired.
Tired of feeding the wrong dog. Tired of thinking the absolute worst of every situation. Looking down only reinforced the encroaching tide of rejection, and I made a decision. I would run. Motherfucker, I was going for a run. Alone or in her company. I was going the distance, too, not stopping once to lament, as is my wont. Plugging in the earbuds and tuning in “potato music” (think Dropkick Murphys) I looked up. One foot in front of the other, slowly at first, and gathering steam with each step pounded out, I kept looking up. I looked into the faces of people passing the other way instead of down at the trail. I looked them in the eyes so when I’d say “good morning”, they’d see I actually meant it as opposed to just engaging in social niceties. As I referenced in the last essay, I’ve been trying to change my tone from “if only” to “yes, and.” Unfortunately, I’d been stuck in more of a “yes, but” as a means of denying realities. I’d been spiraling down paths I need not. My decisions are mine alone to make, and whatever those around me choose to do is theirs to own.
As I rounded the last corner to the bottom of the big hill, it came across clearly; living in past memories is a form of feeding the wrong dog. Yesterday is nothing to trifle with, as we can do nothing about it. But by embracing the white dog, we write our futures and live right here and right here now. We continue to define ourselves by what we’re doing now as opposed to relying our past to define our current. The time is now to feed the right dog, right now.
I came crashing into the parking lot, exhausted but tired no longer. I looked over at my car, hers still wasn’t there. And that was as it should be. This was my own race to run. It began to look a lot less like a rejection of me and more like what it was….a decline of an invitation, nothing more. Looking down at my watch, I suddenly realized this was the fastest time I’d posted on this particular loop. I never stopped. It took a few miles to take away the food bowl from one dog and embrace feeding the other, but somewhere back there, it happened.
I never noticed the rain slapping me in the face across that last mile. I was too busy for the first time, in a long time, smiling up and NOT looking down.