“Whoa! And I feel good, I knew that I would, now
I feel good, I knew that I would.”
~ From “I got you” by James Brown
A tree fell on our house Sunday evening. We were driving away—Sonja and I and two of our best friends in the backseat, and I saw it in the rearview. The hundred-year-old silver maple in our yard split in the center and collapsed into our house. It took out the eaves, much of the front porch. It destroyed our tacky concrete birdbath, the one I’d only just gotten around to repairing this past summer. We went back to inspect the damage. The tree was hollowed out. The family of raccoons I knew to inhabit it were nowhere to be found. The damage to the house looked expensive, but when I went back inside, despite all of the visible damage to the roof, I could find no evidence that it had penetrated the house.
The week had already been a lot to handle without this new development. Sonja was struggling a bit with work. Friends of mine, too, had issues that I had taken an interest in and was trying to help. I ran very little, a few miles here and there, and spent a bit of time on the Peloton too. My left big toenail was, well, in the name of discretion, more than nagging. I called a few doctors who were booked for several weeks out, then at last one who wasn’t but who greeted me kindly yet with an air of incredulity.
“I specialize in wounds,” he told me.
“My guess is that when you see my foot this will count,” I replied.
“Can it wait until Wednesday?” he asked.
I considered. It was wait forty-some hours, or wait a few weeks. “Absolutely.”
“See you Wednesday,” he told me.
Wednesday came and I put on flip-flops and located his office in North Omaha without much difficulty. The parking lot was far from full. A nurse greeted me, led me into a sterile room, laid a blanket under my foot and propped it up in the typical electric recliner of hospitals.
The doctor was pulling on blue elastic gloves as he walked in. He stepped over to my inclined foot, glanced at it briefly, and said “Oh yeah, that counts.” We chuckled. The nurse rubbed some orange liquid on the surface, he put three painful shots into the base of my toe and soon it was numb. He broke out what looked a lot like fencing pliers and, well, I looked away. When I looked back, he had my nail and some additional flesh in his the pincers of his torture device. My toe had a small canyon in it, and he assured me that what I was looking at was not bone. He prescribed me an antibiotic. “Can I run a race this weekend?” I asked. “If you want to,” he responded casually, as if to say I wouldn’t, but you do you. “See me in a week to make sure it doesn’t infect,” he concluded.
Sunday morning, one week after completing two full marathons in two days, I rose and drove to Lincoln to run the Goodlife Halfsy, a race I run almost every year. I allowed myself a relaxed pace of around 8:35’s and chatted with other runners, slowing slightly at the end in response to nagging aches to finish in around 1:52-something. My toe felt fine, more or less. My body felt as if it was telling me something. I knew I was overdoing it with all these races and decided I take next week a little easy. I hurried home to see my wife and children.
On the drive home, the co-founder of the Malala Fund, a Paki Stanford grad, was being interviewed. She’d helped Malala start her non-profit, but had since gone on to do for-profit work and found a cookware company or something equally uninteresting. Soon I was listening to music.
I spent a lot of time this past week thinking about people, and why they do what they do. In the end, I always circle back to something a financial adviser friend once told me when I was questioning the savings practices of another couple I knew. “People only do what makes them happy,” he said matter-of-factly. And he’s right. I’ve sought since that time for a counter example, but there isn’t one. The selfish are as such for themselves, sure enough, but the selfless are the same way. People donate money to charity because it makes them feel good. They sacrifice because it makes them feel good. If what we do doesn’t make us feel good, or some variations of good such as noble, kind, or something else, we’ll soon stop doing it. Prove me wrong.
It is through that lens that I look at my running. Does this make me feel good—racing, losing toenails, being sick to my stomach, finishing, feeling accomplished, being around people I like? Yes, yes it does. And my teaching? Also yes. What about writing? Once again, yes. Either it makes me feel good to do the thing, or it makes me feel good to later receive the acknowledgement I knew was likely to come as a result. Either way, my friend’s point from so long ago stands. I cannot think of something I do that does not in one way or another make me feel good.
The darkness sets early these days. It isn’t good for running, nor for inspecting tree damage. I suppose what limited daytime I have tomorrow, outside of the two meetings that are scheduled, will be devoted to doing those things, and hopefully both will make me feel good. I suspect they will in their own way. In addition, rest after running two full marathons and a half in eight days is called for, and I’ll see to it that my runs are easy and truncated for a spell. Whatever you’re up to, including following along with this journey I’m on, I hope it makes you feel good.