Let’s ignore that at mile nine, I felt great and made a flat out sprint for a finish line that did not appear for five more miles. And no, there was no trophy for “runner with the worst sense of direction.” The point is, I finished the Marco Island 10- (or so) mile Bridge Run in my own creative way — at which point, most non-runners balk, “so what!” or ask: “Why are those crazy people torturing themselves at 7 a.m. on a perfectly fine Sunday?”
This question, too, toyed with my mind as I climbed the Judge Jolley Bridge in the fog, until a volunteer asked me if I needed help and a cup of cold water. My external answer was a polite “no thanks.” My internal answer was not polite and shocked me. No offense to the kind volunteer, but something inside me snapped: “Hey, why don’t you ask some dying child in Darfur if they need help and a cup of cold water?!”
Sprinting up the bridge, I could not discern where the water ended and land began. I realized that this is where I am in my life. Like Christopher Columbus, tormented by incomplete maps and a theory that was correct and more prescient than he could have dreamed, I have to believe there’s a new world out there and my little ship will discover it. I must ignore the mutineers and have iron faith in my studied and intuitive ideas. I have to believe there’s a better way to navigate our planet’s multiple crises. Do I need help and a cup of cold water? No! I have two good legs and access to clean water — a luxury in this new century.
I don’t know why the other runners were participating in the Bridge Run, but as I ran, my reasons became crystal clear. I ran because I could. I ran because the people in the former World Trade Center are not here to watch the pelicans skim across the bay. I ran because my publishing company’s New York office was razed to the ground. I ran because the best boss I ever had in my life died of an aneurysm shortly after 9/11 and the obtuse therapist I was seeing at the time said it had nothing to do with the stress of 9/11. I fired her a la Donald Trump and asked for a refund. To avoid my own aneurysm, I left my job as a publishing executive and began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania.
Striding up the opposite side of the bridge, I thought of firemen drowning in 75 pounds of rescue equipment as they raced up smoke-filled stairwells of the towers in hopes of saving lives. The song “Superman” surrealistically played on my MP3: “I can’t stand to fly, I’m not that naive, I’m just out to find the better part of me ... wish that I could cry, fall upon my knees, find a way to lie about a home I’ll never see.
“It may sound absurd, but don’t be naive, even heroes have the right to bleed. I may be disturbed, but won’t you concede, even heroes have the right to dream. It’s not easy to be me.”
And it wasn’t that difficult, suddenly, to sprint up and over the rest of the bridge.
When my muscles ached or I felt winded, I wondered, what if this was the last race I ever had the chance to run? I watched committees of ibis gather to converse about the state of the world. I wondered if I listened closely enough if they would let me in on their secrets.
I thought of the magnanimous students I had the privilege to teach at the University of Pennsylvania. They’ll never know I loved them as my own children; but these future power brokers of America were certain there was no escape from my class without wrestling with a Rubik’s Cube of ethical decisions, as well as writing the perfect essay.
I ran thinking of all the Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who no longer have legs. I ran thinking of all the Iraqi and Afghan children who no longer have legs. I saw a spider web drenched in the jewels of fog. If a mere insect can create a perfect world, why can’t we?
With each footfall, I challenged Rush Limbaugh to shut up and read a history book — or better yet, travel to Wiziristan without a suitcase bulging with Xanax. I thought of all the Americans he has shouted to the rim of a moral, intellectual and economic abyss, only to kick them over the edge without a parachute, golden or any other color.
I could not have placed one foot in front of the other if I were not certain we could reconfigure a world where every starving child in every shadow of the planet could be given their “daily bread on Earth as it is in heaven.”
I know we’re in uncharted territory, but I must believe that our generation has a mandate to discover a transcendent dimension where Jews cease to be hated because they exist and Palestinians cease to be used as human shields by proxy governments, including their own.
I ran thinking of my own daughter the whole way. Never, in my worst nightmare, did I imagine she would inherit the planet in this condition. I must believe, with help and a cup of cold water, I can create a better world for her. Our planet is neither flat nor round; it is a geodesic puzzle in the shaping, despite all evidence to the contrary. And even though an eight-year fog of evil and greed has obscured that refulgent, undiscovered world lying just on the fringe of the horizon, I must touch it, even if the journey is farther than expected and the maps are incomplete.
Pamela Sutton is living on Marco Island, where she is taking time off from teaching English at the University of Pennsylvania, to finish her first novel and begin a second. She is a nationally award-winning poet. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2000 and The Best American Poetry 2009 (forthcoming). She is consulting editor for The American Poetry Review.