This week I'm 1200 miles physically - and apparently a decade emotionally - removed from my state of normal. I'm back in my home town out west to spend a few quality days with my father, fresh out of the hospital. My home town of Deming, New Mexico is one of those municipalities which, if you sneeze as you drive past on Interstate 10, you are likely to miss by one-half.
For me, there's always some sort of literary, historical or musical touchstone which aligns to the immediate present; that's what my wife always tells me. My first visit home, five years after I left high school, was something akin to meeting back up with an old lover. There's memories of the really good times and a recollection of where "everything" is located...there might be a few cosmetic changes here and there, at the worst. My previous visit seemed more like I was watching a video of Bruce Springsteen's "My Hometown." Springsteen sings of the melancholy reality of a place you thought would never change, where your kids would be able to have the same degree of stability and mobility, depending on what they desired...but it all changed.
This trip has an entirely different feel. Two different songs weigh heavily on my thoughts:
The first is the Beatles' "In My Life." Things have changed in my home town, and the "old lover" is now nearly-unrecognizable. I had absolutely no difficulty finding my way to the place my parents have called home for the past nearly-three decades, but the brief tour around town found very little to be unchanged. Perhaps the big churches, a couple of restaurants, the hotel where I worked my first job (where I'm staying this week); not much else. Even a pass through the local major retail chain store which crushed most of the mom-and-pop businesses we patronized when I was young placed me in the "Ebenezer Scrooge" role in a southwestern remake of "A Christmas Carol." I didn't see a person I recognized. At all. And nobody knew me from Adam. God bless us, every one.
The second song is John Mayer's "Stop This Train." Mayer talks in the song about his fear of "getting old," as if he only can be successful at being young. Spending time with one's elders, especially when they are in frail health, can shake the hell out of your own wrongly perceived concept of immortality. So far, the real joy has been able to have the "help me understand" talk with the "old man." And the counsel is much more than the "hang in there and renegotiate when you hit my age." platitudes and b.s.
Dad asked me what I did this morning. I described in a nutshell the distance and duration of my scheduled jaunt, which was less sprightly than originally planned, I dare admit. Forty-two hundred feet of elevation change will do that, just in case you wonder what it's like to jog near the Continental Divide. But his questioning had not so much to do with intellectual curiosity or making small talk. He really and truly misses his daily walks, a habit he took up not long before he retired about eight years ago.
I described the "new" (to me) rails-to-trails path which was once the train tracks running just west of our house and south of town protecting the Country Club members from those of us who were genuine working-class stiffs. I joked about the 15 mile-per-hour (for Deming residents, better described as "what") wind blowing gently on my face and cooling me for the last two and a half miles back to my hotel. And, I realized that my running tale might have well been the tonic he in his housebound state needed to have, even if in a small dose.
So right now my training sessions and recovery jaunts are as much for him as for me. I will no doubt be overjoyed when he's able to take his dog out for a stroll up the back road to the supermarket, and I think he'll look forward to the next time I'm able to toe the line, racing fit.