I remember one day in 1999 when I was driving back to Midland from a drilling rig visit, I stopped in Brownfield and changed clothes in a fast food restaurant parking lot (in the privacy of my car, that is) to run down Highway 137, one of my first “adult” routes from back in 1980. It was while running down this road that the immense responsibility of being a brand new father washed over me all at once, and I made a commitment to step into the role. I returned 19 years later because I wanted to smell the dirt and remember the texture of a road that played an important part in my new life as a husband and father.
I’ve repeated this drill many times: detour from my travel route, change clothes in the car, go for a run, change back, rejoin the journey. Not because running is so important I can’t wait another minute before heading out, but more likely because I want to experience again some familiar trail. I often go to a lot of trouble to recreate an experience.
Once back in the 1980s (March 21, 1987, actually), while Cyndi was taking a test for fitness instructor national certification in Denver, I kept myself busy by running a couple of loops through Washington Park. It was a great run, and an even better memory renewal. Washington Park was the first place I saw how a well-designed park could add energy and life to a community. It was a big reason I joined the Parks and Recreation Commission a few years later, which that led to a 12-years stint on the Midland City Council. Washington Park had a big impact on me.
My most current adventure also took place in Denver, and it was just last week. I was in Colorado to attend the Exploration Men’s Retreat and my flight arrived very early so I had lots of time to fill before reporting in at the Trail West Camp in Buena Vista. I drove I-70 to Kipling and took the exit to find my way to Prospect Park. I was actually in Wheat Ridge, but it still looked like Denver to me. It was 28* and snowing heavily. I drove through deep snow into the parking lot and found a suitable space to camp near an outdoor pavilion and, more importantly, public restrooms. I crawled into the back seat of the Jeep where I could reach my suitcase and dug out my cold-weather running gear and changed clothes.
I ran on the concrete trail for about an hour. I almost always prefer to run on dirt, but with all the snow it was nice to know exactly where the path was and to know I wouldn’t fall into any mud holes. I quickly realized I had packed the wrong gloves. My hands got painfully cold, so an hour was plenty long to be out.
When I got back to the Jeep, I took advantage of the restroom, paused to catch my breath, then changed back into grown-up street clothes. I was hoping to find a place to eat lunch along I-70 before leaving the Denver area so I could set up in a booth and do some writing and reading. I had almost 6 hours before I had to be in Buena Vista and I wanted to burn some of it off over lunch. But once I got back on I-70 I was out of luck. Apparently I’d already passed any lunch possibility, and in fact, there wasn’t really any place to stop all the way down Highway 285. I finally wrote this Journal while eating a hamburger at Punky’s Diner in Buena Vista.
My usual purpose for squeezing a run into a busy travel day is to reinforce an old memory. Memory is so fragile, and it changes over time in ways we aren’t aware, so I like to retrace old routes to reestablish the details. And, I’ll go ahead and admit, I also do it to find a new story. New stories are basic currency for a writer and I can’t get enough of them.
However, this time was different. I’d never been to Prospect Park before so I had no personal memories to reinforce. I went there because this park is an important part of a friend’s story and I wanted to know more about it. Mark used to walk in this park daily, and it was on these trails that God found him, reconnected with him, rescued his heart, and emboldened him for his next adventure. It was a mid-course correction for Mark, and he always mentions it when describing God’s work in his life. Mark wrote to me, “God will speak plainly to you there if you ask.”
If fact, I didn’t expect any grand revelations from God in the same way Mark received. I don’t know how to reproduce my own encounters with God when returning to old sacred ground, so I certainly didn’t expect it to happen on someone else’s. And besides, God never lived in Prospect Park, He lived inside of Mark. God simply used the park to get Mark’s attention and open his eyes and ears.
So I didn’t have any big expectations; I was more interested in staying warm.
But still, it wasn’t just a routine run in a park. I knew there was deep magic here. I came to this park so I could understand my friend’s story better, understand him better, and we’d have one more thing in common. And I don’t know how to experience a park sitting in my car with the windows rolled up. I have to put my feet on the ground if I want to incorporate a place into my own story.
Mark has been instrumental in my life as a teacher, in my return to cycling, in helping heal ancient wounds, and in my daily walk with God. I loved running in his park and feeling the spirit in the air. I hope to do it again soon, maybe on a warmer day.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
To learn about Berry’s books, “Running With God,” go to www.runningwithgodonline.com , or “Retreating With God,” go to www.retreatingwithgod.com ,… Follow Berry on Twitter at @berrysimpson or on Facebook … Contact Berry directly: firstname.lastname@example.org … To post a comment or subscribe to this free journal: www.journalentries.org