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A Scrap of Blue Fabric

Matt Cavanaugh

“We don’t laugh because we’re happy—we’re happy because we laugh.”

William James

Put another way, the body doesn’t follow the mind—the mind follows the body.

That conforms with my understanding of trauma and sadness. A person who has recently experienced immense trauma isn’t likely to be convinced to be happy or talked-back-into good spirits. There’s no conversational topic or talking point that can change the negative thoughts someone has. (Of course, mental health professionals may have a way, but we normal folks sure don’t.)

But that doesn’t mean bystanders are powerless to alleviate suffering. If we follow Mr. James’s slogan, we can aim for the physical first. Bring them a nice meal, a small gift, or a drink. Beignets, still-warm, do the trick. A hug. Offer a walk. Pretend you’ve got an “extra” pass for a movie and buttered popcorn.

This isn’t “shopping therapy,” but an attempt to remind someone that there’s still good stuff out there, a tiny ray of kindness that can’t be ignored. The thought does count. And maybe that something small can snowball into something bigger, over time, until that snowball smothers the bad stuff.

Now, how does this relate to running? For normal runs, weekday afternoon sort of runs, not all that much, but for the 4 Deserts and 1K4D challenge, I’m learning more than ever that the training for these races is grueling. I’m more sore, tight, and knotted up physically than I’ve ever been before. For some super-humans, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But for me, learning to live with constant low-grade pain and soreness is something I’m just adjusting to.

“Make friends with pain,” Ken Chlouber, founder of the Leadville 100 Trail Race once said, “and you will never be alone.”

At least I’ll have company in the deserts.

So how do I put that pain aside?

I think the same way as someone undergoing an incredibly trying time in their life—I’ll tackle the physical first. I’ll smile, even when it hurts, because a smile can make it hurt a little less. I’ll download a comedian’s act, to make me laugh. (The best medicine, right?) And I’ll carry a scrap of extra fabric on my pack while I run, from a blue blanket my two daughters used when they were babies. I want to be able to touch it as I go, when the race gets hard, to remind myself I’ve got something soft and good back home.

It’s hard to change negative thoughts. But we can nudge our circumstances to make a smile more likely. That’s something I’m going to need with me in the desert, especially as the miles roll over into the triple digits, to match the already-high temperatures.