Wednesday, May 17, 2006


photo by Jake Lukac

All morning, I've been looking for a quote about running from the novel that is currently keeping me up at night: Joanne Harris's GENTLEMEN AND PLAYERS. It's a suspense novel about a dangerous game of wits between an aging Latin teacher at a private school for boys, and a bitter young prole who is determined to get revenge against the place that has excluded and humiliated him.

But it also pits the sixty-five year old Roy Straitley against the most merciless adversary of all: old age and obsolescence. In the quote about running (which I couldn't find) Straitley observes that boys always run; he wonders when he stopped.

After I read the elusive passage a couple of nights ago, I dreamed of running all night. Not the kind of running adults most often do--dutiful for-your-health jogs through the neighborhood, or driven, never-enough-time scrambles. No, my dream running was the kind done by boys, as Straitley observed--and by girls, too. Pure exuberant movement, simply because you absolutely can't wait to get to the other side of the room or the other side of the field.

When I awakened in the morning, I immediately fingered a little white scar that I've had since I was four. I know it's impossible, but I swear I remember running up and down our narrow knotty-pined kitchen, running joyfully and repetitively simply because I was so happy to be inside my body, so happy to possess legs and breath and life. On the day I got the scar, I'd run so fast that my hand plunged through the front window, in a small but memorable explosion of glass and blood.

Like so much else, my scar is faded now so I painted it red so you could see it. Painted it red so I would remember Roy Straitley's questions: Wasn't it wonderful to run just for the sheer pleasure of it? And why did we ever stop?



Sharon Hurlbut said...

Yes! I feel the same way about running, Patry. A few years ago, my husband and I were camping and boating with my parents. We were all at the dock in the boat when we realized we'd left the keys back at camp. I ran through the forest and back while everyone waited, and it was the most exhilirating sensation I'd experienced in a long time.

Dave said...

I've wondered that too - and not just about running. My ten-year-old niece is so excited about everything, and whenever I'm hanging out with her, I really have to struggle to put myself in that same mindframe. But I can recall quite vividly how it felt.

rdl said...

Is that really your hand? (great photo, Jake.) You had a poem about this event that i remember ?

Crockhead said...

Great photo and great post. Sadly, I can't remember that exuberance in myself, but I remember it well in my kids. Do you think it's possible to recapture that (not the running, but the feeling) after 20?

Anonymous said...

I do feel it jogging sometimes, particularly if I've had a tough day. It's like diving off the high dive until the water hits, until the legs take over for the heart.

Patry Francis said...

sharon: What a wonderful story conveyed in only a few short words. I could feel your feet--and your heart--pounding as you ran through that forest.

dave: You seem plenty excited about everything yourself. Just the fact that you enjoy hanging out with your ten year old niece is evidence that the sense of play is still there. Me, too. The kids in my life always think I'm one of them. I have to come up with all kinds of excuses when I get tired and want to go in the house and drink wine with the adults. But I still want to RUN more...

r: Yes, my hand--and I did write a poem about that incident. "Broken Glass"-- my first published poem.

amishlaw: If you can remember it--even in your children--it's still there. Or maybe I'm just immature??

peter: Diving off the high dive and that feeling before the water hits--another lost sensation from childhood. It's good to hear that you can recapture that when you run.

Laini Taylor said...

I've read a review of that book and was intrigued. And yes, that joyful movement of youth -- I had an experience about a year ago, hiking after NOT getting out and moving for a long period of time, when it felt SO GOOD to be out in the air, in the beauty, moving my limbs, breathing, that I wanted to run and jump, and it was so exhilarating -- like childhood!

Sky said...

Ahhh, the memories. My husband and I went to a State Park a few days ago. We saw a Hopscotch diagram in chalk on the sidewalk as we walked toward the beach. He is Indian, and I asked if he, too, played this as a child. He did!

On past the hopscotch squares, we saw a game of volleyball in action. That led to memories of jumping high and competitive play for my Junior high school team. Memories of running down the beach and into the water were sparked by kids running along the shore in front of me. I began to recall all the games of childhood to compare them to those played so many miles away by Indian children. Some are the same, some are not. Running is a common theme whether into the ocean, down a beach, between softball or cricket bases, or in relay races. Kids love to run, and I was missing it that day realizing how far from that place my body has now come and wishing I could live with the same degree of spontaneous combustion I had then.

Anonymous said...

It's not just running. I climb for the sheer joy of it, and that's something else so many kids do. Climbing, whether it's trees, rocks, dunes, hills... I remember something John Gill, generally regarded as the father of modern bouldering, said. In the true spirit of play, he said, I abandoned activity that had purpose in favour of that with meaning.

I know what he meant.

Thanks for reminding me, Patry.

Fred Garber said...

I have one of those running scars. Mine is over my right eye. Got it when I was four. A few weeks later I got the brain transplant....

Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

This is lovely, Patry. As I am now running again, as an adult, for exercise--an activity that most doctors advise against because it jostles your organs and damages your joints--I too wish I could really feel inside my body the way I once felt, when it was not even a consideration; when my body and I weren't strangers, a thing to be bullied and whipped into shape.

Patry Francis said...

Laini: I'm enjoying the book a lot. If you read it, let me know. And yes, fresh air and proximity to wilderness is a huge part of it--something we NEED and often forget.

Sky: I loved the story of how you and your husband shared your childhood activities, and found the one that was universal among them: running! Your comments always have so much thought in them.

Pohanginapete: I marked your wonderful quote from John Gill in my journal. There's not much to climb here on Cape Cod but the dunes--another thing kids love to do.

fred: Four seems to be the year for mad running and scars. Fortunately (or un- (?) I didn't require the brain transplant.)

jordan: "when my body and I weren't strangers" That says it all. Always great to see you here!

Clare Dudman said...

Hi Patry - very evocative tale - just how I felt too when a child, you've captured it perfectly.

I was quite excited when I read this post because I reviewed the book last year when Joanne Harris came to our Literature Festival and the the extraordinary thing is I picked out exactly the same passage! It's here if you're interested...

Patry Francis said...

clare: Thanks for visiting--and for supplying my missing passage! What an amazing coincidence--or maybe not. It's a particularly beautiful and salient passage, especially when accurately quoted. Also enjoyed your review and the interview. This is the first Harris novel I've read, but it's definitely left me hungry for more!

floots said...

i still run (waddle)
after a fashion
and get pleasure from it
i seldom get that elation
my role models aren't kids
i love it when i see a dog
on its own
trotting with a wonderful sense of purpose
but going nowhere special
(all i need is two more legs and the ability to ....
no - let's not go there) :)
good post

Kay Cooke said...

What a great post! Thank you. Love the thoughts expressed.

Zhoen said...

Maybe it was the hard orthopedic shoes, but I never felt that way as a kid. Only when I danced, and I never lost that. I love moving through fast, and I have a broken knuckle, from 3 years ago, to prove it. Innumerable scrapes and bruises too, but I never feel them at the time.

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