The Check Engine light of my beloved 2001 Toyota Corolla had been on for just over a week. Having learned a lesson for which my checking account still undoubtedly harbors a grudge against me, that you should NEVER ignore that accusatory little neon light for too long, I took the afternoon off from work and took Rocky (yes, he has a name; I figure for all the miles we’ve shared, he deserves one) for a visit to the mechanic. Side note: why oh why are more mechanics not open on weekends??
Anyway, three and a half hours later, I had finished the book I brought to read, polished off a Pepsi, gotten more than my fill of afternoon TV, and ceased trying to get comfortable on the unnecessarily deep sofa. I paid the bill (diagnosis: worn-out oxygen sensor) and although not quite high enough to incur towering wrath from my bank account, it was certainly enough to cause tension in our relationship.
When I got home, I told myself that I needed either a cold beer or a good run. Per my habit, I picked up the mail before heading inside. I hoped for something other than junk and bills to take my mind off the glum probability that I’ll have to replace a car I’ve seriously bonded with.
And there it was – a flat cardboard envelope from my mom. What could this be? Not magazines; too small. Not a letter or card; too wide. Somewhat distracted from the automobile blues, I carried the mystery mail inside and carefully slit the envelope’s edge. There inside were pictures of my five-year-old niece and brand new nephew, memories captured during a recent family gathering.
Just like that: my own personal Check Engine light. A small, bright, insistent signal that may be easy to brush off but shouldn’t be brushed off, ever. Something that says, “Pay attention to what’s important and take care of it, or risk untold costs in the future.”
Giving myself a light mental slap upside the head, I decided it was definitely time for a run. Cold beer always tastes better afterwards, anyway. I decided to make that run one of appreciation. I picked one of my favorite routes, and I consciously tried to keep in mind everything and everyone I’m grateful for: my niece and nephew who are both healthy and almost absurdly adorable; my mom who cared enough to send those photos; the congenial springtime weather; the fact that I wasn’t sitting on that uncomfortable lobby couch anymore; my ability to run, period.
Now don’t sit there rolling your eyes. I’m a new convert to the “stay present” mindset of running, so this really was a conscious undertaking. I found myself continually reeling my thoughts back to the right place: “My legs are tired from yesterday’s run” – bring it back, Shannon. “It’d be great if this wind would settle down, or at least blow at my back” – bring it back, Shannon. “Why do there have to be so many stinking mountain bikers tearing all over the trail, and would it be so wrong to put a stick in their spokes??” — bring it BACK.
Funny, I’ve been running for 15 years and just now I’m changing my attitude. I don’t want to just go through the motions. I want to run through problems or bad moods instead of settling into a snit, snapping at people, reaching for a beer, or snuggling up to some Ben & Jerry’s (although certain occasions do call for ice cream, STAT, no questions). I want to go on my runs and come back a better person.
It worked today, at least – I finished my run firm in the knowledge that there is more in life to be grateful for than there is to be upset about.
Thank God for Check Engine lights.