One thing you should know about me is that I like to run, but I’m not an amazing runner. I don’t run marathons and I don’t have a runner’s body, but I do run to stay sane and I run to keep myself from drinking and to stay balanced. But in the wake of a recent move to a new neighborhood, I've been running on a treadmill in the workout room instead of running outside—the change has partially been a matter of convenience but also due to the fact that this land is less familiar to me and I do not feel as safe as I should on its streets.
But this morning felt very different, and I was reminded again of the freedom that comes with running hard inside of the wind’s belly, inside of the real world with the sun pressing down on my skull, and I was hoping to learn a little about this new place by giving it some sweat and attention. So instead of taking my body to the gym, I forced my body into the hot morning air and turned toward Folsom, but I immediately felt a pull from the other direction, so I ran toward Highway 16 instead and made my way east to face the sun.
Running running running and snagging my leg on a blackberry bush. Running running running and keeping one eye on the earth and one eye on the cars to my right. Running and feeling my heart swerve as I slow down my steps and silence my breath, my nose caught off-guard and suddenly entangled in decay.
It was a gray fox. Its skull was smashed, and its jaw and tiny teeth were separated from its strong body. Its hind leg lay a few feet away in the gray gravel and its eye socket was black and empty, looking toward some kind of darkness as I stood there looking toward my own.
What is hollow and broken has a way of speaking to me, and as I said a prayer for the little one’s spirit in the way my mother taught me, I couldn’t help but feel the fox speaking back to me—its words were made of slivered bone and matted, blood-soaked fur, but I could hear its voice all the same.
I dragged my heavy body away and slowly began running northeast, but I could feel myself looking back, the fox’s short life trailing behind me, and what could I do then but apologize? I ran harder and harder, and as the earth pushed back with each step, I said in my heart I’m sorry. My people did this. I’m sorry, yet the words did not feel right. I could feel the first leaves of autumn crunching beneath my feet, and they felt right. I could feel the shrillness of crow’s laughter from the telephone wire, and it felt right too. But I’m sorry. My people did this. I’m sorry did not feel right and the apology was not what this world needed. I felt haunted and could sense myself looking back toward the fox’s story and wanting to shove all of its entrails back into its body either with my hands or with words or with setting the whole fucking world on fire so that life could start all over again— this time without humans.
I had to keep running homeward because I have to teach today and I have laundry to do and food to cook and books to know. Life keeps moving forward and backward at the same time, but it is the spirit of that movement that matters, and after encountering the dead fox, the spirit of my movement this morning was palpably heavy with guilt and shame. The sun began feeling oppressive and as I looked into the faces of the people driving by, I felt only hatred welling up inside of me because I’m sorry. My people did this. I’m sorry.
But this isn’t the way the world works. You can’t take a match to the planet and you can’t bring one little fox back to life and you can’t build a life around hatred because, in my experience, that path has a way of swallowing up the person trying to live it and the whole world turns to ashes.
So instead of running with an apology in my heart, I decided to run out of love. Here is love. Here is love from my people to your people. Here is love and my steps began feeling lighter and easier. I started thinking of the foxes who are still alive in their burrows, raising their kits and Here is love. Here is love from my people to your people. Here is love. I began wishing only good things for them and their families and also sending love and gratitude to the dead fox who had momentarily brought strength and grace to this world even in the face of constant violence and impermanence.
I was running and running and I could still feel the fox trailing behind me as I passed barking dogs and foreclosed homes but I no longer felt haunted. I no longer felt like a ghost in my own life because of the shame of what humans sometimes do to other beings, themselves included. Instead, I felt compassion for us all as we wake up together and go to sleep together on this planet so filled with wonder and loss and decay and song and Here is love. Here is love from my people to your people. Here is love.
I kept running when suddenly an old man leaned out of his truck while driving by and yelled out, “Thank you.”
I don’t know why he said it—maybe it’s because I was smiling like a goofball and it made him smile too, or maybe it’s because my ass looks amazing in yoga pants, but whatever his intentions, his message of gratitude right as I was consciously flipping my script from that of shame and hatred to that of love was uncanny and uplifting.
This world is really fucked up. Beings die every day for no good reason. It’s so important to acknowledge this and to stay educated about the details of this, and especially become aware of the institutions and ideologies that perpetuate the countless –isms enabling this.
But it’s equally important to make sure we go about fighting our good fights, whatever they may be, from a space of love and compassion, because the quality and source of this energy is endless as opposed to exhausting. Endless.
I thought I understood this dynamic before and Chela Sandoval’s essay “Love as a Hermeneutics of Social Change, A Decolonizing Movida” (see “Methodologies of the Oppressed”) certainly comes to mind, but sometimes this world has an older way of telling stories. Sometimes praxis is covered in blood and you cannot look the other way. And sometimes you have to go running with dead foxes.