Long Walks On Leafy Streets

12/31/2021 Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC    
Thoughts about India -- part 4.

It has been three months since I last wrote on these pages. Time flies when you are busy. Between classes -- one of them online and the other in person -- and taking care of Prashant and my parents, the fall season just hurried past me before I could get a chance to write about it. One thinks that it shouldn't be so hard to find a couple of hours every week or even every other week, but it doesn't work that way. Now it is winter although it still doesn't quite feel like it.

The other day Prashant asked me when it is going to snow. We usually get our first snow around thanksgiving. We have had a few flurries but are yet to wake up to a morning with the world covered in snow. For more than three-fourths of last month the temperatures were much above average. It saddens me to think of the world we are leaving for our children.
Nevertheless I am very optimistic by nature and I hope / believe that due to the combined effort of so many people we will protect the planet from the worst case effects of climate change. There are indicators, especially on the technological innovation side, that this could be the case. Nicole and I recently saw the movie ''Don't look up." It is a story of the times we are in and the general state of American society that allows for disinformation to flourish, the fires of division being stoked by a combination of narrow corporate interests and cynical politics. While the movie is superficially about a comet hurtling towards earth, it is also an allegory of climate change denial. I hope it wakes up people but doesn't depress them so much that they lose hope. I think it will do the former because it has been made with a light touch and there is humor throughout the movie, even when the credits roll at the end.

This is also the time of Covid. What we hoped would be a period of collective relief and getting back to normal life has not turned out to be the case, especially with the persistence of vaccine resistance among a section of the population and the emergence of Omicron. We ourselves cancelled plans to visit Nicole's mom and brother in Philadelphia. We have been spending the holidays mostly staying home. I guess it would take several years to really get back to the way things were. In the meantime, we can be grateful for the vaccines, for being able to go to work and for our children to go to school. We have been blessed by the fact that Prashant has turned out to be very knowledgeable and cautious about everything. He can go all day with his mask on, including while playing. I feel suffocated after an hour of wearing it!

We did go to Philadelphia for Thanksgiving. During that visit I ran the Philadelphia marathon. They had cancelled the Marine Corps Marathon again this year because the Corps have a higher standard when it comes to safety measures. We stayed at a hotel near the starting point. The race started at 7.30 and I got up before five in the morning to get ready. I was all keyed up for this year's marathon because it had been two years since the last time I ran one. I ran the Marine Corps race every year from 2016 to 2019. Normally after the marathon I take a break for a few weeks from running. But because there was no race last year, I have been running at least 20 miles almost every week since November of 2019. Everything seemed to be working well this year. The training, the speed, the nutrition, the lack of serious injuries all pointed towards a good race. I was feeling mentally very good also. I have been meditating more and generally feeling more relaxed. Nevertheless I had a sneaking suspicion that my fitness levels were down a bit because of spending a lot of time in front of the computer during this pandemic.

The race started near the art museum and wound through the downtown areas passing by some of the landmarks. They had cordoned off the race area allowing only runners to enter, and all runners were required to show proof of vaccination. I really enjoyed running through Philadelphia and the crowds were wonderful, especially in the Manayunk neighborhood. The temperature was close to 40 degrees and while I had been running in cold weather, in DC it had been a few degrees warmer. As we ran through Fairmont Park and the area around the zoo around the halfway mark I started feeling fatigue. By the 20 mile mark my pace was down quite a bit and I was going on willpower alone. Nevertheless running along the Schuylkill river with everybody was a wonderful experience. I finished in 4 hours and 6 minutes but at the end it felt disappointing considering what I was hoping for.

The race ended where it started, near our hotel. Nicole and Prashant met me near the finishing area and I felt great joy. Looking back, I feel that given the circumstances it was probably one of my better races. Having reached the middle part of my life I often look back at my life itself, starting in India and now continuing in America. What sort of race have I run, I wonder. I sometimes compare my life with that of other friends who have been on this journey with me, in India and here. Time keeps rolling on relentlessly. I wonder if I would finish this race, whatever that means.

Lately, I have been feeling a lot better about these questions. I am still far from where I would like to be, but am feeling much better about how I have run the race of life. For this I am grateful to the spiritual training that I got from my parents and teachers in India, as well as from friends and teachers here. Thich Nhat Hanh often says ''Nirvana is being completely in the present moment." That is starting to make more sense. Our notion of time is really based on our memory of what happened and our dreams and worries for the future. If we remove those two things, even for a moment, and stay completely in that moment, then time loses its transient nature and becomes something eternal. It is our identifying with the impermanent things that makes life feel so fleeting. If we could identify with the infinite and eternal spirit or force or principle that underlies the universe, and is also within each of us, then we lose the fear of time. This body and this planet and our lives are all ephemeral, and even our memories and the memories of our children will eventually be washed away by the waves of time and the forces of nature. But I believe there is something permanent beyond those.

One of the books I have read for Prashant is Tolstoy's ''Three Questions." It is a wonderful book for children, and I like to remind him often of the answers: The most important time is now, the most important people are the ones you are with, and the most important thing to do is to help them now. From that point of view I feel like, overall, I have run a good race. I might not have accumulated much fame or wealth or accomplishments in this world, but every moment I have been present to those around me and tried to help them as much as I could.

Directory Previous