Running, like for the pure sake of running, is about my least favorite form of exercise. But what I do like about it is that it gives me a chance to free my mind, literally “get away,” and not think about anything but my breathing and my surroundings and whatever I want.
Recently, I moved to a new city, and my new house is walking/running distance from a local college. I often can’t sneak away to exercise until after dark, and I find that on these nights my path frequently leads to this college campus.
And that’s probably not a coincidence.
No matter how late I go, you see, there are always lights on in the upper offices. Usually just one or two. But that kind of adds to it, somehow. The solitary component. They are alone and I am alone and we are together in our communal solitude.
Because of the angle, looking up several stories, all I can see as I jog by are top bookshelves (deliciously full of books), maybe part of a diploma or two, some plants (possibly), and usually at least a couple interesting-looking souvenirs (from what I imagine are exotic travels).
I hardly ever, if ever, see anyone in these offices. But I know they are in there, and I always imagine that they are doing the most fascinating and creative things: writing novels, exchanging correspondence with far-distant, like-minded scholars (usually, in my mind anyway, in romance languages, in handwriting like calligraphy on expensive and old-looking stationery), reciting poetry, memorizing sonnets. Never mind that they could be just grading mediocre student papers, or playing Solitaire, or maybe they are not even in there at all, and the cleaning crew has simply turned on the light to grab the trash can. I don’t let these latter possibilities sully my imagination’s drifting.
As I continue my run, there are classrooms too, with lights on too, and here I experience a new kind of jealousy. I always imagine that whatever they are learning in there is enlightening and exciting, and that, as an outsider, passing unhearingly, unparticipatingly by, I am missing out on something special. But I keep running in sweet melancholic reverie.
Why do I feel like I feel? Well, I have always felt this way. I can remember walking home from the library or a late class, when I was myself in college, and seeing similar lonely lights, similar late-night classes, and feeling much the same way I do now. I have never needed the passage of time to experience nostalgia; I can experience it instantly, prospectively even.
These late night runs remind me of my own experience, remind me of other nostalgic passings by. They remind me of what I want to be doing and what my hindsight misses and loves and probably doesn’t perfectly remember. I do hope that, at least sometimes, in those late and lonely hours, there is someone in there thinking creative, magical thoughts and feeling happy and fulfilled and excited and passionately, invigoratingly hopeful.
And I bet, at least sometimes, there is.