Two nights ago, I decided to go for a run. The night was hot and thick like summer nights are in the Midwest. You can smell and taste and feel the air around you like a wet, too-warm heavy blanket. The moon was as close to full as I could remember seeing it. The kids were in bed, my wife was on the computer, and I had the next however-long-I-chose to myself. I headed out of the neighborhood and up a hill along a running trail that cuts past the park, between a main-ish street and a golf course. Traffic was light. In the first few minutes of such a run, I usually don’t think about much of anything. I’m still unwinding and getting into a rhythm, my body and mind loosening up together. But tonight my thoughts were heavy, and I could not shake or outrun them.
I was thinking about humanity, and what it means be a human being alive on this planet among other human beings. Like a real-time fable unfolding, I encountered people along the way that fell in perfect line with my train of thought. About a mile in, I looked up and saw a girl running towards me from the opposite direction. Even from a distance, from her gait and bearing, I could tell she was a runner. A real runner. As our paths crossed, she smiled in that cheerful, breathy way that passing joggers do, like co-conspirators smug in the shared secret of how happy and free it feels to be out and running at night, the joke on everyone else still at home on their couches.
Seeing this girl, happy and carefree, I wanted to feel that way. Like all was right with the world. If she could do it, I could do it.
Still, as I continued my run, continued to think, I found myself, almost without even realizing I was doing it, paying more attention to the cars around me, who was inside them, whether they were looking at me, whether they were slowing or speeding as they approached.
About halfway into my run, I passed what I determined to be a father and son, the son a few years younger than me, the father about my own dad’s age. They were deep in conversation, but paused to say hello as I went by. Because someone out running poses no harm, it’s a healthy and admirable pursuit. They were both in shorts, both in flip-flop sandals, the son in a t-shirt, the father in (and I’m not sure why this stood out to me) a short-sleeved, button-down shirt, with all the buttons undone, presumably against the heat. I could see his chest and abdomen, and tan skin, and thin white-gray tufts of hair. This made his reality, his mortality, his humanity somehow very poignant and apparent for me. From their body language and tone of voice, I could tell their topic of discussion was serious. But they seemed very happy and comfortable with one another. I pictured the father giving the son advice, though I overheard very little in the seconds it took me to pass them. I could be completely wrong. But it seemed very right and good, and made me happy despite the somber mood I had left the house in.
I turned back, and headed for home. And I was going fast. Pushing myself. Going a little bit faster than my normal pace. I was going too fast, pushing too hard. Going faster, pushing harder than I could possibly maintain. But I maintained. I ignored my body’s screaming for me to stop. Because I was mad at myself. Because despite what a tough guy I like to think I am, and how I act very much like nothing could ever scare me, I had been scared to leave my house.
Earlier that day, I had read about Christopher Lane. A college kid, 23 I think, who, like me, had decided he wanted to go out for a run. The most normal, natural, unthreatening thing in the world. But he never came back. Because three other kids decided they were so bored that driving by and shooting a completely random stranger in the back was better than suffering through even one more monotonous moment of being a teenager on summer break in America.
I just can’t process that.
Already the pundits are trying to make this a political thing or a race thing or a parenting thing. I have no interest in any of that. For me, I just see it as a humanity thing. A living on this planet thing. What would possess someone to do that to someone else for no other reason than the hope of a brief reprieve from boredom?
The ever-jaded internet audience is already yapping about how hundreds of thousands of incidents just like this happen all the time, why talk about this one? Isn’t that exactly opposite of the position they should be taking? This stuff happens so often that there is no point in talking or thinking or worrying about it? WHAT???
When I was a kid, I would get on my bike in the summer and disappear for hours. There weren’t any cell phones. I would be miles from my house. From a practical standpoint, no one knew where I was. If I was ever bored, I don’t remember it. I got into trouble from time to time, sure. But nothing like this. Nothing even remotely like this ever crossed my mind. What happened? What went wrong in these kids’ lives that made this seem right or okay or like any kind of solution?
Who is responsible for boredom? Who is responsible for a seemingly growing generation of human beings who place so little value on human life that they would throw one away for a few moments of boredom-curing kicks?
I have no answers. We should, as human beings, be able to leave our homes without fear, to let our kids play outside without constant worry that something could happen in the middle of the day in our own front yard. I should be able to run down the street, any time of night or day, without any worry that the car slowing down behind me as I turn back into my neighborhood is doing anything other than coming home late from work, or asking for directions, and not that they are going to keep me from ever seeing my family again for absolutely no reason at all.
It makes me sad and it makes me sick. But I’m not going to stop running.