Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My City's Skyline

On Saturday morning when I ran approximately 14 miles, it included a lap around the lake in Druid Hill Park.  I don't always carry my cell phone with me--I certainly didn't when I ran the Boston Marathon--but, that day, I did.  I don't often stop while I am running--I didn't when I ran in the Boston Marathon--but, that day, I did.  And when I do stop it is not often to take pictures, but, the day, I did.  The pictures included the tower in Druid Hill Park and the city skyline in the background in at least one.

This is just one view of the city skyline.  There are others.  The view in the tattoo on my leg is a view looked west along Lexington Street in the mid-1930's.  It was adapted from a photograph in the book, Baltimore Then and Now that the tattoo artist with whom I worked, Emily Sloman, used to help to develop the tattoo image.

Why is this important?  Running the Boston Marathon gives the runner a chance to see many small towns leading up to Boston and to see some of the skyline in Boston in the final approach to the city. Once on Boylston Street, the runner is actually not there for terribly long and is surrounded by tall buildings approaching the finish line.

The images from April 15 that were on television that will be forever remembered are the images right at the finish line that really don't show any of the skyline at all.  And when people hear the names of businesses from which the security cameras took pictures, people can develop a mental image of the business and shopping area.

Since I have returned to Baltimore, I have run almost exclusively in the city with a few of my runs going into the part of Baltimore county that is closest to my home as I run in a large loop. The key here is that regardless of the choice of course (all in the city or partially in the county) they are all familiar.  And that familiarity gives me comfort.  It is a familiarity that lets me say, here is a course I know.  Here is a course I understand.  Here is a course on which I am intimately familiar with the risks.  And the biggest risk I have on most of the courses is twisting my ankle in a pothole and not any sort of terrorist event.  Running places that I know gives me a sense of security.

The security comes, at this point, from referring to Baltimore as "my city".  When we moved here back in 1996, I am not sure that I ever envisioned calling Baltimore my city.  I had spent all my years growing up just outside of Philadelphia thinking of Upper Darby as my home town.  I had watched the evolution of the city's skyline.  But when I went to get the tattoo and had my first conversation with Emily, she asked what I wanted for the background.  She asked where my parents were from--thinking perhaps that they may have been first generation immigrants and that we could end up with a European skyline.  I assured her that my parents were not first generation.  She asked where I was from and I thought about a Philadelphia skyline.  It certainly would have been interesting to think about Independence Hall or William Penn atop City Hall in Philadelphia.  But I focused on Baltimore as the city in which my spirituality (which led me to the tattoo in the first place) had matured.  It is "my city" more than any other city.

What I had not realized at the time but is so important to me now is that Baltimore is not only the city in which my spirituality matured, it is also the city in which my running matured.  It is the city with which I identify my running.  Yes, I have raced in Philadelphia and Sydney, Australia.  Yes, I have runs that I remember from workouts in Chicago and San Francisco.  But, ultimately, Baltimore is home.  And the skyline that Emily portrayed in sepia tones is a wonderful reminder of all that the city and my part in it has meant in my life for almost 17 years now.

While the lake in Druid Hill Park is not the only lake in the city (there is also Lake Montelbello which is also a beautiful silver grey just before sunrise), it is the lake that to me is the most interesting.  The shape of the land around the lake allows a runner to feel a sense of accomplishment from running uphill to reach the side of the lake near the tower.  This is totally different from Montebello where the circle around the lake is pretty flat.  Flat in terms of no rise in elevation although most of the course is titled so that the inside is lower than the outside when running around.

Reaching the top of the hill (albeit a small hill) near the tower, as I said, gives a sense of accomplishment.  Combine that with overlooking the downtown skyline and it is really powerful for me.  Obviously, I cannot see the entire city from there, but when I reach that point, I can say, "Here is where I live.  Here is where I am.  Here is the place I call home."  Taking that forward gives me hope and contentment.  Taking that forward makes me feel like life and running is under control.  Taking that forward points the way to feeling whole in a way that was robbed from me for some time after the Boston Marathon.  Despite finishing.  Despite no injuries to myself.  Despite the fact that I know there were over 200 injuries, 3 deaths, and a town locked down for a day at the end of the week of the marathon and those involved were all worse off than I was, I still felt robbed of all the contentment, security, comfort, and hope that I now have regained for the most part.  And part of regaining it is visiting the same places that I have visited before.  Over and over again.  Noticing the little things.  And feeling the sense of healing that the bring.  

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