Well, except for the rapist.
One of the things that make it possible for me to live in the city is getting out of the city. Here in Philadelphia, I am able to do that without actually leaving. The Fairmont Park system is a huge network of trees, trails and water nestled inside the City of Brotherly Love, and over the years, I have spent countless hours enjoying the quiet solitude of this magical place.
I can recall being nine months pregnant with Number Two, hiking up and down snowy trails with Number One in a backpack and our dog Lucy (who was petrified of heights after a 20 foot nosedive off an icy cliff in that same park) gingerly following behind. Later that Spring, with Number One still in the backpack and Number Two safely ensconced in a front sling, we spent hours, rain or shine, watching the fiddleheads transforming into ferns in the underbrush and quietly hoping the nine-point buck would visit us once again.
Aside from the fact that Number One got frost nip on his cheek that winter, and I had to remove a deer tic from Number Two before he was a month old, the woods were our safe haven from the noise of the city.
Fast-forward a dozen years and you’ll still find me traipsing through the woods, although now that I’m unencumbered by little people, I’m logging in a lot more miles running trails and (with impressive battle scars on my elbows and knees thanks to surprise interactions with roots, rocks and slippery terrain) loving the fact that I can get my exercise, meditation and dose of the wilderness all in one handy package, just blocks from my doorstep.
for the rapist lurking in the woods who recently attacked a woman along the very route that I run. Over the last five or so years, he has violated a handful of women throughout the park and in one even more horrific incident, committed murder.
After a too-short hiatus, he resurfaced a few weeks ago on the two-year anniversary of his last attack. At 6:30 on a busy Tuesday evening, he grabbed a woman runner out of her car, put a gun to her back, dragged her into the woods and raped her.
I really don’t like making decisions based on fear. But I really don’t want to be stupid either. So I have stopped running alone except during the busiest of weekend afternoons. And even then, accompanied by my 96 lb. black lab/German shepherd body guard, Jake, I am hyper-aware of my surroundings and staying only on the most well traveled trails…because I am afraid, which makes me really, really, really mad.
Fear and anger. Fear and anger. Fear and anger.
Oh, how very zen of me.
Yup. How very zen.
Well, what did I expect? This is life. And life is fraught with things that rock our worlds and move us into places of discomfort and into feelings that we’d rather not feel. And the “zen” part about it comes from staying with the feelings and observing them rather than judging or pushing them away.
Because when we stay present in the discomfort and allow ourselves to just be with the feelings, we give ourselves the opportunity to grow.
This is what happens in meditation… when we sit in meditation we are inevitably faced with emotions that we’d rather not have. Or we become aware of parts of ourselves that we’d rather not see. But if instead of suppressing those thoughts or feelings we simply allow them to arise without judgment, acknowledge them for what they are, and then let them go, we move one step closer to awakening.
And we realize that very often, the ugly parts of life are our greatest teachers. The people who irritate us most are our gurus. And the emotions that most freak us out are the ones with which we ought to get intimate.
What I love about My Woods is that I could run for hours and see few, if any people. I could forget that I was in the sixth largest city in the United States and just groove to the sound of the wind in the trees and the waterfall in the distance.
But what I love about My Community is that people are forming meet-up groups to walk, run or bike together. And what I love about My Life is that I have a best girlfriend who loves to run in the woods as much as I do—AND who laughs at all (OK, most) of my jokes.
Yet I am still afraid. And I am still angry.
But I’m not alone. And that’s super cool.
So for now, I’m allowing myself to feel the fear and the anger while I work on letting it dissolve. And in addition to exercising my body, I am working on exercising compassion—for the victims of these terrible incidents, for our community, for myself and (on a good day) for the perpetrator.
(And, by the way, here’s a link to a previous post that offers more insight on fear and also includes a handy-dandy breathing exercise…)