After I’d been running regularly for several months I still often had days where I could hardly bear to bother. One cold December morning in Georgia (it seemed cold then–I’ve lived in New England for 2 years today and I’d probably think it was shirtsleeve weather now) I felt that way, but I was in a good groove of soldiering on through. No matter how unappetizing a run might seem, I was going to do it, regardless. So I did.
I ran mostly on trails then and by the time I was a mile in to the run I was feeling a little better, but still blah, unenthused. Then I passed from where those woods close in like fairytale thickets hiding monsters to a broad stretch of trail where you can see pretty far through the trees. I was listening to “One Day Like This” by Elbow, at the time (see above, a really fine performance). I turned a bend in the trail, and 20 feet away stood a white-tailed deer.
I stopped, and for an immeasurable moment, the deer and I regarded at each other. I was breathing heavily, my breath clouding the air in front of me. Then the deer snorted, wheeled and bounded away, majestic leaps through the woods until it faded into the dim. Right about that point, in my earbuds, “One Day Like This” launched into the big chorus, “Throw those curtains wide/One day like this a year would see me right…”
I began to laugh. A strange, surprised gout of laughter that welled up from my center. Tears streamed from my eyes. And I began to run again, faster than I’d probably run in years, laughing and crying all the way. I sailed over roots I’d worried about tripping over and busting my face. I bounded up hills, ping-ponging along the sides of gullies the rain had carved in the center of the trail.
I looked crazier than a shithouse rat and it felt wonderful, even though I would’ve likely scared anyone who passed me then.
I still can’t entirely make sense of the moment, either. Because absolutely nothing actually happened, yet I will never forget it.
It was also a really schmaltzy experience. I knew that right away. I have a maudlin streak a mile long and I always have, and I find it embarrassing. But in that moment I was in thrall to the feeling and I didn’t care. I posted about it on Facebook later and I think my post was kind of, “I know, I know, corny old Steve…” I sold it short, sounded like I was writing it off.
But you know what? Hell yes, I can be corny. That was a corny, cheesy, inspirational poster of an experience. It was exactly the sort of inner wellspring of joy kind of moment I thoroughly enjoy joking about when I write tweets parodying a typical Twitter “life coach” on @LIFECOACHERS.
That cold morning moment taught me that there’s something to be said for corniness, for schmaltz. It’s worth joking about, sure–but there are times it happens to you, and when it does, it’s actually far more powerful than any airbrushed or photoshopped high-res poster with a bullshit “inspirational” saying could ever begin to convey.
That encounter was nothing and everything at once. It was a turning point, somehow. In hindsight, it feels like I passed some sort of milestone, and after the explosion of emotion that had me suddenly half-flying along the trail with joy, I was a little different.
It also taught me that you don’t have to be rock-ribbed believer in some higher power to suddenly experience the sacred. You can be muddling along, worried about the noises your stomach is making or that twinge in your knee, and something will happen that transforms it all, entirely.
My defense of schmaltz is this–whatever it is, it’s about feeling, and feeling deeply, to your core. No one should ever be sheepish about that. As for me, I’m never going to be tired of that Elbow song, nor afraid to let an amazing feeling bubble up and over, when it comes. That morning it was just that deer and me and the quiet, listening woods and I didn’t stop for a moment to worry about what was coming out of me. I’m grateful it happened. I almost feel lucky that I can’t help but be schmaltzy.