Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lima: Running and being still

LIMA, Peru – One early morning in Lima I was running around a part of the San Isidro neighborhood (which has more policemen on bicycles per capita than anywhere I’ve ever been) when I came upon an old man standing on a street corner. As I passed him, he raised his knees up and down and moved his arms back and forth, mimicking my motion as a runner. He wasn’t moving. He was still.

I laughed, he saluted me, and it got me thinking about how being still was really important – even connected to a run.

This may sound odd, but when I think of running I break it down to many components. There is the start with some aches and the immediate adjustment to the weather outside, hot or cold. There’s finding my pace. There’s thinking about the day or people or something that just happened. And then there’s stillness – no thoughts -- in my mind as I run. I don’t know why and it’s not like being in a trance. But there is an absence of thought at times, and I enjoy it.

That’s not all for running and stillness. There are two other ways this happens to me.

One is quite literal: I am still when I stop due to traffic (I always welcome the break) or by choice when I see something so interesting I stop to check it out (this is rare).

But I did stop in a San Isidro park after I passed the old guy running in place. On the edge of the grass, the city has set up several small informational plaques about the birds in the neighborhood. I studied the photos of the Amazonian hummingbird, the Saffron finch, the Blue-black Grassquit, among a few dozen illustrations. And then I listened to the loud calls and the overwhelming number of doves or pigeons cooing to each other.

I saw some Blue-black Grassquits as I made my way around and even was lucky later to even to see a Saffron finch (an all-yellow bird with a slight orange tinge near the head of a male). Unfortunately, the hummingbirds stay out of sight.

I also stopped during my runs around Lima to take in small acts of beauty. People in the capital, from the poor neighborhoods to the more upscale ones, love to plant small gardens in front of their homes. Often they plant roses. The city even puts flower boxes on the exterior walls of some parking garages. Roses and cars: I never imagined the two together. (See the photo at the top of the post).  

The second experience of stillness happens at the end of almost all my runs. I do some stretching exercises that I learned from an acu-therapist in Miami some 20 years ago that I still use for my lower back and muscles around my neck and shoulders, and then I lie down and assume the corpse pose used in yoga.

I focus on my breathing and that cuts out all the noises around me. I am still. I experience a moment of peace; I collect myself. I generally feel ready for the day.

I am so still that passers by sometimes gasp. Some even shout out, “Are you OK?” They think I have passed out, or worse. On these occasions, I raise my head (sometimes startling them even more) and I assure them that I am well. I tell them, I am just being still.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Running in Lima: Loving baby Jesus

            LIMA, Peru – Here, when I run, I cross myself.

It’s not the danger of getting more blood clots in my legs (although that will worry me for quite some time). It’s not the fear of getting hit by a car. It’s not the pollution. Rather, it’s the number of Jesus statues and Nativity scenes everywhere.

Fifteen days after Christmas, Christmas is going strong in Lima.

The Christmas lights are still strung all over this vast city, up and down palm trees, on light poles, on hotel fronts, on city signs, and, of course, around all the manger scenes – the thousands of manger scenes, most of them with flashing colored lights forming an unnatural border.

The truth is, there is no greater love here than the love for baby Jesus, and I saw that firsthand over the weekend at the National Children’s Hospital, where outside the children’s tuberculosis ward over the weekend the staff held their traditional (and sad) ceremony to take down the manger.

They called out for everyone on the ward to witness the scene. Children with TB who could walk came out. The staff and their children filed around. Doctors, nurses, and family members all gathered around. 

Two things happened. One was that everyone was invited to take out one of the 300 figures in the manger scene (from tiny lambs to large cows to the very heavy statues of Mary and Joseph) and then to put a coin in a collection box.

The second was that the baby Jesus could not just be simply packed away.

No, baby Jesus would linger outside the cardboard box that held all the other figures. He was passed from nurse to nurse, child to child, doctor to doctor. The nurses, though, didn’t want to let him go. They cradled him in their arms like he was the baby Jesus, kissing him on the forehead, whispering words of prayer, squeezing him to their bosoms, some shedding tears, and ever so reluctantly and carefully passing the baby to another’s arms, and the whole loving baby Jesus started over again. I stood in awe.

            I know this is a running blog. And I’ll write about the running in Lima in the next post. For now, the reverence for the meaning of the season, the birth of Jesus, is more than enough for me. I don’t think I’ll look at a manger scene the same ever again.