Doing the Birthday run, 2016
Since 1977, I have done something called a Birthday Run, taught to me by my mentor as a better and more uplifting way to commemorate one’s birthday. Originally, I would go to a local track and run one lap per year as I recalled the highlights of that year. Some years I have run alone, and some years I have run with friends who chose to come and support the run. I have run in the dark, in the rain, in the fog, and on sunny days. One or two years I did not run at all because I was sick, and it wasn’t the same when I ran a week later. And over the years, my “laps” have grown shorter, otherwise I would be running those slow laps for several hours and would have trouble walking for days after.
This year I ran alone – other than an occasional hawk and one coyote -- and I found my lap in the bottomlands of the Arroyo Seco. It was quiet and eerily peaceful as I continued the cycles through my life, replaying the mental movie of each year after each year, going to school, moving around, and my interactions with various people.
My mind began to look at the financial side of my life, and perhaps, more specifically, the non-financial side to my life. Perhaps this was because of the current PowerBall game where so many were talking about nothing else but what they’d do if they suddenly had all that money. I realized that I too could do so much more, so much more quickly, if I had a few spare million in the bank, maybe.
As I ran through my years, I realized that I operated mostly in financial ignorance, and in a financial fairy-land. Yes, money was always an element, and yes, money was often the limiting factor in so many endeavors. Money was like oxygen – you just had to have it. But I think, like most people, my school and family discussions were wholly insufficient as any sort of real financial training for dealing with the real world. I moved from activity to activity based on my areas of interest, and when money was needed, I got it – somehow – or I curtailed the activity.
But because of my financial ignorance, I found other ways to pursue my goals, ways that seemed more difficult at the time, but which were actually more wholistic ways to pursue my life’s interests. Without a car, I often bicycled, and formed friendships so that several of us could travel together. If I wanted to attend workshops or field trips, I learned that I could convince my friends that they’d want to attend also, and invariably, someone had a car.
And I discovered and lived my life utilizing so many of the low-cost and free benefits of our modern society: buses, public libraries, public recreation centers, free hiking in the local mountains, free lectures, clubs and organizations where people just got together and did things. Eventually, somewhat fortuitously and almost by accident, I was a squatter for a year and a half on an acre property on the edge of Los Angeles. It was quite an adventure. I learned how to live well cheaply, and I learned how to solicit individual investors in my book and other projects.
I am sure I would have done a lot of this very differently had I been born into wealth, but as I looked back, I realized that I learned some very important lessons by simply finding solutions to life’s problems without being able to just “throw money at it.”
That was one theme that went through my mind this year. Another was relationships.
By my age, one has had many relationships, and many types of relationships. In my mind, a mental movie played of the various people in my life and how I treated them: mother, father, friends, teachers, girl friends, wives, business associates. When I do this annual run, I am looking for what I did right, but mostly what I did wrong so that I can do it better next time around. I felt great pain at the many things I did wrong as an arrogant child talking back to my parents and not obeying. It doesn’t matter that others were worse – I was evaluating myself only. And no, my parents were not perfect either. But I felt great joy that I was able to take precious time in my mother’s, and my father’s, final days and become their friend and speak to them as equals. It was very challenging, but very fulfilling.
I also spent a lot of time reviewing my 22 married years with Dolores – the trips, our animals, our self-sufficient home, our accomplishments, our fights, our disagreements, our agreements. We had our ups and downs, and though I was not perfect, I realized I could not have been perfect. I was living life, trying to make ends meet, and trying to be a good husband with all the challenges of life that conspire against us. In the end, when Dolores was dying, I was able to experience a rare time of caring for her when she could do so little. We became inseparable, and best friends, and it was as if all our conflicts dissolved. And then she died and I felt plunged into darkness. And then there were other challenges, and tasks, and relationships.
I thought about a few very special people who I never see anymore, and still felt so blessed that we had the time together that we did, and I wished each one the greatest happiness.
Remember, I tried to recall what was going on in my life, year by year as I ran a large lap in the sand in the dimming light of the late afternoon. I am sure I mixed up some years, but in the end, it is the learning that matters.
My two lessons were that while money is important, and you must earn it, it is a good goal to pursue whatever one feels compelled to pursue in life without focusing upon money. Yes, it seems unrealistic, but it actually can change the quality and character of what we do.
And secondly, I realized that relationships are the most important aspect of life, and you have a good life when you maintain good relationships, however you do that. This does not mean you are always laughing and happy. It means that you deal with others honestly and with the integrity that the close ones in your life deserve.
I know I have not been perfect, and I feel blessed to have been guided to begin this birthday tradition nearly 40 years ago. In just a few hours, I review my life and tried to figure out if what I have done was worth doing. By honestly assessing my self in that way, it helps me to determine what is worth doing – and not doing – this year, and into the future.