An excerpt from "Til Death Do Us Part?" available from Kindle, or the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com
Dolores came into my world around 1979 when she began to participate in the non-profit organization (WTI) I’d been working with. At the time, Dolores was starting a business selling food storage systems for emergencies, and she contacted the president of our non-profit because of their interest in all aspects of survival. We had many points of common interest, and she became more involved in the classes and activities of our non-profit.
By September 1980, as her birthday was approaching, she decided that she’d try doing the “birthday run,” an activity devised by the founder of the non-profit.
Briefly, the birthday run involves going to a local track on your birthday, and running one lap for each year of your life. Friends join in the run at the year when they met you. The runner mentally reviews each year of their life as they run each corresponding lap. A circular track is ideal because you can mentally divide the track into month or seasonal divisions to help you remember what happened month by month as you run. One would also write brief notes during the run to record significant memories. It is not about running, per se, but about remembering and reviewing your life. Afterwards, it is traditional to take a hot “memory bath” and to then share one’s insights and goals for the year with gathered friends.
I was asked a day earlier if I’d be willing to go with Dolores and run with her. Since I met Dolores only a year or so earlier, I had not planned to run with her until she’d already run her first 33 laps, and then I planned to run only her 34th lap with her.
Late in the afternoon on October 2, I went to the Eagle Rock High School track where Dolores planned to run. It was around 4 p.m., and it was dark and overcast, and seemed much later than it was. When I arrived, I expected to see a group from our non-profit there, but only Dolores was there.
“Where is everyone?” I asked her.
“I don’t know,” said Dolores. “I don’t know if anyone else was planning to run,” she said as both a statement and question.
“Oh,” I said dumbly.
“Look,” continued Dolores. “I don’t really know if I can even do this. I haven’t been running much and I don’t feel in shape.”
I encouraged Dolores to try the run anyway.
“Why not just do at least a few laps – review a few years of your life, and just see how it goes,” I said encouragingly.
Dolores was quiet, obviously thinking about it. Then she said, “OK.”
We waited a few more minutes, and after no one else arrived, we went into the school yard.
I explained to Dolores that she should pick a starting point that would correspond to October, and then she should try to divide the lap into 12 monthly sections, so she would know where she was in each year of her life as she ran.
“At the very least,” I explained, “divide the lap into the four seasons, so you can try to remember what you were doing in the fall, winter, spring, and autumn of each year.”
“OK,” responded Dolores. She decided that the southern end of the track where we’d entered would be January, the beginning of each year. We then walked to a point that Dolores called October, and she put her water bottle on the benches by the edge of the track.
“Why don’t you run with me?” asked Dolores. “I don’t really expect to finish, so you might as well run and I can ask you questions if I have any.” That wasn’t the normal protocol, but I figured it would be OK if she was asking me. Plus, it would be cold just sitting on the benches for her first 33 laps.
“OK,” I said, and Dolores began her slow running around the Eagle Rock High School track. I ran to her right and slightly behind, and didn’t say much.
By the second lap – age two – Dolores began to relate incidents in her life. Where she grew up, what her mother was doing, getting lost as a child and having a policeman on a motorcycle take her home, growing up in Altadena, things about her sister.
She ran steadily and talked in a low voice as if narrating the scenes of some inner vision. She asked me one question about how to run, and I told her that this was not about running technique, only about getting fully into the details of reliving her life.
There was a slight pause about age 20 or so, as Dolores drank a longer drink of her water, and jotted a few notes with a small flashlight. It was fully dark by this time, and the track was completely empty.
Dolores continued to run, and related her various world travels – going to Germany to live with her husband, her daughter Barbara, getting divorced, traveling to Hawaii, to Virginia Beach, to Colorado, and her various spiritual pursuits. I was hearing a lot of these details for the first time, so it was all new to me. I listened, thinking to myself, what a fantastic life this woman has had!
We were getting to the end and she spoke of how the est training changed her life, and how she wanted to start her own “survival food” business and travel around the country marketing it to communes and ordinary folks. She got to the point where she met the folks at our non-profit, and before you knew it, her run was over.
“Wow,” said Dolores when she was done. “I didn’t believe I could have done it without you.” “What?” I thought to myself. I only ran along with her, and didn’t realize that my being there gave her the needed support to do her own running.
Dolores jotted down some more notes in her notebook, and we both departed.
I presume Dolores went to her home and did a hot “memory bath” by herself. There was no gathering for Dolores that night – it was a weekday and someone else determined that the weekend would be a better time for a gathering.
On the weekend, I went to the birthday gathering for Dolores where she shared some of her life review, and some goals. It was quite interesting to hear many of her life’s details again, though she shared only the highlights of those things that impressed her the most.
“I didn’t think I could do the run, but it helped to have Christopher run with me,” she said in her shy way of thanking me. It made me feel good to know that what I thought was merely my passive presence had a significant positive influence on someone. On Dolores. It was the beginning of my feeling close to Dolores, and the beginning of our life paths co-mingling.
Though I had already done the birthday run for a few years, it was only that night that I learned the birthday run was one of the methods designed to assist in reviewing one’s life. In our non-profit organization, there was much focus on reviewing what had just occurred, whether it was a critique of an event we’d just done, or the review of what just went wrong on a desert field trip, or our annual New Year’s Eve “year review.” Participants in our weekly spiritual studies classes were also advised to carefully review their day each night before sleep, and determine what was done right, and what needed rectification.
These methods of review, including the birthday run, were designed to assist us in living a better and more fulfilling life, with great cogency. But this also helped us to deal with, and to prepare for, death. I had not been aware of this facet of the birthday run until that night’s discussion after Dolores’ birthday.
Though “preparing for death” and “thinking about death” may seem dark and negative to some folks, we never saw it that way. Such discussions invariably led us to constantly ponder the consequences of each action, day by day. Far from a dark and gloomy topic, our constant concern with The Law of Thought and the consequences of our actions led us to – in most cases – make better choices for a fuller and more fulfilling life. Since death was, and is, inevitable, we choice to not ignore it, but to make our awareness of it a constant fixture in our daily life.