• Aarik Danielsen

Nightrunning

The revelation hour begins around 7:30 or 8 p.m.


My son fades into sleep, and I retreat in slide and song. Eyes fixed forward, never turning my back on the oceans of anxiety and movement inside a 7-year-old, I inch across the floor and out of the room.


As I do, I wrap my baritone around the hits of Bryan Adams, Don Henley and Peter Gabriel. Their songs occupied the radio when I was his age; their words somehow remain caught in the nets of my mind. I rely on these memories, on songs I can start and finish. This way, I write no rests into my nightly lullaby, afraid a break in the sound will break the spell.

His door closes with the slight click of a tired knob and, moments later, I lace up worn running shoes. For the next 45 minutes, my feet will sweep the sidewalks of my neighborhood, brushing imperceptible patterns across the concrete.


Some people require the sandy footing of a beach or relish trails carved through the woods. My heart pulls my body toward these landscapes often, satisfying the inborn need to run wild. But necessity sends me out into the night, tallying most of my miles on sidewalks that crack and bulge or within the narrow confines of bike lanes.

When I run, my faith in humanity—and my sense of place within it—returns.

Homes, like giant lanterns lit up from inside, read select phrases from the stories they encompass. They skip words and whole pages to preserve their secrets but, for just a few strides, I ask questions of the lives lived there.


My imagination invents lovers during the prelude to entanglement; children turning up music behind sullen, slammed doors, just dying to feel heard; couples who’ve known each other 40 years yet feel untethered, each inch between them a mile; creators seizing a few quiet moments to deliberate a poem’s end or a painting’s beginning.


Some homes reveal more. From wide windows, TV screens display moving pictures like installations in a modern art museum. Monday Night Football, video-game missions, cable’s usual suspects and talking heads—all clues to mood and virtue.


Political signs stake their claims in lawns, some manicured and others overlooked. In my neighborhood, these messages offer more assurance than alarm; my body in motion benefits from the relieved breaths I take in the presence of Black Lives Matter markers. Other signs endorse lawn-care and construction businesses with catchphrases in block letters; for-sale notices whisper that life turns over, that people go somewhere.


More awake than I am the rest of the day, I look up and out now, not around. God pastes a beacon moon against shifting bars of clouds. Trees hang overhead, casting different shapes at night; their shadows split the difference between poetry and geometry.


Near Christmas, other lights appear to warm me from the outside in. They blink out a Morse code that resembles “Peace on Earth, goodwill to men.” But the translation suffers from a few burned-out bulbs and the context 11 other months create.


As I run, podcasters converse between my ears. They tell me of the latest arthouse movie or how spin rates change a pitcher’s fortune. They introduce me to characters in stories I might never know otherwise, stranger yet more true than those I composed just a few footfalls ago.

My right foot cries “please,” then my left foot carries me past answers to my appeals.

Loving your neighbor as yourself—hell, learning to love yourself a little more—asks you to know where your neighbor lives, to grow acquainted with what your neighbor sees and senses. Such a critical commandment, second only to divine love, means stepping past their stories—even if you start with more curiosity and concrete than answers.


Those 45 minutes restore so much of what is sucked away in the 12-14 hours prior. Social media stokes the consuming fires of competition. The news of today casts doubt over what will happen tomorrow. Emails pour in like rain beating against an old tin roof. Imposter syndrome waits around every blind corner, ready to throw a sucker-punch.


But when I run, my faith in humanity—and my sense of place within it—returns. Ever thankful for a crowded life, I know running at night, not through an early morning or open afternoon, readies me body and soul for another morning’s mercies.


We pray for miracles, for God to create melodrama, overhauling our world and restoring our sight of him. More often, he provides means. My right foot cries “please,” then my left foot carries me past answers to my appeals.

If only for the length of a few miles, the light shines in the darkness and isn’t overcome.

Running toward, not away from, my neighbors can’t solve everything. My joints absorb reality as I circumnavigate women walking ahead of me; the testimonies of friends make me keenly aware of the threat even my slight male body implies. I sense the distance between myself and neighbors of color on rare autumn evenings when I pull my running hoodie over my head, drawing the strings of privilege tight.


Even still, night running keeps my soul. I see evidence, however faint, that radiance interrupts and blesses the night. If only for the length of a few miles, the light shines in the darkness and isn’t overcome.


I’m no fool. I make the final turn back home, leaving other houses and lives behind. I know the lights will go out, but not all at once. Thanks be to God.



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