I started running when I was thirty years old. I wanted to be an FBI agent and one of the qualifications was to run two miles in under sixteen minutes.
Starting slowly, I eventually worked up to three miles, and then I entered a one-mile run to see if I could do an eight-minute mile. I could.
After that, I settled into a running routine of three miles every morning. Outside of some minor running-related injuries, I kept up that routine for twenty years, until a stress fracture forced me to stop running and switch to walking.
I did not particularly like the running part of running; it was more of a chore that I had to get out of the way before I could start my day. What I did like about running, though, was watching my shadow as I ran.
I have body image issues, and have had them for as long as I can remember. I always saw myself as a large person, “big-boned” was a description I often heard growing up. I used to say I was born a size 12 and grew from there. Big bones, big feet, too tall. Even my hair gets bigger when I let it grow out—thick and frizzy, quite like Janis Joplin’s.
I am not scientifically oriented, and shadows (like radio waves and gravity) were a mystery to me.
When I ran, my shadow was a thin person’s shadow. It was some kind of magic, like the house of mirrors where the reflection is distorted. I did not understand how it worked, but I loved it. I was fat, but my shadow was thin.
When running with a friend one time, I commented, “Look at how your shadow reflects you but mine is thinner than I am.” He chuckled, as if I had made a joke, but I was not kidding. I actually believed that his shadow was an accurate reflection of his body and mine was not.
How could that be? I didn’t know, but I knew it was true. I knew I was fat, much fatter than my thin shadow.
Maybe it is age, or the wisdom of age, but I now have a much more realistic image of my body, of myself really. I can hear what other people say about me, how they see me, and I trust it. Not just my physical body, but who I am, my self.
It is a new reality and I sometimes still have to work at letting go of old images. “No more fun house mirrors,” my spiritual director suggested the other day. “No more fun house mirrors,” I concurred.