Jenny Hall lived in the apartment next to mine. She had brown hair and green eyes and a smile that took me to another place. she was athletic and brilliant and I would have asked her out except that I could not breathe when I was around her. Jared Wrede was a gentleman with an easy smile and a great sense of humor. They were a wonderful match.
They were engaged in the springtime and invited all of us who knew them to an engagement party in a park. There was watermelon and lemonade and picnic tables under the trees. Frisbees floated in the air and flocks of coeds flitted around Jenny asking her exciting questions like “when was your first kiss?” and “Where did you first hold hands?”. I grabbed a piece of watermelon and followed the girls just in time to hear them ask “When did you know that Jared was the one?”
Jenny pulled her perfect eyebrows together in a way that still melted my heart and said: “well, there was this tremendous snowfall last winter and my car was completely covered – but when I woke up in the morning Jared had cleaned it all off without even telling me! that is when I knew.”
WHAT! I almost choked on my watermelon. how can you make a decision like marriage based on snow removal!?
But, charitably, maybe Jenny was onto something… many life events are decided by the littlest things. for Jenny it was a little act of love that made a tremendous impact –
For me it was the distance between two driveways.
When I was seventeen I weighed two hundred and fifty lugubrious pounds. I had rolls on top of my rolls, I did not fit in the tiny desks in school and I undulated instead of walked.
And then, in one magical summer between my junior and senior years of high school I decided to start running. At first I could only shuffle the short distance between one driveway and the next. And then I would have to walk, panting and sweating little beads of grease.
I ran every morning and every night and sometimes during lunch – and by the time school started again I was a steely-eyed one hundred and fifty pounds and decided to run track.
WHAT A CHANGE! I felt like a foreign exchange student at school. Everyone looked at me funny. the teachers marked me absent by mistake. AND TRACK WAS AWESOME! I punished the sprinters with meandering eight mile runs. I was so good at running distance that Coach Simpson, my gray-haired history teacher, asked me to run the two mile in the first race of the season: the French Field house invitational held at the Ohio State University.
Consider the fat child. Up to that point my life had been twinkies and bon-bons and the wrong end of jokes, and then suddenly I was the fastest kid on the track team! Going to run at the Ohio State University! I invited all of my friends and family to watch me compete.
I think only my parents came. And the track team of course. And Simpson. But nobody else.
I was lucky.
Because I was not even close to the fastest kid on the track team. I was a recovering fat child who happened to be good at running eight miles.
So I lined up on the line for my first race. Skinny white kids to the left and the right of me, my family, the stadium, the crowd. The gun went off.
I didn’t win. Instead I was lapped – TWICE! – by the field.
After everyone had finished running I had two lonely laps left to run, and the stadium was silent. I felt like crawling in a hole.
I kept on running track though, and later I asked Coach Simpson why he hadn’t pulled me from that race. why had he let me fail so spectacularly?
Simpson leaned back in his chair, pushed his glasses to his nose and hooked his thumbs through his suspenders.
“Bill,” he said, “there are people on this track team with so much talent they could go to the olympic games.” “you,” he said, “do not have any talent – what you do have is a fire.”
I did not understand. Simpson tried again.
“You needed to lose that race” he said. “Like blowing on a fire.”
I still did not understand. But I nodded anyway. it was enough for me. I had a fire! Whatever that meant. Didn’t matter. I took the victory, and became a runner.
How do I describe the next few years? Just running. In between twenty and thirty miles a week. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. A couple of races a year. Keeping the fire burning.
There was this run, when I was a junior in college – It had snowed all night and when I stepped outside at five in the morning the world was glittering under the moon. I ran into the foothills, maybe three miles straight up. Rhe aspens white with snow, no sound except for my breath.
Rabbit trails darted across the path but other than that I was alone. after an hour or so I headed for home. My breath fogging out in front of me and every step a silent explosion of white under a silver moon.
I was filled up inside and bursting out. I had to do something to share it. so I went to a parking lot next to my apartment and cleaned off the car of this girl I really liked. Jenny Hall’s car.
“Brodegard”, I thought, “If you play this right, you could get a date out of this!”
I never got that date.
Instead I grabbed another piece of watermelon, wished the bride and groom a wonderful happy life and ran on home. In six months more I would meet Stephanie. And she would light up my world.
Little things. a fat kid, a run and a snow covered car. they are unpredictable and random, silly even. But they are life, they are fun and they are unmistakably divine.