I woke up after a good night’s sleep. Snow coming down in gentle big flakes. Salud was taking a shower, so I went downstairs to use the basement bathroom. Came back up and put my tights, shorts, long socks, tshirt and overshirt on. Hat and gloves, my running shoes and was outside by 7:45.
I was concerned that I might slip, that the ground would be too slick, but it was wet and grainy enough that traction wasn’t a problem. Cold but not too cold.
As I ran northwest on Washington Ave, the snow was in my face, biting a little. Then full in my eyes so that I had a hard time seeing. I figured it would be that way for just a while until I turned due west once I got to the Mall.
Once on the Mall it was better, the snow hitting me from the right side (blowing almost due south). There were in some places no tracks, mine were the first footprints down in the new snow. At other points I’d see someone walking in front of me, once another runner (“only the crazies come out today!” he said).
My left knee started to hurt. It has been bothering me some, I notice it when I bend down or when I get up if I’ve been playing with the kids on the floor or kneeling to give Rosie some love. I thought about turning around once I got to the Washington monument. But as I was coming around the north side of it I passed another runner.
He yelled out “Hey Beto!” And I turned around and approached him and we shook hands. He apologetically told me that he was from Massachusetts and said “but thank you for being you.” I said “that’s ok, we love Massachusetts too!” And told him thanks and decided to run all the way to the Lincoln memorial. I passed someone running the other direction shielding his face with his hand from the snow.
As I passed the World War II memorial there was a guy in front of me, running next to the reflecting pool towards the Lincoln memorial. I took the other path, enclosed by an arcade of trees. I figured it would shield me better from the snow that was hitting the side of my face. I saw him stretch out his arms as he ran as though to embrace the snow, the pool, the morning, the Lincoln memorial that we could now see in front of us, life, and all the mystery of being alive.
I got to the steps of the memorial and could hear the horses before I saw them. Their hooves echoing against all the marble walls and steps. Two mounted park police, blue helmets, black jackets worn like capes around their shoulders. Shrouded in snow that was heavier than before. The men motionless on their slowly moving horses. Something timeless about them.
I ran up the steps, another runner in front of me. When I got to the top he was finishing a short set of pushups. He got up quickly, we high fived as he headed back down the steps.
I walked over to the north wall and read Lincoln’s second inaugural address. My body warm, blood flowing through me, moving my legs as I read, the words so present in a way that I can’t describe or explain except that I’m so much more alive in the middle of a run, and so are the words I was reading.
The words, describing the country in the midst of Civil War. The reasons for the war. Slavery. The masterful, humble invocation of God. Acknowledging that both sides invoke his name and saying of the South: “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.” That he could pronounce this judgement and then remind himself and us that we should not judge…
“The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes”
He lays out an accounting for the original sin of our country – acknowledges that this ghastly war is a reckoning, blood paid for blood.
“Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
I don’t know that a better speech has ever been written or given or recorded or made.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…”
I walked down the steps, too slick to run down.
Saw the mounted policemen again. Picked up my run as I headed due East, now on the south side of the reflecting pool. Snow in my face, the flakes smaller, more biting now, maybe sleet. It had changed. My knee no longer hurt, maybe it just needed to fully warm up. Ran next to and eventually past a man who stopped from time to time to defrost his shoes on the grates and manhole covers, warmed by the subway tunnels underneath.
The sleet stinging my face, I wondered if the winds had changed too.