(by Monch Salazar)
And I begin to ask myself—why on earth am I doing this?
I’m nearing the bend in the road where everything begins to go uphill again. It signals the start of my fourth lap. This means it will be the fourth time I do this—the fourth time I pass by this particular cat’s eye on the road, this particular pedestrian lane, this particular lamp post, this particular condominium, this particular waiting shed populated now by a different set of commuters off to places less certain than my route around the Fort. This also means that it has been a lap since that guy in a crew cut told me, “Mali pace mo, mapapagodkakaagad.”
The sun’s rays dry the sweat hugging my skin and scorch my forehead. My feet, slapping—one, two, three, four-one, two, three, four-one…—pounding heavily on the merciless concrete like the Earth’s motor had died and it was up to my feet to keep it turning. It’s when I’ve ran for so long, but not quite, that I feel this. It’s not like the terrain has changed or the heat turned to rain, but fatigue takes over so that I begin to doubt my senses. And my senses start to rebel like an amateur band composed of high school students, telling me they’re still working. Yes, they’re working hard. Heaving shoulders. Back aching. Stomach in stitches. Legs…
The movement of legs has always fascinated me. It’s a very simple operation that’s become one of those inarguable truths in life: to move forward, you have to place one foot in front the other. Whenever a person suffering from polio passes by, people immediately notice. They might not know exactly what he’s suffering from, but they just know he is suffering because he walks differently. I have always thought of this alternating movement of the legs as distinctly human. And when you watch people walk to their destinations, moving in different directions, you know they’re attending to some humanly business affair. And walking encapsulates this best.
I often find myself seated at a crowded sidewalk, people-watching, and I entertain myself by looking yards away. It is an endless game of peek-a-boo as people walk on by and their legs scissor through the picture. The end I’m staring at is never given a complete picture and my curiosity is never satisfied. Before I know it, I wouldn’t know what I was looking at in the first place.
Men being men have found ways to make this movement less and less human. The fashion industry has made cats of women as they paraded clothes which draped on them loosely. Whenever I saw soldiers marching, I couldn’t help but think of robots—mindless and mechanical. They say its discipline, but for what ends were they disciplined? And from the way they walked, I thought they were disciplined to be less human. They have forgotten to walk and have learned, instead, to march.
But walking is one of the most basic functions of being human. The loss of humanity that I see in soldiers marching is recovered by their opposites, the ones marching in a most heterogeneous fashion in the streets—the activists.
The first time I joined a fun run, I was quiet, to say the least. I was trying to place the carnival into some form of order in my head but I couldn’t. It was a disorderly lot, but it was meant to be disorderly—complete with sweat dripping, Ipod blaring, looking at your occasional competition that would pass you by, and wondering why Kenyans always won these long-distance races. Below, our feet shuffled over concrete and asphalt. After runninig for hours, they began to hurt with a pain explained only by blisters or the occasional pebble which managed to raid the inside of our shoes. They reminded us that we were human—not mindless or mechanical. And we were walking further, aching to be more human beside others who felt the same pain.
Now, as I jog my fourth round around the Fort, I start to wonder why I joined this fun run in the first place. Why did I want to tire myself just for the sake of sweating? Couldn’t I have stayed in the sauna for an hour; that would have produced more sweat to the point of dehydration, I would imagine. Was it to bond with my girlfriend? No, I left that snail-paced-you—mean-you-call-that-long-distance-running?!?!-human-being 30 minutes ago.
Pace running is not so much of an awe-inspiring feat unlike Usain Bolt talent to fly with his feet. Anyone can run in pace but no one else can fly with their feet. Whenever I see joggers running, it’s easy to just watch and say, “I could do that myself.” I was never a super athlete in the sporty sense. Instead, I have always resolved to play those games on the side, which evolved from Philippine street games to racing on-foot to plain old running around. I was never good enough with the ball and from where I spent my formative yearsI was always put on the B Team. So after 4 years of trying to enter Team A, I brainwashed myself into believing that if you were no good with the ball, you might as well not play ball at all. This made running (with the occasional gyming) my only physically challenging activity. I have realized that what one simply needed to take on the habit of running was not, contrary to popular belief, a pair of shoes. One needed to have an all-encompassing mindset that no hurdle could discourage; a flame no amount of water could put out. Since then, I’ve always ran for recreation (on the treadmill; but then again, I’d like to believe running on the treadmill and on actual concrete are just the same).
Whenever I jog long distances or for long periods, I never forget to stretch. Stretching is when I nurse that flame, that mindset which says I can run a kilometer more than everyone else. And I swear to myself that I would beat the hell out of this course. I repeat the lines King Leonidas told his 300, “This is where we hold them! This is where we fight! This is where they die!” “Give them nothing, but take from the EVERYTHING”I tell myself the Kenyans can’t beat me in my home court, no sir. Not In my house.
Now, five years later, I’m running not only for recreation but for a cause. I forget what exactly made me commit to this physically strenuous event. I even forgot the cause for the fun run. I think it had something to do with giving the less fortunate people a roof to live in.
I have always wondered how “running for a cause” worked and I’ve always had issues with causes. I see causes only as sedatives to counter poverty. Causes, I believe, are mere diversions created by the ones in power to keep themselves in power. There are all sorts of causes: fashion show for a cause, grand balls for a cause, even click-this-Facebook-group for a cause. Housing for the poor is all very fine, but does it instigate real change when the little livelihood they have do not put food on their table? The little power that they have remains too little to make a mark anywhere. Besides, the title for their house and their land never becomes theirs.
What more is there in running for a cause? How do you actually run for something totally unrelated to running, like global warming for example? Technically, it’s impossible because running for global warming is, in itself, a contradiction when the event is also a party of carbon dioxide molecules. But somehow, these causes still manage to gather the people for such noble ends. And in the process, swindle six hundred pesos from their wallets, too.
Some people say it’s about “creating awareness” which really mattered in those events, but what does running have to do with that? Absolutely nothing. Some people run for the dolphins to create awareness. Wonder how that works.
It’s in moments like these when then archetypal “profound hobo” makes much more sense than the learned man. When a homeless man asks for some change, you know it was because he had none, and you appreciated the honesty of the deed. When the learned man wants to make everyone aware of the ills of tuberculosis, he starts a fun run which charges everyone six hundred pesos for five kilometers. Twisted logic, yes. But the free shirt makes up for everything anyway, and no one is asking for a refund.
A man sporting a crew cut, probably in his late thirties, told me a few laps back that I had the wrong pace. He smiled at me mockingly, shaking his head in disapproval. I just smiled at him, baring my teeth, the way dogs smiled. In my head, I was slashing him to pieces with the lightsaber I learned to pull out of thin air. But really, I didn’t do a thing. His being ugly posed no threat to me or to the Kenyans I was trying to beat. Between the two of us, he was the one with the wrong pace.
The difference between him and me is the fact that I believe in something; and all he does is go against what I believe. And when I believe in something, the moment I stop believing is the moment I stop functioning. I jog believing that the moment I tell myself that I can’t jog anymore is the moment I end jogging.
What we believe is encapsulated in a single line: To be active is to be active. There are no alternatives to it, just as there is no other way to walk but to put one foot forward. There is no other way but to grab the bull by the horns.
I finish five laps around the Fort in an hour and fifteen minutes. The Kenyans finished in less than an hour. The guy in a crew cut finished a lap less than I. Anyone can last longer than me; but days and months after that jog, I know that I will still believe that I am the one more human, I am the one among humans, and so will continue to be as long as we keep running.