The Beckoning Belly of the Whale

During my time here at St. John’s running has made me feel stable. It’s always there to rely upon, and it never fights with the intellect like Greek does. I’ve been exploring the trails around campus, Atalaya and the surrounding paths. I’ve also found great comfort in running to The Plaza. It’s always strange to be reminded that there’s a world around St. John’s; there are people who don’t read during every available moment.

Throughout my life, running has always remained a constant. I remember the first time I ran 6 miles, a determined fifth grader; it made me feel complete, whole. It was this feeling that made me commit myself to running three miles a day, eating an egg every morning, and doing yoga every night. It wasn’t just the running, but the mindset and lifestyle that came with it, that pushed me forward. Even today, the necessary energy that running brings to my life keeps me going. The energy seems to feed on itself; the more I run, the more I want to run. The more I run, the harder it is to stop.

This morning I ran from campus down to the Starbucks at The Plaza, down through a quaint neighborhood with sleeping brick driveways and little, dark windows. Along this road, Camino Del Monte Sol, I ran alone past the warm adobe homes with turquoise trim, and I thought about the people, the families, that live in the houses. I wondered if I was passing by families like my own back in Julian. Do they take their red-haired son to fiddle lessons? Do they watch their youngest daughter’s soccer games on Saturdays? Does he never fail to grind his own coffee beans every morning? Does she sit with crossed legs to rehearse “Pineapple Princess” on her ukulele, in a meditative state? Do they notice their older daughter running by their window? I’m thankful that the windows are little and dark, so that I can’t catch a glimpse inside and become tempted with the answers.

Camino Del Monte Sol blends into Gallery Road, which sounds like it is. Here, fat galleries are pushed up against one another. They strain against the sidewalk that holds them back from the road, like a bulging stomach strains against a waistband. Sculptures heave out of their mouths onto the edge of the pavement, giving the pedestrians a peek at what their colorful bowels hold. I ran by children with scratched knees standing on top of the world, the giant, blue head of a horse bridled and open-mouthed, heads of women with birds in their wire hair, a balding man riding a two headed horse pulling in opposite directions-one head white, the other black, warriors climbing the rungs of a ladder suspended in the air, a moose walking on two legs, and a meditating woman with skin cracked so that a healthy light from within was released.

Arriving at the Plaza, the bells of Loretto Chapel struck through the silence. Startled birds leapt from the street. It was seven o’clock. I ran directly down the road; there were no cars. At Starbucks, I didn’t get any coffee, only a bottle of green juice. I sat and watched the baristas move furiously from one order to the next, not thinking, just moving. The all-consuming scent of the dark beans reminded me of every morning of my childhood. I remembered the moment that that mysterious scent of coffee became a liquid gold reality, and I wished that it had remained a mystery. When I had finished my green juice, my feet went back to the road.

On my way back to campus, I passed a young musician busking with a faded red guitar by the center of The Plaza. He was picking out the too-familiar tune of “Old Joe Clark.” It sounded hollow without a fiddle to take the lead. Once I’d passed, the jingle faded. I ran by a soccer field where young children, divided into teams, were playing soccer. Parents and grandparents sat by the sidelines in foldable chairs. They were there with orange slices and gatorade for the post-game snack. Eventually I returned to campus, to my well-ordered dorm.

Running can take me places and show me things that no one else sees. A friend of mine from the Wilderness Orientation, asked me about why I run one night over dinner in the dining hall. It is very characteristic of this friend

to want to “unpack” people and their psyches. “Let’s unpack this,” she said. “What are you running from?” I responded that perhaps I was running toward something, not away from anything. She accepted this answer with a raised eyebrow, stroking her hypothetical mustache.

When I think about her question and my response, I am inclined to believe that it’s neither. Why must I be running from or to anything? Why must a destination be pinpointed for running to have a purpose? Running may be the only part of my life that is about the journey, not the destination. I enjoy every aspect of it, each step. So many of my most memorable moments in life have been centered around running, and I still have running to connect my former, younger self to who I am now. I wish that I could go to that child in fifth grade and tell her to just run, let it be consuming. So now I let this advice push me past the little windows: meditating statues, coffee beans, busking musicians, and soccer players, and into the beckoning belly of the whale.

-Isabella Copeland (SF ’20)