Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Icarus and UltraRunning

Icarus reminds us that UltraRunners can crash and burn, sometimes spectacularly.  But while he was flying, man, what a ride! 

Maybe running 100 miles at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run will bring me up short.  But I prefer to think that it'll be quite a ride.

Hit the link here if you need a quick Icarus refresher (photo below from that site).  Basically he flew too close to the sun, his wax wings melted, and poor Icarus plunged to his death.  


Bear with me.  I'm trying to connect Greek mythology, stages of philosophical thinking in one's life, and UltraRunning. 

I know that many of you, when you see poetry, can't hit that DELETE key fast enough. I know, I was once the same, but perhaps as you age you look for meaning and interpretation wherever you can. I can trace what's probably the typical trajectory of philosophical thought--when I was in my late teens and twenties, that was when I was burning with thoughts on the meaning of life, of hopes and fears and dreams.

Then that urgency goes latent for some decades--it doesn't vanish entirely but goes undercover--while you are busy with love and family and career. Then later in your life, perhaps triggered by grandchildren, you again begin thinking those big thoughts on the meaning of life, of hopes and fears and dreams. It's in that striving for understanding that you reach out to embrace the thinking and expressions of others, hence the return to (or the initial exploration of) poetry.

So, with that intro, I ran across Failing and Flying by Jack Gilbert, a poem about falling out of love. He uses the analogy of Icarus. You can focus on the love part of the poem.  Or, as I did, you can focus on the Icarus part of the poem.

So for me, Gilbert's key point is that Icarus flew. Icarus FLEW. Read the whole thing, and pay particular attention to the first sentence and especially the last sentence, which truly resonates with me when I fall short or fail:

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.

It's the same when love comes to an end,

or the marriage fails and people say

they knew it was a mistake, that everybody

said it would never work. That she was

old enough to know better. But anything

worth doing is worth doing badly.

Like being there by that summer ocean

on the other side of the island while

love was fading out of her, the stars

burning so extravagantly those nights that

anyone could tell you they would never last.

Every morning she was asleep in my bed

like a visitation, the gentleness in her

like antelope standing in the dawn mist.

Each afternoon I watched her coming back

through the hot stony field after swimming,

the sea light behind her and the huge sky

on the other side of that. Listened to her

while we ate lunch. How can they say

the marriage failed? Like the people who

came back from Provence (when it was Provence)

and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,

but just coming to the end of his triumph.

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