Friday, May 6, 2011

End of Days...and Ultrarunning

As always, the Writer's Almanac does not disappoint.

Have you ever had to euthanize a cat? (I can't say "put to sleep" although I want to). Then read the following. I know, I know, it's a poem and most of you can't hit the DELETE key fast enough. But read on, Ultrarunner, I'll meet you down at the end.

End of Days by Marge Piercy

Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you--
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise--sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly though hooded eyes.

Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vet, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.

Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.

That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover's arms and quickly
fading to black like an old-fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air-conditioning's hum.

I want to click the off switch.

And if I can no longer choose
I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.

Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than to ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.

"End of Days" by Marge Piercy, from The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980 - 2010. (c) Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

The connection to Ultrarunning? Most of us won't admit it--I know I don't like to--but our ultra careers are finite. There was a beginning and there WILL be an end. For the lucky few, I suppose, they will be running up until the day they die, and never have to face a life without Ultrarunning.

But for most of us, old age will take its toll, slowing us down and chipping away at our limbs and our organs and our minds, until at last running becomes impossible. After decades, probably, the sudden stillness will be abrupt and final. One day, you are an Ultrarunner, and the next day you are not.

Frankly, I am afraid to cope with that eventuality. I started running in 1979 when I was 27 years old, when a job change afforded me the opportunity. I have been a runner for the 32 years since, with brief timeouts for surgery etc (although I have never had a serious running injury that put me on the disabled list for more than a week).

But wait, read the poem again. If the decline is gradual, I will see the end of Ultrarunning and come to accept it as just being time. I will look back and be eternally grateful for the quietly rich pageant that has been my ultra career, and bask in the memories until my real light finally goes out for good.

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