It is my first holiday alone, following a breakup with the woman for whom I moved east from Chicago. I have no family nearby. All our friends are hers.
Anxiety becomes acute as night descends, it’s the time we would have been celebrating with family and friends and I have not yet mastered being on my own. But I am a serious runner, so I put on my shoes and a long-sleeve T and head out for a twelve-mile run.
It is late-November-chilly with a steady rain. The civic Christmas decorations are already up but the streets barren — not even a Hopperesque solo passenger in a well-lit bus or a forsaken druggie in a dark doorway to assuage my feeling of isolation. As I pass the festooned display windows of the downtown department stores, even the attractive, well-dressed mannequins mock the splashing footfalls of my saturated New Balance shoes. But I press on, determined.
I round the Philadelphia Museum of Art (think Rocky steps) and enter Fairmount Park’s East River Drive — breathing is rhythmic, pace is steady and almost effortless. Man, it’s dark, and what began as a steady rain becomes a heavy downpour. I can’t even see the Schuylkill River adjacent to the sidewalk, and the usually busy East River Drive is empty of traffic. I feel like the lone occupant of the huge park. Still, I press on.
Finally, in the distance, I see headlights. My feelings shift from loneliness to mere aloneness, and my spirits begin an ascent from the cellar. But as the car passes, it inundates me with a tsunami of freezing, filthy, oil-mixed water splashed from the roadside. I must stop and clear my vision, but in that moment, that very moment, my flimsy façade of self-reliance suddenly dissolves to reveal the throbbing of my aching heart and desperate loneliness.
Still, I run, and complete the loop, and refuse to rage against cold wet darkness and hostile world. More importantly, I find a way to forgive her. It helps me to let go. It helps me see that I am the author of my own story. It helps me to heal.
The night becomes more than frigid wetness and unalloyed misery; Thanksgiving, 1981 is my baptism into a life of emotional discernment and the tenderness of vulnerability.
To this day, I am grateful for it.