Historical

A popular history of war - The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California

The masses believe
a popular history;
cheap, realistic.

Of running

When I arrived in Canberra about ten months ago, I was stumped at how much physical activity people did daily. I stood baffled at people huffing and puffing, running regardless of the weather changes—the chilling breeze, the falling leaves, the sweltering heat. Along with them were bikers, dog walkers, pram pushers, and general walkers. Not to mention the pre-teens skateboarding, rollerblading, and scooting away, laughing at their jubilation, sneering at friends falling behind, and a few stopping midway, waiting for their mate to join them.

As someone who does yoga and exercises within the closed comfort of my room, it was new to see everyone else getting out and about, showcasing their muscled arms, toned calves, and rock hard abs. Reservedness is non-existent. With AirPods nestled comfortably in their ears, people seemed to know where they were going and what they wanted to achieve in their workouts. As if they had a goal and an immense motivation to keep at it.

I was motivated, too, of course. I’ve been following my routine for over three years and was quite pleased with myself. Except, watching others made me feel quite small.

As I went about my life, I came upon conversations about the difficulties of running and the incredible power of those who run 10 km every so often. Celebrations and congratulations rained when someone hit a milestone.

I felt intimidated. As if everyone did something noteworthy, and all I ever did was stretch for a while every morning. It soon became unnerving and annoying to be the only one in a discussion whose proudest achievement was often walking 12 km a day.

I’d had enough. So I started running. Without any experience or an official trainer, I took to the street, stamping my way down the footpath. For the first few weeks, I ran three short sprints, of about 200 metres each, on a 4 km route.

Most runners I’d spoken to didn’t enjoy the process. They ran, nevertheless, because they liked the rush afterwards. That was weird to me. When I ran, I enjoyed it—I loved looking around, observing the trees swaying, sidestepping the lines of ants carrying meals on their heads, and smiling at the brave birds flying across my path, so low that they’re on my eye level.

Then I told myself: I’d never stop running because I had to. If I stop running on a particular course, it’d be because I wanted to. That’s how I’d avoid it becoming a chore. For as long as I had fun, I’d wake up wanting to run that day.

It’s been just over two months. And now, I can run longer distances, and even after crossing the 10 km milestone, I keep running. Because I want to.

The times

When Dickens began “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, he must’ve imagined something worse. If that’s even imaginable.

When Frost said he held with those who favoured fire as the cause of world’s end, he must’ve envisioned something more gruesome. If that’s even possible.

For over the past few months, this country has been ablaze.

When Australian winter gave way to spring, as it does every year, gently sliding away into the darkness where it hibernates until next June, summer barged in, as the uninvited plus one of your second cousin twice removed. What should’ve been the sweet celebration of blossoming season, of wattles dancing on sidewalks, of white gum trees waving as you ride past, quickly turned sour in the scorching heat. Overnight it went from whiskey weather to ice-cold rieslings, leaving no chance for temperate rosés.

Dark clouds retreated, much further than they’d ever before. Sunshine glistened on afternoon beverages, shooting hopeful rainbows through clinking glasses, as if wishing for a pot of rain at its end. Magic.

As Floriade ended on a heatwave, summer thrusted herself on stage well before spring had had a chance to take a bow. It was all so sudden. No one had the energy to mourn for spring. Half the country was on fire already.

For summer, in all her glory, with all her vitamins, had brought with her along with the cancerous touch, a flame thrower. And she didn’t hesitate to use it. Day after day, the nation awoke to news of decreasing houses, wildlife, and vegetation. Stranded on highways, truck drivers slept in their vehicles, comfortably and safely parked in traffic that remained unmoving for weeks. In their carriers, food rot and fuel sat. Full and useless.

Volunteers strode into flames, rasping, gasping, metaphorically bleeding as they hosed down beloved backyard branches—plants they’d once lovingly pruned and cared for. They didn’t care anymore. When our love burns and turns against us, hatred and distain drives us to extinguish it. It becomes a disease. When dry and angry leaves scorched their roofs, dogs, and horses, people retaliated, brandishing a gush of precious water, desperate to contain the disaster. This wasn’t a barbecue. It wasn’t as easy as turning a knob or pulling a log off. This was bush fire, and we were nature’s BBQ.

Humans ran. Birds fled. Koalas slept on, most never to wake again. Gum trees leaked as they shot up in blazes, taking with them the sweet smell of comfort, of home, of Australia. Native plants, insects, and animals watched as death leapt at them, future doomed to destination unknown.

Tourism suffered. Economy hurt. Politicians spoke.

People… rose.

Baked beans, cereal, milk, and bread; soaps, shampoo, sanitary napkins, and tooth paste; clothes, and millions in money shipped off from unharmed areas to protective shelters. Donations and fund raisers rained as people’s hearts overflowed with the moisture this land had been deprived of.

It’s the worst of our times. Also the best. I wonder if Dickens knew.