2018-08-04 / Viewpoints

Marbles and footprints

By Bob Hooftallen, Publisher/Editor

My morning run was a northward path along the Atlantic Ocean on Hatteras Island in North Carolina.

Anyone who exercises, especially first thing in the morning, does so for many reasons, but there’s no question that cleaning the closet of your mind is a reason shared by all.

My thoughts were marbles on a spinning washing machine, bouncing around, some sticking in the cracks, clinging to the machine, others spilling off the side, rolling across the floor and out of sight and mind.

But the run keeps the machine shaking and ultimately the marbles that don’t deserve your attention roll away, maybe to be picked up later; maybe not. The ones that remain are few, but the physical exertion has a way of leaving the important ones behind to be managed.

Today, this business was on my mind and the reaction to my column from a couple weeks ago at the top of the list. Second, was the piece I wrote last week on the Ness Festival that ended up running without edit. The edited version didn’t find its way to the page and that’s all on me.

I’ve never been especially good at accepting my own mistakes, no matter how minor, particularly when it comes to my profession, my relationships and other things that are the marbles that always, and must, cling to the top.

So most of the run was just that: trying to come to terms with criticism of my column and the massive mistake of running an unedited, important story.

Gulls glanced by a young lad who was tossing them pieces of some treat, perhaps popcorn or wadded pieces of bread. One scooped a piece directly in my path, forcing me to look down. I noticed the clean, neat shoe prints that materialized with every stride in the flat, hardened sand. My downward glance and the brush with the gull brought my mind out of the managing of these uncomfortable thoughts. I was inches from the approaching surf, where the sand is a stiff pillow, perfect for knees and hips that have had nearly 50 years of heavy use.

I couldn’t ignore the footprints, the way the weight of my gait squeezed the water from the sand there, momentarily, changing not only its shape, but its color. Quickly, the water returns, but the prints remain.

My 20-minute stint before I turned around seemed to come quickly and when the beep from the phone on my hip signaled the time to turn around, the closet of my mind was made more orderly by the sharpness of thought brought on by the physical exertion.

The waves were a heavy book being slammed on a thick, old wooden table, pounding at my port side. Striding by a family with a dog that looks remarkably like Petey, the loyal patch-eyed dog that was always at the side of the Little Rascals, my thoughts changed.

Those kinds of moments come and go on your run, no matter where it is, often shuffling your thoughts to new places, other challenges, frustrations, joys.

I feel puny here, a nobody, nothing more than the tiny grains of sand made airborne by the breeze further up the beach where they sit bone dry. I wrestle that thought for a short amount of time, realizing that, for the most part, it’s always that way. The sea beside me so mighty. The sand before me never ending. The sky above me all encompassing. And me below? Not much.

But that’s okay, I thought. We are meant to be humbled in life. We are meant to not take ourselves so seriously. We are meant to treasure how small we are and every small thing about us, in every small moment that passes.

It was then that I looked back at my feet, and those perfect prints. But there were only those tracks. The tide had climbed enough, making new the sand and erasing those I had made on my way out.

That thought brought me back here, to this page, this business and two of the marbles that had remained on the top of my machine: that column and the story that ran unedited.

No one was hurt. I did my best. I learned.

I realized those mistakes were the foot prints that I had made on the way out. They were gone, washed away by the tide of time.

I refocused. I laughed. I’d forgiven myself.

I hope you can, too.

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