Jacob Lawrence, "Killing the Incurable and Aged" (1943)
Jacob Lawrence, Killing the Incurable and Aged (1943)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

December 7, 2002:

Brown sand beach, Pacifica, late November. Seawater turns the brown sand temporarily black. Gold specks, sandpipers, and all along this mile of shore just one set of footprints, mine, alone in the afternoon.

Jogging, slowly, after recovering from a year of injury. Aware of my softness: a new inch around the waist that didn't used to be there.

Pair of skinny middleschoolers on an outdoor blacktop basketball court, two-thirds size. One's tall and painful-skinny; the other medium and normal-skinny. The sky has that bluer-than-real San Diego blue; you can smell the smell of sea water if you focus. It's the first day of summer vacation. They're fourteen, and they're both out of shape.

For them, that is. They can ride their bikes up mile-long hills, like Clairemont Drive. They can play kick-the-can for hours. They can play in a flag football league. But they haven't played basketball in months, and they can't run from one end of the court to the other nonstop, all day, without losing their breath.

Run, pass, shoot. Rebound: now to the other end. Run, pass, shoot. Back and forth. It can be done, but it's not effortless. They have to stop to breathe. It's like their lungs are not open fully, somehow.

Craig has the theory. Lungs close up offseason. Because they're not fully in use, even from football. Only b-ball opens them. In a few hours, or a day, suddenly you'll be running and you'll feel them open again, as though they'd expanded far enough to break musty cobwebs that had settled in. Then you'll be able to run forever.

He's right. The two of you notice this every year. This is why you're here, now, getting it taken care of on the first day of summer vacation. Run, pass, shoot. Rebound: now to the other end. Run, pass, shoot. Back and forth. All day.

Craig whoops, smiles. He's good: cobwebs gone. You need another hour, or two hours, or however long it takes. Then on one lap, you feel it happen. Lungs open, just like that. Now you're good.

Summer rocks.

In the sky there's a lone jet contrail at altitude. Lonely sky, cold, an exile's sky, pale shade that isn't quite blue. Craig works for U.S. Air, which cut 2,500 jobs today.

I love to run. Love the feeling of being able to breathe afterwards, the warm feeling of well-being. Endorphins I guess.

Back and forth, along the waterline, not far, maybe fifty yards, then stop, breathe, walk back, run again. I can do this eight or ten times, but, I can't do it all day, and, in my maturity, I'm wise enough to realize that no matter how hard I work at it, my lungs will never open up again like they did at fourteen.

Every age has its own sadness. In childhood it's the sense of humiliation that comes from needing protection. In adolescence the frustration of being unable to make your own decisions, and the fear that girls won't find you attractive. Now in middle age there's the bittersweet loneliness of lost friends, failed relationships, loved ones who are gone forever. And the injuries, and the strange foreign flab around the middle, and the fear that women won't find you attractive. And the knowledge that however many times you run this beach, you'll never again breathe with open lungs as you once did, never again till the end of your days.