Sunday morning run ramblings; To mace or not to mace, that is the question

There is a greenway in the city that I live in.  It runs from the southeastern part of town all the way up to the northeastern part.

There are pieces of it where it is obvious that it is in the middle of the city, where roads and structures, houses and cars can be seen everywhere.  There are other parts where you could imagine you were wandering through the woods in the countryside if you didn’t know better.  Many of these trails connect to greater parks too.

I am very happy to have something like this near to me (well, within a half hour’s drive anyways).  It is nice to have a place to bike, walk, or run without having to worry about having to run in a circle or getting lost.

When I first moved here, I wanted to go for a six mile run, so I used googlemaps to map out a route.  Once I got out there, though, I had to change course several times because roads did not connect and everything was closed off.

I don’t know if it’s just in this location, or if it’s a general trend everywhere, but it seems like everything is becoming more insulated.  Most neighborhoods are gated and only have one or two entrances, everything is a loop that doesn’t connect to anything, and even uninhabited land is all fenced up, claimed, and protected, lest someone get the crazy idea to walk over it to get somewhere faster.

But I digress.

Today I want to talk about something else.

A couple of weeks ago a woman was sexually assaulted on one of these greenway trails at the back of a park while she was running.  At nine o’clock in the morning.  Without headphones.

I have mentioned that I like to run, alone, with loud music, on weekend mornings when my husband is home to watch our daughter.

Now, I have been aware for a while that bad things can happen to women who choose to run alone with headphones.   I have also been aware that bad things have happened before on the greenway trails, although usually during less heavily trafficked times and more in certain parts of town than others.

Which is why this incident spooks me.  It was in broad daylight during a time when one would normally see plenty of bikes and pedestrians out and about, as well as the occasional police bike patrol.  And it happened in what most would consider one of the nicer parts of town.  Apparently, the woman had heard something behind her, but she though it was just an animal so she didn’t turn around.

When I was at my Stroller Strides classes, the women talked about it a lot.  They said “Don’t you go running out there on the weekends?” or “I’d be afraid to go out there alone.”  It was a little awkward.  I wanted to defend my right to run alone on the greenway, but I knew that they were right to be cautious.  So why would I insist on continuing to do something potentially dangerous?

I thought about the incident a lot in the days leading up to this morning run; I was adamant about going anyways.  I thought about carrying a knife, an idea I quickly dismissed since I don’t know how to defensively use a knife and it could easily be turned against me.  Mace might be nice, but I didn’t have any and frankly I’m kind of scared of mace too, since I sprayed myself in the face with it once when I was a kid.

Ultimately, I decided to go for fingers in the eyes and the nose and just scream like hell if anyone grabbed me.  Repeating this like a mantra, I reasoned with myself that it was most likely that nothing would happen to me at all.

Really, what I did was to make a risk decision.  I weighed the likelihood of something happening against the benefits I would gain from going and decided that I would rather go.  And no, nothing happened (or I’d be writing a very different post, I’m sure).

I can almost hear the people that would disagree with my choice in my head, nagging me about safety precautions and prevention.  Or maybe that’s just my own little voice of caution.

But here’s the thing….

We all draw a different line when it comes to acceptable risk; that’s why some people bungee jump and others don’t.

Just for reference, I have seen myself at both ends of the caution spectrum.

As a former raging alcoholic, I used to put myself in risky situations all the time (although I wouldn’t say there was a lot of conscious decision-making going on there).  I can’t even tell you how many times over I could have been arrested, raped, beaten up, mugged, or killed or could have inflicted harm upon someone else.  I really didn’t give it much thought, and for whatever reason, I escaped about 15 years of perpetual drunkenness and poor decision-making largely unscathed.  I’m convinced someone was looking out for me.

When I first got sober, I went the opposite direction.  Suddenly, I was sure something horrible was going to happen, like I had used up all my “get out of jail free” cards and the next mistake would surely be the last straw.  I would leave the house in the morning and imagine I had left the stove on and the house would catch on fire and my cats would die locked inside.  I’d imagine I’d left the door unlocked and a burglar would come in and destroy the place and kill my cats.  I’d imagine I’d look down at a text on my phone and go careening off the side of the road at 70 miles an hour— and I would be dead and my cats would die alone of starvation and dehydration.  (I didn’t have a child at the time, my cats WERE my babies).

After hours of therapy, many AA sessions, and a short round of anti-anxiety medication, I mellowed out a bit and learned how to calm the desperate voice of fear lurking in my head.

Now, I try to find a happy middle road between living without fear and having a healthy amount of it.  If I feel fear, I ask myself it is useful to my situation.  If it is, I take precautions.  If it is not, I tell it to go away.  I’m far from perfect at this, but it is how I try to live now.  Sometimes, though, there is something that I have a healthy fear of, but I choose to confront it anyways.  Reckless?  Maybe, but if I have something to gain from it, I have to take a good look at it and see whether the risk is worth the reward.  I have to figure out where my line is.

How free should we be to draw our own personal line?  That’s a tough questions to answer, but I think that being too cautious is just as bad as not being cautious enough.  I think there is a trend in our society today to try to protect everyone from themselves, and it kind of freaks me out.

Imagine, if you will, a hypothetical future, a sort of “Idiocracy” meets “Demolition Man” (remember the whole “salt is illegal” thing?) kind of world where people’s ability to think critically and make their own decisions has been degraded and the government makes everything that’s bad for them against the law.  I don’t think this is fantasy, I think this is a definite possible outcome of the way we live.

Why?  Because of liability.

When I was stationed in Spain in the military, I went to lots of town carnivals.  Many of them were heavily focused around drinking but they usually had a few rides for the kids.  I remember watching kids get on this one ride that was a big circle that would spin around and simultaneously tilt from side to side—think Gravitron but without a roof and slightly slower so people aren’t smooshed up against the sides for the duration of the ride.  And no, they were not in any way strapped in.

Kids of all ages got on this thing and proceeded to stumble and fall around while the ride was going—great fun for the kiddos, I imagine, but I couldn’t help but think to myself “This is an accident and a lawsuit just waiting to happen.  This would never fly in the USA.”  And it’s true.  The ride was pretty dangerous, and I’m sure kids have been injured on it.

Now, forget about the kids for a minute (I do think children should be protected, even from their parents’ dumb decisions), and just think about the principle of the thing.  Here in the States, we are very quick to assign blame and ensure that someone is bearing the burden of liability.  Often, this ends up not being the individual but the organization.  This is why we end up with warnings on things like “Do not drive vehicle with sunshade in place.”  Somebody drove with a sunshade in place and then blamed the company who made the sunshade for not telling them not to.

So we end up with warnings on everything.  But what happens when it is decided that individuals are not capable of making smart decisions, when people don’t heed warnings?  We force them to–think seatbelt and helmet laws.  And some people still resist even that.


Well, some people just really feel like they should have the right to take risks if they want to.  I personally think it’s pretty dumb not to wear a seatbelt.  I think it’s pretty dumb not to wear a helmet on a motorcycle.   But….. I would choose not to wear a helmet on a bicycle if I could.  Sometimes I don’t when I know no one will see me.  Why?  Well, I grew up riding bikes in Germany where everyone rides bicycles all the time, not just for sport but for transportation, and you don’t see a lot of helmets.  It just seems excessive to me.

And that’s the thing.  I have my line.  You have yours.  Obviously, some standards need to be maintained so that we are not creating a burden to society through reckless behavior nor are we infringing on personal rights.  But regardless of what we think of each other’s assessment of acceptable risk, there has to be an allowable gray area where I can choose to take more or less risk than you do.  I think that this is an important thing to uphold.

Running alone with headphones is something I look forward to all week, and it does a spectacular job of recharging my battery, giving me greater patience, mindfulness, empathy, and serenity for days afterwards.

I want to run alone with headphones.  Period.  I can make small adjustments to reduce risk: make sure my running route is in the most heavily-trafficked area, make sure I wait until the sun has completely risen rather than trying to get out earlier, buy some mace (maybe).   But I am not willing to stop.

I don’t want to let a rare event frighten me away from something that gives me so much back.  For now, I accept the risk.  And for now, thankfully, that’s my decision to make.


Do you agree?  Disagree?  Where is your line?


Finding the Spirit

Spirituality.  That’s what I want to begin with. Well, to be completely honest, I have cheated and have begun to focus on two topics concurrently, the first being spirituality, and the second being eating meat or animal by-products, but for the sake of staying on one topic at a time (for this post, at least), I will focus on spirituality.  I know I’m starting out with a highly personal issue, so I’d like to emphasize that my end goal is not to come up with the right answer, but to come up with the right answer FOR ME AND MY FAMILY.  Even if I accomplish that, it will be a living, dynamic solution that changes as I grow and change (I hope).

As I mentioned before, my first task for any given topic is to hash out what my current thoughts are and how I came to feel the way that I do.  So, as far as spirituality goes, when people ask me what I believe, I provide the vague classification of “spiritual but not religious”.  I know this probably sounds like a cop-out, but I prefer it over saying that I am agnostic, because I feel like saying I am agnostic implies a willingness to believe in a higher power but no current relationship with one.  I do have a relationship with a higher power; it is not consistent nor do I completely understand it or even try to define it.  It just is, and when I am tending to it, it provides me with nourishment and serenity, and when I am not tending to it, I generally feel like I am drifting afloat and alone in the world.

As with many people, my thoughts on spirituality come from a mish-mash of personal experiences, life lessons, and outside influences.  I did not grow up in a particularly religious household; my father was Lutheran (but not really practicing; he claimed he did not need a church to worship), and my mother was Catholic (and only intermittently practicing).  My earliest religious education consisted of saying my bedtime prayers (in German and English, since my mother was German) and not much else.  My dad was in the Army, and I think this may have had a hand in why my mother did not start dragging me to Catholic Mass until I was a bit older (maybe six or seven?)  We moved a few times early on, and I don’t really remember going to church much until we settled in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

I wish I could say I vividly recall my earliest church memories, but they all kind of blend together for me.  I vaguely remember participating in my first Communion after attending a Sunday school class for a while, but I recall what I was wearing better than the actual event.  I didn’t have a white dress, so my mother had paired a hastily purchased white shirt with pearl-colored beads all over the front with a white pleated skirt. Amazing the things we remember…

We did not attend Mass every Sunday and we did some church-hopping.  My favorite (and my mother’s favorite) church was in Bisbee, about 45 minutes away, where Father James, an affable Irish priest, gave uplifting and humorous sermons.  Once Father James left, we stopped going to Bisbee.  Around that time I was old enough for Confirmation, which was when my mother said I could choose whether I wanted to commit to being a Catholic or not.  I felt zero loyalty to Catholicism and was relieved to have a way out.  It was a no-brainer for me.

In school, I occasionally ran across some devoutly religious families, which mostly just fostered the beginnings of a deep-seated dislike for religion.  One of my earliest memories of feeling distanced from religion is from 4th grade, when my best friend’s Baptist parents insisted that unicorns were of the Devil but would not explain why.  I was really into unicorns at the time (I was 11….of course I was into unicorns!), and I was very disappointed to hear my beloved unicorns being bashed, not to mention defensive of the unicorn posters hanging in my bedroom.  My best friend was irritated by my attitude but seemed to be at a loss to explain her parents’ stance.  I pointed out that in the last book of the Narnia chronicles, which we were both huge fans of and which she claimed was really about God (God being the lion Aslan in the series), there was a unicorn and he was on the good side.  It was like arguing with a brick wall; all I got was the sense that I was bad and wrong and shouldn’t ask questions.

I had a few more experiences similar to this.  By the time I was 16, I wanted nothing to do with religion—more accurately, by then, I wanted nothing to do with anything that other people told me I should do or believe.  I had blossomed from a quiet, meek, nerdy kid into a full-blown hellion.  The story of the aimless rebellion of my late teen years goes well outside the scope of this blog; the important take-away from that time in my life is that this attitude towards religion would persist well through my early adulthood and still has an effect on how I look at religion and spirituality today.

I am an alcoholic.  The story of that is also outside of the scope of this blog (for now, anyways); the important take-away from my alcoholism is that I got sober through a twelve step program which necessitated that I develop some kind of relationship with a higher power.  In order to do that, I had to at least superficially evaluate what I didn’t like or accept about what I thought God was as well as whether there was a version of God that I could like and accept.  I had to sort of quarantine my negative spiritual experiences and look through my life to find inklings of positive ones.  This was actually surprisingly easy to do, since my vehement dislike of religion had kind of mellowed over the years (I was in my early thirties by then).

Exposure to many influences, people, and places had convinced me to reframe my feelings towards religion from hostility to a sort of wary tolerance.  I still did not want to label myself as belonging to a religion, but I became okay with playing audience to certain religious attitudes.  I had read several spiritual books that felt like truth to me.  Richard Bach’s One and Illusions were like personal Bibles to me (I actually compulsively, almost evangelically, would loan out the book One to people, complete with my highlights, but I would never get the copy back, so I would have to re-buy another copy and re-highlight that, only to “loan” it out again… I probably did that more than ten times).  Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior series resonated with me, as well as Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins.   Also, being in the military for many years, I fortunately met some devoutly religious but very down-to-earth, funny, and tolerant people who did not make me want to run screaming in the other direction when they talked about their beliefs.

By the time I had to formulate my own idea of God, I already had a pretty good list of characteristics that I thought it/he/she would possess.  And, interestingly enough, once I ditched the ideas of God that were repulsive to me and adopted the ones that were attractive, I actually wanted to have a relationship with it/him/her.  I use the term God loosely here; I used to be averse to even using the name “God” because of the traditional images it conjures.  However, I find that it’s much easier to say “God” than try to invent a label less loaded with preconceived notions when conversing about spirituality (although I did go through a period where I tried out all kinds of different names to pray to, i.e. Divine Creator, Divine Force, Master Intelligence, the Great Good, Mother Earth).  Anyhow, thus ended my refusal to pray or meditate and the beginnings of a real relationship with a higher power.  I could no longer deny that a higher power was at work in my life, because it totally worked.  Prayer and meditation WORKED.  Not in a way that I could scientifically quantify and show to you, but in a way that gave peace and direction to my life that wasn’t there before.

So, why is spirituality still an issue for me?  Well, first of all, as I said, I am not consistent in my relationship with a higher power.  I feel that it is vital to show my daughter that spirituality is an important part of life, but it’s hard to do that if I am not consistent with it.  Also, how do I teach spirituality to a child in terms that are as vague as the ones I have chosen to define it?  I don’t care if she ultimately decides to be Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Pagan, or even an atheist, as long as she has the exposure, the education, and the spiritual guidance to listen to her own moral compass and make an informed and heartfelt decision.

Me, I believe that there are many paths to truth and none have to be mutually exclusive.  I think that the idea that there are winners and losers in spirituality (i.e. heaven and hell) is a uniquely human idea—mankind has a hard time imagining a world in which everyone can be right and everyone can be happy.  If one person is right, someone else has to be wrong.  I say that’s baloney.  I have learned to respect religion for what I believe it is, which is a tool to get people closer to their idea of God (or whatever you choose to call it/him/her).  What gets YOU closer to your higher power may be toxic for ME, or vice versa, but that’s ok, because we can each choose the path that works for us individually.  I think that none of us can really be certain of anything in the spiritual realm except for what our inner compass is telling us, and if my inner compass is telling me something different than yours is telling you, it doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong, just that how I interpret the truth might be different than how you would.

I’m not really sure that I need to go out and commit to a religion to be effective in teaching my daughter what I want her to learn;  maybe I should take her church-hopping, or maybe I should just try to expose her to different ideas through books and media.  What I do know is that I feel like I am not in the best place to make a decision on a course of action.  I have not exposed myself to enough belief systems, I have not asked enough questions, and I have not kept up with my own practices and standards.  I’ve never even read the Bible, and that in and of itself seems like a pretty daunting task to undertake without a guide.

Truth be told, I’m fairly certain that if I am seeking spiritual truth in the right way, I will never run out of questions and may even become more unsteady on my spiritual path.  But I don’t want to tell my daughter that she has to explore and seek truth and follow her own heart if I haven’t done a thorough job of it myself; no one wants to listen to a hypocrite!

I don’t have a game plan, but I do have books, religious friends, lots of churches/synagogues/temples in the city I live in, and a pretty darn good reason to get out there and start learning, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.   I have a few leads already, so we’ll see where they take me…I’ll let you know after I get there!