After college, I lived in Washington, D.C. for a year, working as an intern and taking a few courses. One of the courses assigned weekly essays. One weekend, when I was home in New Jersey visiting my family, the essay prompt had something to do with our social natures and the value of community. I remember writing that essay, holed up alone in my bedroom upstairs, while my family was downstairs enjoying a movie night. I could hear them laughing together as I typed, and I recognized the irony. It seemed comically incongruous that I could write clearly about the value of time spent with other people, all the while failing to value these things in practice. Being home is not the same thing as spending time with family, and being in attendance is not the same thing as being present.
Sheltered in Place
At the moment, many of us are still in various stages of ‘shelter in place’ orders. Some city dwellers are being extended greater liberties to congregate and move about as normal, while others are facing tightening strictures because of rising COVID-19 case numbers. Either way, the vast majority of us are spending more time at home than we would have otherwise. I certainly am. And I know I can piddle away this time, restless, distracted, or wishing I were somewhere else, or I can take the opportunity to improve my character—starting with my strength of presence. I can try to be present while I am at home. And I can stay home, even if I would rather go someplace else.
I have written in the past about stabilitas loci, or the practice of ‘staying in place’ as a treatment for sloth. This practice is natural to our imaginations as endurance athletes because it is, effectively, training in perseverance. It involves training our “physical frailty and fickleness of will” (1) to stay, and it essentially consists of practice in perseverance—both to perform the right kinds of work, and not to flit away as soon as it becomes hard. We practice remaining under a burden, or being in place.
At the moment, I can’t think of a concept more relevant to our present ‘shelter in place’ orders than that of ‘staying in place.’ As with distance running, we are not very good at it unless we practice.
Stabilitas Loci and Running
Distance running is admittedly not the flashiest sport. Other sports are (at least ostensibly) more dynamic and involve greater feats of courage, like risky tackles or dicey shots. But distance running is no less demanding because perseverance is hard.
When I lived in Texas, I coached a cross-country team of middle and high schoolers, and we would talk about perseverance and then practice it. At first, our efforts felt easy, but throughout a run, we encountered the limits of our endurance, which manifested as aching legs and burning lungs. When the pace became difficult, I would ask them not to do anything different—not to make any new moves or to undertake flashy acts of courage—but to proceed as they were. All they had to do was to remain committed to the difficult thing they were already doing.
Thankfully, over time and with daily practice, the paces that were initially difficult to remain under became less so. The runners were more physically adept and less fickle. They became less internally busy and more present while racing so they could really compete. And they stayed ‘in place,’ even through discomfort.
It seems funny to me that the most conceptually simple action—to keep doing the same thing—is also the most difficult one in distance running. I raise this because, in a lot of ways, life is really difficult right now, but many of the actions we are being asked to perform also seem the most quotidian. We are being asked, among other things, to stay home and to remain in masks for longer than we anticipated. And we are trying to be fully present with our families without diverting our attention to other things. For many of us, it may have seemed like a novelty back in March that we were able to spend more time at home. But now ‘staying in place’—the most mundane task of all—has become the most difficult task for us and the one that requires the most grit.
I don’t claim to speak to the exigencies of everyone’s unique situations in the pandemic, and, of course, there are some people for whom staying home does not apply. But for many of us, we can best serve one another by remaining as we are—in place, at home. We can piddle away this time, restless, distracted, or wishing we were somewhere else. We can even jump ship and decline to remain in place any longer. Or we can endure through the current circumstance and practice strength of presence from home. Surely as distance runners we are equipped to persevere through both mundane and difficult tasks very well.
Call for Comments
- Is persevering in place, or staying home more, a difficult ask for you right now, some months into the COVID-19 pandemic?
- How about staying in place when running? How do you fare when an effort gets difficult and you feel the desire to slow down or stop short of your run’s goal?
- Where else in life are you challenged by persevering in place?
- K. DeYoung. (2009). Glittering Vices. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 97.