I relearned a valuable lesson this morning.
A simple morning run around Mt. Lykabettos turned into my teacher. After running up Aristodemou Street and turning onto the loop that goes around the mountain, I spotted a silver and gold Euro coin on the floor. It was lying in the street not quite in the gutter. I ran right over it and thought: “Oh wow, a Euro. I should stop to pick it up. No, wait. I can pick it up when I come back at the end of my run.”
I proceeded on my normal morning run: one big loop around Mt. Lykabettos with two loops on the trails of the mountain obscured from the road by the large pine trees. I did not really think about the Euro on the floor until I neared the end of my run. I was more concerned with making it up the hills and being watchful for unleashed dogs scampering in and around the trails (I saw a total of four different dogs on two occasions this morning). The trails do not circumnavigate the entire mountain. They end near the top where the modern road going to the top ends. You have to run down the road for two minutes before you catch the trails again to go back around. This section was especially cold and windy this morning.
I remember thinking about how I want to be a better writer and historian. I think that historians deep down want to be good story-tellers. What am I doing to improve this? My thoughts were disturbed by a big brown Great Dane sprinting on the trail up above. I looked up and lost my focus. I nearly slipped on the rocky path, catching myself by leaning forward suddenly to catch my balance. After two loops I returned to the street that does go around the whole mountain. This street can be somewhat precarious in the morning if you don’t run early enough. People are going to work. Kids are walked to the bus stop by their parents. Cars and motorbikes zoom right by. The sidewalks in Athens are fairly useless for a tall runner like myself: trees hang too low, the stone tile floor is often slippery, uneven, or broken. I have to run in the street. One side of this road had parked cars, the other is a stone wall buttressing the trails above, yet it is a narrow two-way street (it should really be a one-way). Drivers in Greece are much more confident than in the US. Here they are willing to drive within inches of a runner without slowing down too much. On my left are stationary cars and on my right are cars crossing paths. I am stuck in the middle. If I did not already have much road experience from growing up in LA, I might have been worried.
Once I finished my big loop, I returned to the place where the Euro was to claim my reward. The street looked different this time. There were two broad and long wet marks on the road, evidence of a street sweeper having just gone by. I slowed down and jogged for about 100 meters before deciding that the Euro was gone.
I relearned an important lesson: you can’t wait for good things to happen. When a good opportunity presents itself, you have to take advantage of it. If you wait, circumstances change and felicities flee. Not only did I lose out on potentially enriching myself by one Euro(!), I actually spent time trying to figure out where it had gone–a double punishment for my inaction in the moment.
There is a silver lining, however. One could say that I did not let a trivial distraction affect my focus on this run. Similarly, I can say that I was reminded of this important lesson. Ultimately, we make me what want of our stories. Multiple perspectives exist. Our perspectives change. It is not so much the existence of a story that is important, but what we make of it, what we take away and learn.
Every run is a teacher, and I can’t wait for my next lesson.