The Nail That Sticks Out...

I'm running again.  Along the river, nearly frozen, I'm running and watching my feet make the paces.  I'm running for speed, not for distance, working to get faster in advance of training for my next marathon, and I'm breathing hard.  Sometimes long distance running is meditative, leaving me in a trance of some kind as I move ahead mile after mile.  But when I am running for speed and not distance, I am at work.  I am breathing hard, thinking about running,  and reading my watch.

I'm looking down at the concrete sidewalk, thinking about the surface and is it too hard for my feet--should I be on the asphalt--and telling myself to keep moving, don't slow down.  As I watch my running shoes moving ahead, my eyes catch something stamped onto one of the concrete rectangles of the sidewalk, street graffiti of sorts, in neat, small block letters:

The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

I almost trip on my feet.  My feet slip, as my pace is interupted and the message beneath me breaks my concentration.  I keep running, but I can't continue my stream of thought.  It is impossible, having seen this message, to return to analysis of my pace, time divided by distance.  I have just been given a message from the street, from the sidewalk, and it's impossible to ignore.

The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

I look around me as I continue to run.  I see the boathouse by the water, shut tight for the season, shutters drawn in front of the windows.  I see the graffiti on the stuccoed wall.  I can't really make out the letters, as they are heavily stylized and almost floral, fading in the weather.  I must see graffiti such as this all the time as I run;  I must spot in on the sides of bridges, on the backs of buildings, or along the subway tracks.  I must see it, but I know I never try to read it.  I don't think about who wrote it, or how someone reached the spot it is written, or who it was written for.  I take it in as I run, I suppose, but I accept it as I accept the benches on the riverbanks and the geese that cross my path sometimes. 

But this, this message stamped upon the sidewalk is different.  Startled to see it beneath my feet, I have read it.  It is not a message I've spotted in the distance, but a note to me, directly beneath my feet.  It is impossible to ignore.

I run on.  I remember a day when I ran along a sidewalk some years ago.  It was summer and the sun was blistering.  The humidity was beyond oppressive.  It was the middle of the day and I was out running.  I was not analyzing my pace nor imagining my time that day.  I was not thinking about running.  I was terrified.  I knew I had come to a crossroad in my life, and I knew I was going to need to change my life if I were to live.  I knew it was time to speak to my family.  It was time to come out.  As I ran that day, I knew that the alternative to telling was very bleak indeed.  And as I considered that alternative, I stopped running, sweating, and walked.  In despair.

The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

But today I do not stop running.  I am a little unnerved by this message, surprised it is there, and wondering a little if this is a warning I am meant to heed.  It's not a simple thing to change one's life, to shift patterns, to take a stand, or alter course.  But it can be done.  And today I do not stop running.  I keep to the route, increasing my speed back to the goal, lifting my eyes, looking out toward the river.  It is a cold day, and the river is frozen, but the sun is strong and still high.

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11 comments:

Jeff said...

As a marathoner and long distance triathlete I am always amazed at how easy my choices seem when in the middle of a long run, bike or swim; I always say I can solve all of my own and life's problems while running, unemcumbered with life's complexities. The freedom I experience when running always feels to me what being out must feel like; I get really brave, rehearse conversations in my head, reconcile difficult choices, but as I hit the end of the run or bike the bravado seems to fade and all the fear and anxiety returns. Could this be what makes me go on that next 20 mile run or 100 mile bike ride?

Sean Kinsell said...

Are you Japanese, Paul? It's a Japanese proverb--in many ways, the Japanese proverb--but I'm not sure it's intended for anyone else. :)

Paul said...

All I can say, Jeff, is keep running....

paul said...

I don't think I'm Japanese, Sean....is there any way to find out for sure???

Sean Kinsell said...

LOL. I'm thinking you'd know by this point, Paul.

Anonymous said...

I used to run and it was meditative as well as a time to think, a trance to the rythmic pounding of my feet and the deep synchronized breaths. Interesting quote to notice. Maybe a nail that sticks out can get a picture hung on it too? :) jadedbear

Anonymous said...

This post came to mind recently on my drive to work and it struck me. Maybe I'm just slow, but I wasn't clear about how to think about the phrase itself "nail that sticks out." For some reason, I was focusing more on the fact that it only bothered you but it's meaning wasn't clear to me. But that day on my way to work, it became clear, and I understood what was so bothersome. Maybe it's obvious(?) that it's about being different, being like us and how society will hammer any people that are different "down". If that's the case, I'll refuse to be hammered down. I refuse to bend or break or get pulled out. This nail that sticks out, we who are SO different, is here to stay! Keep running! - jadedbear

Anonymous said...

conformaity kiss my ass

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Sean L. Adams Sr. said...

Something about this post...makes me love you.

I really love you dude. But I am not sure why, you seem real, yet ghostly, unable to be tamed and unwavered yet disciplined and strong enough to fear.

Fear, the nail as the hammer or perhaps the freedom of the run provides you with images of yourself as the hammer.

either way. it is wonderful and I love it.

Thank you so much for sharing...please keep writing.

Warner Carter said...

I relied on the elbow grease and half a bag of cotton balls... Will def try this next time I put on glitter nail polish. Btw: Has anyone else noticed that that type of nail polish lasts much longer than the regular kind???? foils

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