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  • katherine halligan


This morning I went running — now there’s a euphemism if ever there was one — for the first time since 2009. Luckily, the intervening years were spent almost constantly dashing after small people — sometimes quite quickly, depending on the magnitude of the danger into which they were flinging themselves with gay abandon — so it was surprisingly less painful than I had imagined it might be. I loped along, delighted with myself and ready to conquer the world… for the first 90 seconds.

As it got increasingly difficult, as I could feel my face flush, and my knees protest, and my lungs burn, and I began to imagine all the various parts of my unfit body that would make themselves excruciatingly loudly known to me tomorrow, I was struck by some of the well-worn metaphors and cliches that athletes and sports writers have at their disposal. Each tiny rise and fall in the ground made my journey harder, but it also made it better: the prettiest part of the park is at the top of a small slope, so my efforts up that (baby) hill were rewarded by the loveliest view. For, after all, there are few rewards without pain. I felt the fear and did it anyway. I just… did it.

I actually did it on something of a whim — so in fact I did just do it — but it’s also been a long time coming. Since lockdown began over six months ago, although I have managed to provide my children with ample opportunity for exercise, my own fitness has gone from fair-to-middling to downright terrible, not least because now instead of running to stop a child from whatever mischief or danger they are engaged in, I just shout across the room. And the longer the restrictions continue, the more the mischief, so the more the shouting. (Yesterday it was my older child, wielding a box cutter and unwittingly threatening to dismember more than just the package she was attempting to open.) No one likes the shouting, least of all me, but sometimes it just has to be done.

I feel the same way about intense exercise in general and running in particular: it’s a necessary evil. Just like politics.

Which thought leads to me to where I’ve been chugging (and puffing) all along: I must confess to the tiniest moment of schadenfreude this morning on learning the news that the universe might be attempting to teach a certain someone a certain lesson. My epicaricacy (for that is the rather obscure English equivalent of schadenfreude, and it is just as appropriately fun to say) lasted just the teensiest, weensiest micro-second… and then I slapped myself briskly back into my usual compassionate mode, and it was over. (But first, my friends, it was there.)

In literature, villains are often offered a moment of redemption, when they see the errors of their ways before it is too late; other times, they simply get their comeuppance. Based on the evidence of other right-leaning villains who might have learnt a lesson after their COVID-induced brushes with mortality but didn’t — BoJo in Britain, Bolsonaro in Brazil (the alliteration is also rather conveniently literary) — there isn’t frankly much hope that this particularly vile villain will come out the other side more aware, more sympathetic, or more humbled by this experience. (But hope springs eternal, and I do hope he sees the error of his ways.) We shall see which way things go for our antagonist in the latest chapter of this horror story that is being written. (I often imagine a rather satisfying epilogue, in which he takes up residency in another big house, also sponsored by the government, wearing a snazzy one-piece suit whose shade nicely matches his makeup and hair.) But maybe, just maybe, this morning’s news will make even just a few of his followers begin to question their own refusal to put on a mask and slow the spread, and that would be a victory indeed.

Let me be clear: I do not feel any joy at anyone’s suffering, because no one — however awful their behaviour — deserves to suffer. I feel despair at anyone and everyone’s suffering, which means that these days I am exhausted; I have such a bleeding heart that there are days lately when it feels like it’s hanging in tattered shreds. So I hope I’m not a completely bad person for thinking, “They told you so.”

Nice guys — we must fervently hope — do not always finish last. Good things come to those who wait (and goodness knows, Joe’s waited). And speaking of waiting, I waited over ten years to re-immerse myself in running (no, let’s call it what it is: jogging/ stumbling/ shuffling), but I am glad I did it. I ran (jogged/ stumbled/ shuffled) over a mile today, and it felt very, very good. My efforts this morning were rewarded not just by a smug sense of superiority (a dose of which I’m also hoping for at dawn on November 4), but by my smallest running partner — for we did it, as we do most things these days, en famille — presenting me with a beautiful bouquet of morning glories, resplendent in shades of deep purple and the richest blue (is that a prophetic blue? Again, we must fervently hope), and saying, “Good job, Mommy”.

And I thought about how that little bouquet of joy was also a bouquet of hope: hope for my restored fitness and for a restored country, hope that what seems impossible is actually within reach, that after this deep valley the view from the mountaintop will be so much more glorious. That the darkest hour is just before the dawn.

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