I started running again last week. It was half-term – a break in the school semester – and our family went away to the beach for a week. Simon’s aunt has a little house on the south coast in a quiet village full of old people and there is nothing to do there. But in the midst of our busy life, that is becoming more and more appealing. There are no trains to catch, no expensive coffees to buy. There is just this cozy little house and a beach that is half-pebble, half-sand. And the tide goes so far out you can’t even believe it. You can balance on stones that were 12-feet-deep in saltwater two hours before.
Anyway, I started running again. It was a good time because Simon was there 24 hours a day, and I could go at 9am while he walked the boys to the corner shop for bread, or at 4pm when he drove half an hour to the big new Sainsbury’s to buy the Star Wars trilogy. (When you’re on holiday, your idea of an emergency sometimes gets a bit skewed.)
I forgot how much I love running. I mean, I hate it. It’s so hard when you haven’t run in ages, and you’re carrying 20 extra pounds and you can feel every single one of them jarring your body hard into the ground with each step. But that point when you cross the halfway mark – that’s the good part. The first 15 minutes is all “I can’t do this”, and the last 15 is all, “I’m almost there.”
On this run, I’d been through all the little neighbourhoods – down the backstreets and by the cottages and past the old people walking their cocker spaniels. And I was running for the beach, because I knew it was low-tide, and I could finish up on that hard sand down by the water.
But to get from the streets to the beach, you have to go through alleyways. They’re squished between big seafront houses, and flanked on either side by six-foot walls. And when it’s getting dark (as it does at 4:30 in England in November), running down a long alleyway is a little scary for a girl. So I legged it. I mean, I sprinted hard down that thing, and when I hit the end – when the walls ended and I felt those pebbles beneath my feet and I saw the waves crashing and the sky all pink and purple – I lost it. Tears poured out of me from who-knows-where.
Because I had run down that scary, dark alleyway and now I was safe. Safe because it was beautiful. Safe because I could see and be seen. You see, on the beach, there are big houses, and they all have glass walls and 100 windows so the people inside can drink their coffee in the mornings and eat their dinner in the evenings and look out at the sea. But they can also see me. And being seen makes you safe. Not hiding. If you believe that hiding makes you safe, makes you strong, you’re wrong. Safety is being found out in the open. It’s knowing where you are, and letting someone else know you’re there, too.