Okay, who else now has the J. Geils Band in their head? Needing to squeeze my run into the middle of a long workday, yesterday I did a quick lunch-hour run from home into Balboa Park. I'm often struck by the thought when I'm there among the visitors and tourists what a gift it is to have this treasure almost literally outside of my own front door. I frequently get stopped for directions, which depending upon my mood (and how fast I was running) either makes me really happy or really irritated. I was in a hurry to "get in my run," and the park was teeming with crowds, who were doing nothing but slowing me down with all of their enjoying of the warm blue sky, taking sweet family photos in front of the Spanish-style architecture, and meandering leisurely through the park's paths and gardens. How annoying. What were they all doing there on a Tuesday afternoon in January, anyway?
As you know, I'm on a quest to be a friendlier runner, which means waving and/or saying hello to those that I encounter. Among the throngs in the park yesterday, I quickly realized that this was going to be impossible and so gave up a few minutes in. As I dodged a large and slow-moving group that had congregated on the path outside of the Japanese Friendship Garden, I began feeling particularly unfriendly and hopped off the path into the grass to avoid them, in a bit of a huff. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of myself - being irritated by how many people are out enjoying this place that I value so much. My social work training kicked in, and I decided to re-frame my thinking.
So instead of being annoyed by the crowds, I used them as a measure of the importance and relevance of urban parks. All of these people had, on this same day, decided to use their precious vacation time, family time, or maybe even just their short lunch breaks to be in this place together, to learn something new in a museum, and get some fresh air. I might not be able to wave hello to each of them, but I realized that I had an opportunity to be an ambassador to my city and my beloved park as I passed by. Instead of stomping and weaving, I could zip by with a smile on my face, and hopefully make a few visitors feel a little more welcome. And who knows who else one runner can inspire. I like to think that at least one of those tourists yesterday thought to themselves, as I ran by enjoying the warm sunshine with that big doofy grin on my face, "Look at all of these happy, healthy people. Maybe I'll go out for a run later ..."