Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 20 Jan 2002 16:30:26 -0500

Seeing Ghosts


I don't just believe in ghosts. I visit them often. They're visible only to me but are clearly there, everywhere I've ever gone and remembered.

"Ghost" is another word for "memory." The better our memories, the greater our population of ghosts.

Many of mine live in the Bay Area of northern California. I first visited there almost 40 years ago. My first job in running came there, my first marriage, first child, first book (which is another type of child), first long race, first home purchase.

That home was in Sunnyvale. Living there less than a year, my memories of it weren't strong.

I hadn't thought much about that place in decades. If you had asked me the old address and how to get there, I couldn't have told you.

Pleasant business recently took me back to Sunnyvale, which now sits in the heart of Silicon Valley. Karen Ferguson, my host, offered to drive me past the old home.

We didn't need directions. Once we were on these streets again, my mental map returned. Take a left here and then a right, I told Karen, and there it was.

This condo development was new when we'd moved in. It has been well cared for ever since. Trees that were twigs then have grown tall and shade-giving.

Karen couldn't see my ghosts. Neither could the latest strangers who live with them in that condo.

If anyone had seen me loitering about, they would have eyed this old guy suspiciously. They couldn't have known that I was visiting with my 28-years-younger self here... or that my daughter Sarah took her first walking steps on these floors... or that an early book of mine (Run Gently, Run Long) went onto paper in these rooms.

We didn't linger long here during the recent visit. Didn't need to, as the ghosts would always be here.

Driving back to my hotel, even older ghosts awakened. A long, straight, heavily traveled road pointed toward Los Altos (where Track & Field News had led me onto my career path and where Runner's World would make its first California home).

We turned the opposite way, passing a Sunnyvale school. Here I saw the ghost of Francie Larrieu, running at Fremont High.

My first long race, the national championship 30-K, had started and finished on that same track in the summer of 1963. This tripled my previous longest run, and I wouldn't go any farther for another four years.

Not only were the kids who use this track not yet born then; many of their parents weren't either. My ghost remains alive and well here, forever young.

You know such friendly ghosts too. The more places you've been and the stronger the memories left behind there, the more real are your ghosts.

You visit by touching old ground again, linking then with now. Without the ability and opportunity to see ghosts, there's only the now.

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