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Posted February 9, 2003


On Running Away from Ourselves

Taken from Say Yes To Life

Author: Sidney Greenberg
Crown Publishers, Inc. New York pp. 147


There is a running boom in this country, not only on the tracks and city streets, but also in the bookstores.

One book on running has enjoyed a long run on the national best-seller list. At least thirty other books on running have been published. Running enthusiasts even contend that running can provide a spiritual "high."

After a 26-mile, 385-yard marathon in New York's Central Park, a newspaper ran an enthusiastic lead editorial entitled "Inside. Every One of Us Is a Distance Runner."

That title sent my thoughts running on a somewhat different track. It reminded me that running is an ancient enterprise, as old as the human race (no pun intended). I am thinking not of the kind of running that makes us more fit to face life but of the kind of running that is an effort to evade life, to escape from its burdens, to get away from it all.

The most celebrated runner in the Bible is Jonah, the central character in the tale of Jonah and the whale, which I consider a whale of a tale, to be taken seriously but not literally.

God sent Jonah to preach a message of repentance to the inhabitants of Nineveh, the capital of Israel's bitter foe, Syria. Jonah doesn't like the idea at all. Why should he care about these Gentiles, an Gentile enemies yet! So what do Jonah do? "And Jonah arose to run to Tarshish away from God (Jonah 1:3).

Jonah begins the longest race of all, running away from God. Instead of setting out for Nineveh, he takes a slow boat to Tarshish. This kind of marathon did not begin with Jonah and did not end with him. Inside, every one of us is . . . a little like Jonah. We each have our own Ninevehs from which we want to run.

We want to run from unpleasant duties, from nagging responsibilities, from life's complexities and confusions. We want to run from harsh realities, from our fears and anxieties, from an accusing conscience. We want to run from the boredom and bewilderment of existence.

And there are many ships we board as we head for our own little Tarshish. Some get turned on and some get turned off. Some drop out and some cop out. Some develop asthma and some get headaches. Some get lost in petty pleasures and some in the pursuit of fun.

But if there is one lesson that Jonah teaches us, it is that there is no running away; wherever we go we take ourselves along. God finds Jonah even in the belly of the whale. The only way to "get away: from ourselves is to effect a change within ourselves. What we need is not a change of scene but a change of soul.

It is only when Jonah finally goes to Nineveh, when he accepts and discharges his responsibility, when he stands up to life, that he saves both Nineveh and himself. He has stopped running.

In our own times, Dag Hammarskjold, the great secretary general of the United Nations, once put the truth simply: "Life demands from you only the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible not to have run away."