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From the Chapel — May 22: Take a right at the light

Scott Richert“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.

Several years ago, while training for my first marathon, I found myself falling into certain habits. When my training called for 3 miles, I had a route. When it called for 6, I had a different one. I always ran the same direction on every route, and I always checked my time against previous runs on my route.

As I’ve noted before, humans are creatures of habit — some of us more so than others. I liked running with friends, because that would break me out of my habitual routes — and I’d learn new ones from them that I’d slavishly follow the next time I ran on my own.

For a variety of reasons (none of them important here), I didn’t run much during my first two years in Huntington. Over the last year, I’ve slowly built my base back up, and now, as I run the socially distanced Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee, I’m running anywhere from 5 to 9 miles each day.

And I’ve found myself falling back into the same habits, without any of the reasons why I developed them in the first place. I’m not training for any race, so I don’t need to stick rigorously to particular distances, nor (since I suspect my days of marathoning are behind me) am I trying to work on my speed. It just feels comfortable to set off on a run knowing where I’m headed and how long it will take me to get back home.

There’s nothing wrong with these habits — except that, because of them, I don’t know what I’m missing.

About a week ago, off on a midday run, I came up to a stop light just as it turned red. And, for whatever reason, I decided to turn right so I could keep on running, rather than waiting for the light to change so I could plow ahead on the route I had intended to take. And as soon as I did so, everything changed — not in some remarkable, existential way, but in the simplest way possible. I quit thinking about where I was headed and started running wherever my mood took me.

Over the last week, I’ve seen more of Huntington than I have in three years. (Except for that one summer evening, before Amy and the kids moved out here, when I was still staying at the Purviance House, and then-mayor Brooks Fetters, the proprietor of the Purviance House, gave me an exhaustive tour of the city, ending at the Etna Avenue Dairy Queen.) It’s been invigorating, and oddly enough, without intending to do so, I’m running farther and even somewhat faster than before.

None of us chose to have our lives and our habits disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And even as restrictions are eased across the country, many things — including Mass, as public worship resumes — are going to seem unfamiliar for the foreseeable future. We’re going to chafe against these changes. We want to fall back into our ruts, to take the road more traveled by. Life is easier that way.

But every once in a while, we need to recognize that the red lights God has set in our path may have a purpose. Maybe he’s nudging us to turn right, to take the road less traveled by and see where it might lead. It doesn’t have to take us far afield — I’m still running the streets of Huntington — but it might change our perspective.

Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.

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