Shabbat Goy: Daydreaming in the desert

There probably isn’t much for me to add to the whole fandago about the advertising campaign to lure expat Israelis back to the motherland. But one small thing: Despite reports to the contrary, we do live in a big, beautiful world, and there is plenty of space for everyone to get along together.

running 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
running 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
So last weekend, I did something that must count as an act of extreme, premeditated stupidity: I took part in a 30-km. night-time desert run. On the face of it, it wasn’t such an outrageous idea. I’ve run several half marathons comfortably. Surely with a bit more preparation I could stretch myself that bit more? But the key word here is “preparation” – something that I am not terribly good at doing.
First of all, we are talking about the desert. In December. Which is to say it was cold. Even before we set off, I was shivering, and not from nervous anticipation.
Who knew that deserts are very hot during the day, but very cold at night? Silly, unreasonable Nature.
Second, we are talking about the desert. Which is to say, we are talking about a rolling, undulating landscape.
Lots of ascents and descents. Not, in short, like the blessed simplicity of road running. If I’d looked closely at the maps before registering for the run, I would have realized that the run incorporated several climbs, including a steady ascent of 5 km. or so right at the beginning. That is to say, out of the range of a casual runner like yours truly. But of course I didn’t look at the maps. And thus, after about 7 km., I had already started to think about turning back. In fact, I would have if it weren’t for my pride. That and the fact that Mrs. Goy and the Small Noisy One were waiting for me at base. (I had coaxed them along under the pretext of needing moral support, but in fact it was because I don’t do camping very well and need help in putting up my tent.) Third, we are talking about the desert. In the dark.
We’d been warned to come prepared with head-mounted flashlights, but even so, I hadn’t quite realized how... dark it can get away from the conurbations to which I have become accustomed over the years. Which is to say, pitch dark.
The upshot of this is that not very far after the halfway feeding point, I was exhausted, alone and hopelessly lost. The last bit came about because, for as long as I was able to keep up with other runners, I didn’t need to think too closely about following the clearly demarcated trail. But as I started to drop behind, I was feeling too sorry for myself to pay attention to the fact that I had made a wrong turn somewhere. At some point, the rough desert trail turned into an almost unnavigable rock path, but somehow I didn’t notice.
Well, not until I came up a sheer rock face. I mean, hard as the run was intended to be, they surely didn’t intend for us to traverse this...
The night was still. My flashlight illuminated a narrow tunnel of vision in front of me, but yielded no clues as to the right direction to take. Then I thought (I do, occasionally): If I switched my flashlight off, I might be able to spot the bobbing lights of other competitors, and use these as a guide back to the running trail.
So I switched the flashlight off, but instead something else happened. For the first time that night, I became fully aware of my surroundings, rather than just the people running in front of me. Above me, the heavens revealed a million stars, a twinkling kaleidoscope of ineffable beauty. Nearby, the walls of the dry river bed I had been running through rose and fell in majestic splendor.
A half moon hung low in the sky, creamy white.
I’ve never been one to think too hard about nature or its uncomplicated beauty. It was there, I was here, and that was good enough for me. But suddenly, unexpectedly, I was overwhelmed by the grace of my surroundings.
And to think that if I had concentrated on the race, the runner in front of me, the narrow strip of illumination thrown out by my flashlight, I would have missed this moment. Beads of sweat ran down my cheek. Perhaps they were tears. Tears of pain, of course...
In the distance, I could see someone’s flashlight bobbing along confidently. I took off after it. The awesome beauty of the desert or not, I didn’t particularly fancy spending the night out under the stars.
There probably isn’t much for me to add to the whole fandago about the advertising campaign – now mercifully abandoned – to lure expat Israelis back to the motherland from the US. For one thing, it doesn’t affect me a bit. In any case, we have both a hanukkia and a Christmas tree in our living room. If someone doesn’t like that, that’s their problem, not mine.
But one small thing: Despite reports to the contrary, we do live in a big, beautiful world, and there is plenty of space for everyone to get along together – if they choose to do so, of course. I’d like to think of Sofa Landver – the minister responsible for the campaign – as perhaps being a little bit like me in the desert: with a flashlight strapped to her head, blotting out everything around her. Perhaps she should turn it off sometime, become reacquainted with what lies beyond her tunnel vision. She may be pleasantly surprised.
(And in case you were wondering, I did finish the race. Ended up running 33K, after getting lost two more times. But all said, it was worth it.)