A running coach once told me the muscles you use sprinting at the end of a race are different from the ones you’ve relied on before. That’s absurd, of course. But, as the finish line approaches, I summon new belief in the energy I started with.
The end of the school year is challenging. The students—especially the seniors—want to be finished and, really, I understand entirely. I know the achy restlessness that makes you unsure of what you want to do… except that, whatever it is, you’re sure it isn’t this.
But I wish my students could call on other muscles.
I don’t run much anymore. Many former racers probably do what I do: conserve miles instead of spend them. It’s a different way of exhausting your energy, like letting the air out a balloon, slowly, just fast enough, assuring a steady stream, holding back for the last, last, at least somewhat explosive, puff. Husbandry instead of enthusiasm, or enthusiastic self-restraint and control in preparation for the closing moments.
As the school year ends, husbandry grows old. In running, the word for an accelerated finish is a “kick,” and the adjective often used to describe a good kick is “furious.” Neither term makes much sense unless you think of a just-shot cowboy kicking as he expires or imagine him angry at the world and getting in his last blows. I hope I’m far from death, but I understand fury, a feeling that visits you, a passion like beating wings, an alien compulsion.
In Greek and Roman mythology, the Furies were winged, serpentine goddesses devoted to chasing and punishing people who had not properly paid for crimes, and that is exactly the sort of fury I feel these days when, instead of studying for tests or writing papers due the next day, sophomores chase each other down crowded hallways or shriek over a YouTube video just outside a classroom where I’m trying to teach, or duck into my office in a futile attempt to avoid the latest volley in a got-you-last swatting duel.
The trick this time of year is directing fury rather than watching, almost like a stranger, as fury escapes me. I’ve had some angry episodes recently, and each leaves me a little more spent—and a little more resentful—as I try to gather myself to sprint.
As a runner, I felt proud of my kick. In my best races, fury accumulated like air-borne electricity, struck like lightning, and coursed down wires to awaken vivid life in me. I wasn’t the sort to drift across the line or swivel to see who might be near me. While I couldn’t always match the speed of others, I took terrible offense at anyone passing me in the last half-mile. My coaches advised, “Be the hunter, not the hunted,” and I wanted that, to be a hunter bearing down on the unsuspecting.
The trouble is, I’m older now, and lightning is just as likely to fry an innocent woodland creature as fill a battery. Fatigue erodes discipline. In me, it undermines tolerance. Not everyone has this kick in them. I’m making a point of warning everyone around me—beware, fury is near.