Remember your very first class when the teacher did not have assigned seating? After years of being forced to sit up front (if you were the naughty student) or near the door (if you behaved), you were now free to take a seat anywhere. You could sit next to your best friend or close to the cutie you had been eying for a while. Of course, after a few days, everyone settled into a chair that became “their seat.” The freedom gave way to a comfortable routine and it was soon just as the teacher previously mandated; the same kids were in the same seats each day. Strange isn’t it? Perhaps this is part of our human nature. I tend to sit in the same area in restaurants and order the same dishes, take the same roads to work, and even watch the same six channels on television. Perhaps it is laziness but it also is very comforting. The tendency to pattern carries over to my running too. I’ll take off from the house and decide on a long run or short run. After that, there are few variations. I am even a runner who does not mind running on a track. I used to run up to 20 miles on a track just because it was easier to “veg out” and record exact splits. It can all become pretty routine.
My favorite movie is Groundhog Day where Bill Murray’s character is forced to repeat the same day for at least four years. Each day he has to start over and throughout the film he moves from being selfish, greedy, gluttonous, and hopeless to caring, generous, ambitious, and selfless. The humor comes from the other characters who remain the same; it is only Bill Murray’s character who changes how he reacts. I think of this movie frequently since the “patterns” of a life are so identifiable and seemingly interminable. We often encounter the same people in the same jobs with the same schedule nearly every day. My reaction is the variable. This is where the nightly spiritual examen helps us. We bring the patterns to God so that we have His grace to avoid the bad ones and continue the good ones. Just like the assigned seating, there is no powerful force making me run the same route but I certainly can change my tempo and repeat the hills a few times. I suppose that as long as my trajectory is up and there is daily improvement then I’m doing ok. To paraphrase Bill Murray’s character, “different is good.”