My morning walk usually starts out with a lap around my neighborhood park. There’s an elementary school right there and the gym teacher uses the park as the school’s “field.” The kids file down into the park, run a lap around on the park path, and then move to the baseball diamond or do relay races or whatever.
I was halfway around when I heard voices coming up behind me. They were the voices of three kids (two boys and a girl) far ahead of the pack in their lap running. They looked to be in about fourth grade and were talking in that deliberate and pointed way people seem to when they run. Not really a chat, more like saying things that need to be said.
I don’t know what made me turn the volume down on my iPod – maybe something in the boy’s voice. He had the intonation of someone who was holding court. I felt obliged to listen.
We had all just rounded a turn where the smell of dog excrement was especially pronounced. The three kids got closer to me and I could hear now what one of the boys was saying: ”You have to take a big smell of good air early on and memorize that smell completely. Then, when you go by the bad smell, you just replace it with the memory of the good smell. That’s how you do it.”
He was talking about how to manage the smell of dog shit.
The kids were passing me by this time, and I watched their little muscled arms pumping, their long sloppy strides.
The other boy was nodding at his friend’s wisdom. The girl said, “I just breath through my mouth.”
A minute later they had arrived at the feet of their gym teacher. They collapsed in the grass and sucked in big gulps of air. I wanted to ask the first boy if he would consider just leaving fourth grade and becoming my guru.
But the gym teacher was right there. And I couldn’t imagine any way he’d ever understand.