Who is the elder who loved you enough to both care for you and challenge you? Who embodied a sense of how life should be and how it can be, so that when you think of her or him you want to live right and big too. Whose memory grounds you, so that when you stop and let their face be fresh again you remember that life is both a privilege and a responsibility?
For Roland Deschain, the gunslinger knight hero-figure of Stephen King’s, “Dark Tower” series, this experience is described as, “Remembering the face of your Father.” Conversely, he says that those who have lost touch with living well have, “Forgotten the face of their Father.”
Perhaps for you, it is the face of your Mother which calls you to your best self. Or Grandmother. Or some other great person that no one else knows.
Remembering the face of my own Father has a powerful effect on me. Stopping to reconnect with that strong, kind, bearded man’s image quickens my best self. It both stabilises and stretches me. I see more clearly, make better decisions and feel like I’m part of a movement.
That’s partly because of who he was, what he did and how he did it. In reality, he was a compassionate, creative and courageous person. He could see a need, imagine a different world and solve big challenges to make it happen. And he told big, magnificent and colourful stories which made the listener realise that they really couldn’t avoid life’s complexity, while also believing that they could master it if they were ambitious and brave enough.
Remembering the face of my father both stabilises and stretches me partly because of the person he really was. And also because I’ve built up an internal persona called “Dad” which is the result of the external person filtered through my own perceptions and needs.
We all do this, of course. The faces of others which we carry in our hearts and minds are the amalgam of who they really are and our own internal conversations with them.
That is the ongoing work we have to keep doing if we are to honour them. We have to keep that conversation alive in us.
In reality, my Father ran uber ultras and hiked multiple mountains. In my chest, he has travelled so many more.
Despite this, I’m afraid that I’ve not always remembered the face of my Father. In those dark days, I’ve dishonoured him and myself.
I’m also afraid that our precious, rugged sport of trail running is forgetting the face of its forebears too.
Over Christmas and New Year I was on Table Mountain a lot. Sometimes running fast (well, for me anyway). Sometimes walking with kids. Over those weeks many trail runners passed me and as always I observed many differences.
What would our sport of trail running look like if it was a person? Few of us look like Ryan Sandes. We come in all shapes and sizes. I suppose it would actually look quite ordinary.
And what would it be wearing? What form of hydration would it use? What shoe brand? Again, there is no clear trend.
But, dear trail running family, the one common feature I did notice, is how frighteningly few trail runners initiated a greeting or returned my own.
One day, over the course of two hours on Platteklip Gorge, at least 30 runners stormed past us in both directions with grim faced, white knuckled determination and hardly a hand raised, never mind a grunt offered.
It got so that I wondered whether they were possibly cyclists who had lost their bikes.
Now I’ve run that particular precipitous path more than once. Why, I was running it before trail running became a colour-coordinated trend. And even on the return leg of the Tuffer-Puffer, duck-taped together but not quite broken, I’ve had the wind to wheeze howdy.
I’ve run with mega-stars who are as patient and friendly as they are fast.
I know for sure that the Father, Mother, Grandmother, Whoever of this being called trail running is friendly. And I know that we have forgotten the face of our Trail Running Ancestor when we lose our trail manners.
When you’re out on the trail remember the faces of those who call you to your best self. Talk to them as you go. And. Because of them, please, talk to the people you meet along the way too.
With apologies to Stephen King’s ‘Gunslinger’s code’, I’ve adopted the following Trail Runner’s creed:
“I do not plan with my map; he who plans with his map has forgotten the face of his Father.
I plan with my sense of adventure.
I do not measure with my watch; he who measures with his watch has forgotten the face of his Father.
I measure with my smile.
I do not run with my shoe; he who runs with his shoe has forgotten the face of his Father.
I run with my heart.”
TRAIL founder, Deon Braun, recently tweeted: “When running, I make a point of saying “Hello” to pedestrians. Today, I added, “Have a great day.” to 20 people I saw. I was astounded by how much that second phrase connected with them. Reach out and make somebody’s day brighter!”
Now there’s a dude who remembers the face of his Father.