As I might have mentioned a few times, I signed myself up to do the Bristol Half Marathon. This image above is to confirm that I did indeed complete it. Of course you cannot tell that it is me and in any case you don't know what I look like. You will just have to trust me. 13 miles in 2 hours and 2 minutes. I don't know if that's good, bad or average. All I know is that I have been limping for three days but feel a tremendous sense of self worth.
Naturally I have been telling everyone I run into (that's an accidental pun) that I did this, how it felt, etc, etc. While most people politely smile or say, 'Oh, very impressive,' it is not hard to discern that beyond the veneer of perfunctory pleasantries - usually in the eye or the fumble of a disinterested wrist - that they are bored by what I'm saying.
I can conclude from this two potential answers:
1) They are bored by what I am saying and have no interest in me past this conversation and certainly no interest in running.
2) That while they are genuinely lightly impressed by my brief necessity to brag, THEY have not just run a half marathon and THEY cannot really relate to what I am saying.
To me, the entire experience, in terms of profundity, was up there with realising my parents were fallible just like any other human being and that even if there is a god I will never know until it is too late. (Also, that Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan are still alive, despite the various social entertainment precedents that state it should be otherwise.)
This then sent me off on a series of thoughts relating to individualism vs collectivism, Id and Ego, exterior vs interior self, body soul and so on. Mostly it made me think about how, however hard you try to relay what you feel, what happened to you, what an impact it had on you, who you are telling will never actually be able to understand. Your experience is unique and completely solitary. Some might argue that this is true of everything, which I think to an extent is the case, but there is a scale, and some things rise high on that scale into positions of total isolation. (This could be a moment to quote Sartre but he's out of favor with me at the moment).
In Regarding The Pain of Others Susan Sontag loosely concludes that despite ever increasingly disturbing and ubiquitous images of violence in the media, we the onlooker, the voyeur, will never actually be able to empathise with the subjects in the images - with the victims of the atrocities. It was the ten years since 9/11 the day I ran this race. Sontag mentions 9/11, its reproduced images, the ambiguous, amoral suggestions of beauty in images of such atrocities.
Her words, these images, and now, incongruously enough, this run, have compounded in me one idea I can only see as fundamental truth: In the most powerful moments of living we are invariably alone, and will always be alone with the memory of it. Even if someone has gone through a similar, even near identical situation as you, do you really 'share' the experience? Is it ever enough to share this closeness with someone who feels similar, but cannot ever feel 'the same'? Do we not feel betrayed when it transpires that a moment shared with another was actually felt differently on their part? We feel cut off from them, from all others, from the bond of the moment - suddenly we are coldly aware of our alone-ness.
A wonderful quote which has prompted these thoughts into a post comes from The Sea, The Sea, which I have so nearly finished. SPOILER ALERT! In order for you to understand the context I have to surreptitiously ruin the book for you. The protagonist Charles' cousin and only living relative, James, suddenly dies days after they have spent time together. He has always resented his cousin and only on this last meeting feels any kind of closeness or affection to him. Now he is dead he realises he is totally alone in the world:
"What an egoist I must seem in the proceeding pages. But am I so exceptional? We must live by the light of our own self-satisfaction, through the secret viral busy inwardness which is even more remarkable than our reason. Thus we must live unless we are saints, and are there any? There are spiritual beings, perhaps James was one, but there are no saints."
Perhaps Iris Murdoch, through Charles Arrowby's voice, is right. While we cannot fully always understand or feel what another has felt, may never feel, will never be able to feel, we only truly know what we feel - and then hope that another has felt something similar. We imagine, certainly in a social context, that we are linked into pockets by our similarities. That our sameness links us. But this, I am starting to think, is a kind of basic aesthetic illusion. Perhaps it is easier initially to relate to someone from a similar background with similar life experiences, but ultimately they are only similar. Our connection is still just that: a connection between two separate parts. (I could, of course, say 'separate halves,' in the Platonic sense of perfect love coming from a split whole that existed somewhere esoteric before birth. But as far as I can see that is really just a metaphor to describe an intangible emotion.)
I suppose what I am trying say, much less articulately than many others, is that sometimes we really are alone, in every sense of the term. But this aloneness need not be cause for concern when the blatancy of our singularity is thought about more pragmatically. AKA yes, you are alone, you are an individual, no one else will ever think or feel precisely as you do. I feel like an advice counselor in a secondary school.
While I mention this detachment I felt telling people about the marathon afterwards I have neglected to write about how incredibly unified I felt with every single person who was also running the race. Even those people I did not see, I still felt somehow bound to them. This in itself is a paradox (perhaps this whole thought process is a fallacy - perhaps humanity is continually dotted by fallacies??). I was aware of my singular sensation while remaining part of a silent, conglomerate feeling. Joined vs alone. I am Jack's raging bile duct.
The only way I can make sense of this kind of troubling set of emotions is, in a wanky way, through literature. Don't do that face into your keyboard - you know what I mean. Reading a book creates an incredible connection that I still find startling - how close you feel to a stranger without ever meeting them or knowing anything about them. It is the polar opposite of Susan Sontag's justified (I think) concerns about voyeurism, spectacle, disaster and the media. Seeing an image of someone in distress, while appearing to present you with a closer 'realer' image of them, does not bring you as close as something as abstract as printed symbols in a book from Waterstones.
This is a new phase in my judge a book by its cover debate. Metaphorical book, metaphorical cover. I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.