I worked with high-risk adolescent males in a residential treatment facility (RTF), years ago, up in the foothills of Colorado, 45 minutes west of Denver. It was an older house, well-built, fairly large … originally a bootlegger’s house during the Prohibition. A (hidden) trapdoor from the main floor provided an escape route down to the garage: the gangsters’ getaway car parked and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Fast forward to the (RTF) in the late nineties: we had a cross-section of kiddos, a variety of criminal offenses. One young fellow showed up, transported to our facility by county sheriff officers, handcuffed in an orange AWOL jumpsuit (not uncommon). “AWOL” (Absent WithOut Leave) referred to an individual who was a “runner”. “Without Leave” simply meant leaving without permission. This boy frequently tried to escape the supervision of police and treatment staff. Some AWOL’s were fast; others, not so fast. This particular kiddo (I learned the hard way) was one of the fast ones. I stood at the counter processing the paperwork, saw that the boy had slid over from a bench on one side of the room to a bench closer to the door. I told him to get back to the other side of the room. He stood up, started back, but like a flash turned around, rocketed himself out the door. The chase was on, around the corner of the building. We sprinted through the trees. Uphill, downhill. I was keeping up with him, calling out to other staff on the property “RUNNER!” He raced downhill, dropped to the ground, and I flew over him. I came crashing down, close to a fence. I saw the boy breathing hard, trying to get air into his lungs. He jumped up, made for the fence. I grabbed him by his AWOL jumpsuit, and brought him down to the ground. The next two times the boy ran, I never caught him. The last time I saw him, he was walking all so carefully across a frozen pond; amazed that he was so brazen to walk barefooted across the ice surface of the pond … ice that could break open at any moment and swallow up the kid. What a runner.
Runners. I will never forget that kiddo. I wonder where he is now. I think about myself, post-highschool and college years. I had my own style of running. I ran from my story, my family, my southern town, my calling, my fears. Now, I run toward coffee and food. I run toward humor. I had a season where I ran toward the mountains, the trails, the thick, far removed backcountry with deafening silence. With the demands of life, my mountain-escape route is no longer available. Fortunately, I always come back to face the giants. I’ve learned a little about men: what we run from, what our fears are about; and why we run. Some men are afraid of intimacy. Some men are afraid of failure. Some men are afraid of success. One of my favorite quotes:
“It’s not the fear of dying. It’s the fear of living.”
In those realms of isolation, emotional instability, passionless living, our callings are distant; and the fear of living grows. And when fear grows, we run.