I didn’t give it a second thought until after the run. After all, what else are you supposed to do with a wedgie?
I was standing at the intersection of Clayton and Hanley on a festively crowded Saturday morning, and the liner in my shorts simply refused to cooperate. I was eight miles into a sixteen-mile run. The last thing I needed was conspiratorial underpants. And so as I stood there at the corner of a four-way intersection, surrounded by cars (most of which were stopped), I fixed that darn wedgie. Then I adjusted my shorts. And then, for good measure, I adjusted the liner again. I took a quick sip of water before the crosswalk signal gave me the go, and I continued on my way.
It wasn’t until after the run that I realized, once more, this sport is making me exceedingly uncouth.
Running is a very raw application. It highlights the most unglamorous characteristics of being human—namely, bodily functions and emotional breakdowns—usually at the most inopportune and public times. Decorum and dignity are unceremoniously discarded without so much as a parting handshake. Sweat happens. (More specifically, sweat happens in unflattering places.) Snot happens. Spit happens. And, unfortunately, bowel movements happen, inevitably when there are no proper bathroom facilities in sight, and your only option is some heavy shrubbery behind a practice field that (you discover too late) boasts an astounding abundance of surveillance cameras, one of which is aimed directly at the heavy shrubbery from which you just emerged, pulling up your shorts with incriminating, yet futile, stealth.
Not that that happened to me. In September.
In fact, when my dear friend Nelly, who happens to be from Puerto Rico, began teaching me rudimentary Spanish, she started with the sentence she knew would be most critical to my survival: Dónde está el baño?
Yes, running strips us down to our lowest common denominator. For all the work we put into crafting a seamless image, running dismantles that façade within a matter of miles. Nobody is fooling anybody at mile twenty. With the possible exception of the stomach flu, running, more than anything else, brings us to the grossest version of ourselves.
But that’s the thing. The sport doesn’t really make us uncouth; it simply reveals that, deep down, we’re all uncouth anyway. We just pretend to be couth because, well, couth is less discomfiting. Couth is less raw. Less vulnerable. Less chaotic. Less real.
Every day, all day, we see the worst versions of ourselves. It parades before us in our present thoughts and in our past. We see it in our questions without answers. We see it in our shortcomings. We see it in our insecurities. Every day, one after another. The invitation that was ignored. The submission that was rejected. The contribution no one heeded. The friendship that faded. The relationship that ended. The love that was never returned. The trust that was misplaced.
No one may notice. No one may even suspect we judge and question ourselves with such unrelenting scrutiny. But we see it, the part of us that is the most vulnerable, the part that longs to be wanted, to be liked, to be loved, and to be accepted. We see it, and we are terribly conscious of what we wish we hadn’t said or failed to say, done or failed to do, be or failed to be. It is constant trial by a hidden jury of one, and we rise and fall accordingly.
“How embarrassing it is to be human,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote. And, in many respects, he is right. It is embarrassing to be human—flawed and finite and clumsy and occasionally gross. At the same time, isn’t being flawed and finite and clumsy and occasionally gross part of what makes us human in the first place?
It is a terrible thing, to compare our worst with other’s bests. It is a terrible thing, to hide deep down the harsh verdicts we’ve given ourselves and feel that we are the only ones falling short. It is a terrible thing, to be embarrassed by the very things that make us human. Because let’s face it, if we’ve got one thing in common, it’s the quality of imperfection. And this is ironic, for at the very heart of embarrassment is the fear of being alone in that embarrassment.
C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one…’” What a glorious relief, what an emotional exhale, to find someone with whom we can simply be ourselves without fear of embarrassment. Too often we detach ourselves unnecessarily from others simply by hiding our humanity. We’re all imperfect. We’re all a little dorky. We all see areas we’d like to improve. And we all, at one point or another, have to go to the bathroom. In the words of the (in)famous children’s book, everyone poops.
Even the Queen of England, folks. (It doesn’t get more human than that, does it?)
So let’s all resolve to be a little less embarrassed and a little more real. Because we’re not alone in our deepest fears, in our dorkiest moments, or in our most painful hurts. Not only will we find others to whom we can exclaim, “What! You too?” but we just might find that we can help each other out.
Except for the wedgie thing. You’re on your own for that.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.