AN ACORN DAY

You run through the finish line and stop. The ecstasy of no longer moving washes over you—an odd mix of pain and pleasure. When you started up the mountain this morning, the other runners were your soul mates. The same rugged miles waited for you and them in the high-altitude wilderness ahead. The same demons waited for you and them in those last humbling miles.

Now, watching each runner shuffle through the finish, they are strangers, not soul mates. You and they faced those miles and those demons alone. And if you hadn't finished, you would feel like a stranger to yourself, always wondering what part of you had betrayed the others.

You walk to the grass at the edge of the lake and sit down. It's soft, like a bed of feathers. You let yourself sink into the smell and feel of it. Satisfaction puts a smile on your face. You broke that five-hour barrier. You punch a hole in the sky with your fist and an ecstatic "Yes!"

Something else is broken, and it kills the smile on your face. You punch another hole in the sky, this time with your middle finger aimed at Heaven. "Wasn't enough to kill your son. You had to kill mine too."

A gust of wind whistles through the leaves. You look up, then laugh at yourself. No thunder or lightning aimed at you. Just popcorn pillows playing hide and seek through the trees above. Blasphemy—a victimless crime. You'll never again let heaven or hell, devils or angels dance in your head.

You stand and begin the long walk to your car, knowing you can walk away from this finish but not the one that finished him. You'll always be struggling up that mountain. When you see a man and his son running in a park. When you watch the moon bloom and sliver. When the sun rises and sets. When you look up at the night sky and wonder, as he did, what's it all about.

Near the car you see an acorn the squirrels missed among the trash scattered around the parking lot. You pick it up. "Sorry, little fella. He was left to die in a parking lot too. All his tomorrows gone. Forever."

You put the acorn in your pocket, unlock the door of your car, and sink into the warmth of the sunbaked seat. You glance at the rear view mirror, remembering the way things used to be. When you touch that acorn, you'll remember who your son was and why you loved him more than life itself.

You turn the key and begin the long drive home, knowing you've also begun a long journey toward accepting his place in the scheme of things—grand or otherwise. You accept yours too, because you know that one of your tomorrows will bring you to the finish line of your life.