by Dante Zappala

Even as our waistlines grew this week, our friend lists on Facebook likely shrank. The decision not to indict Darren Wilson pushed a lot of people to social media. I, for one, spent an unusual amount of time in my newsfeed reading personal posts and articles. By-and-large, the tone was not inviting dialogue. It became, for lack of a better description, a riot of language.

And with a good portion of the commentary directed at the riots in Ferguson, what happened virtually developed out of similar instincts. People on both sides of the argument were frustrated and with little belief that there was a more substantive way to connect, they started yelling. Feeling powerless, they yelled louder.

I found all of this helpful. The first stage of healing after trauma is swelling. Outrage is a step. I’ve longed believe that we were not blessed with emotional range just to bury it when they flood through us. Emotions inform, guide and ultimately teach us. We have to go through them.

I’ve made a deliberate point to maintain a stream of diverse opinions in my newsfeed. I figure Facebook assumes, in the most basic sense, that the more you like or comment on a certain person’s posts, the more likely you’ll encounter them on their site. I am a liberal, at least on most points, but I’ve worked to maintain a virtual connection to the people who disagree with me. This time around, I found it particularly hard to read the posts that demonized Michael Brown, that took Officer Wilson at his word, and that failed to acknowledge the prosecutorial missteps that bordered on negligence.

But I read the posts and made my comments. At times I was respectful, at other times impassioned and overly dramatic. If you’ve been reading this column, you’ll recognize the pattern.

Therefore, the posts that described deleting friends or invitations to be deleted worried me. Trimming the roles of the people you don’t like in this moment has long term consequences. Because it’s not the people that you are ridding yourself of, it’s an entire narrative that is counter to yours. And while you may be convinced that this narrative is baseless, it’s also held by a lot of people.

I also spent too much time on Facebook because of an inordinate amount of time on my hands. After making it through the half-marathon here in Philly, I took Thanksgiving week mostly off from running to let the swelling on my knee go down (ironically enough). My weekly mileage had been peaking in the high 60’s so to go down to basically nothing has been revealing.

Taking a step back inevitably offers a different perspective. I realize I can’t drink like I used to, despite trying. I have to try a little harder to tank just enough to let the kids barely win at soccer, which is assuring. I can, in fact, still compete with a 6 and an 8 year old. I can also affirm that there is nothing good on television.

Most surprising has been realizing how singular and insular I’d become over the past six months. At some point, I made the decision to run almost every day and that changed my life in ways I’m only recognizing now.

This break hasn’t changed my mind about anything. My intention is to go back to running and, if the body will allow, increase the mileage further to prepare for Boston in April. I love getting out there to pound out the steady long runs, especially if it’s snowing. Contrary to how many people view it, I think this is a great time of year for building the base.

But I can see it a little better from the other side. Along with Ferguson posts, I’ve joined and been following along in a few Facebook running groups. The newest one, iRun the Hill, is hyper-local. I’d admit that I used to be adverse to these things. To be completely honest, the way some people approach and talk about running annoyed me. It had a cult appeal to it, where everything, even the advice, was cliché.

It’s not an easy thing to admit because now I truly embrace the value of a community of runners, from the couch-to-5k set all the way to the professionals. But at the same time, I had to recognize why I felt distant from a large segment of this community. I discovered a pretty typical cause: different backgrounds. I came to running as a teenager, reared by a group of super competitive middle aged runners. Others come at it in their own way and have developed a different outlook.

On topics as wide as running, politics, justice and race, we may ultimately fall back on the annoying clichés. But they have incredible value because they are substitutes for the real things we can’t express. They represent where our hearts are even if the vocabulary isn’t there yet.

Running teaches us about periodization. There are times when we may focus more heavily on one particular aspect of our training – distance, hills, or speed for example. Cumulatively, these periods come together to make us whole, to make us the best runners we can be.

I’ve learned a lot this week about my friends and the source of their passion. What they expressed was the culmination of many various experiences and impressions. I’m thankful for all of them. I checked and I escaped the gauntlet. It looks like no one deleted me.

But now I’m ready to go offline and hit the trails again. I’ll be running mostly alone. During this period, my ideas will be shaped in private as I ready for the challenges of the spring.