Around six a.m., Sol Invictus awakens to greet Rome’s citizenry, his soft sunlight illuminating two thousand years of a parabolic empire. I too rise, my well-worn running shoes resolving into focus as I touch the window to get a sense of the morning’s chill. Outside, my journey awaits.
Stones the color of old dimes – four-inch mortared squares pieced together for four hundred miles – disappear into the distance on the Via Appia’s journey toward the sea. Atop the ancient boulevard, solitary wheat stalks emerge and sway beneath a Mediterranean breeze. Each year I come to run Rome’s road, taking time away from the hyper-trafficked Trevi Fountain and the falling-down Colosseum. Like those more famous monuments to antiquity, the Appia is crumbling, its roadside statues falling before modernity’s might, its stones absorbing the footfalls from centuries of centurions, citizens and tourists. But, before decay comes creation, and the Appia is heavy with engineering triumph.
The road is named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who completed the Via Appia’s first section as a military thoroughfare to the south in 312 B.C. Less than a century later, it traversed the entire Italian Peninsula. Over the millennia, Rome’s inhabitants have used its rough route to transport Caesars, slaves, food and weapons. Today, eroding effigies litter the roadside, their fissured faces betraying the history of a once-great Empire. Time, after all, ages all men.
The stones’ stability is menopausal and my arches ache with the unevenness. In the distance, an old Italian man whistles something vaguely operatic, and, on the rolling morning air, there is an almost ubiquitous garlic scent. Up ahead a nozzoni waits. Its unyielding cold water, pouring since the BC age of the great aqueducts, teems from the nozzle. My morning runs offer insight into life’s transience – the broken bricks, the sulking statues, a fallen empire. But too, they lead toward a horizon, where each step may bring one closer to fulfillment. I pause, satiating myself amidst the ancient water, resting in sweet spot of life between time’s relentlessness and anxiety about the future. It is like a baptism, a life-affirming renewal that comes from leaving the past’s decay behind.
The stone faces stare at me, whispering wise words –
With each step we construct a life, but all footprints fade.
Like the water you are drinking, like the road you are running, live your life.
Upon the Via Appia, one has no use for rear view mirrors.
A Puccinian whistle wakes me from my daydream. Ahead, the stones summon. There will always be more road, and then a sea, and then a horizon where possibilities await. And so I run, pursuing that hem in the sky, my eyes on the distant stones, Rome’s history crumbling before me. With every heel strike I am pounding out my autobiography. I can hear the prologue now:
Memories are not for the days when we should be creating them, but rather, for an age when we need them.
About the Author: CC Xander is a professional speaker and one of America’s elite tennis coaches. Should you wish to join him on meaningless literary excursions, explore CC’s blog.
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