This article appeared in the August 2019 edition of Roqueta, Menorca’s English language magazine.
Roberta Flack has a new album in the works.
She is the lady whose early claim to fame was built upon songs such as “Killing Me Softly,” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”
It is called “Running,” and the cover has a quote from Sri Chinmoy, an Indian guru who moved to the USA to teach meditation in the 1960s:
“I do not compete with the rest of the world. I compete only with myself, for my progress is my true victory.”
Actually, the album cover only has the second part of the quote. And so far there’s only the one song available, the title song.
In early 2016 Roberta suffered a stroke. Her voice was unaffected although her walking was hampered. Two years after that, while waiting to accept a lifetime achievement award from the Jazz Foundation of America at the Apollo Theater, she collapsed and had to be briefly hospitalised. Since then she has recovered sufficiently to record “Running” and to accept the JFOA award.
From a recent interview in Billboard Magazine: ‘As Flack, now 81, confirmed in her interview, “The lyrics to ‘Running’ speak to where I am now, working to keep going through music.”’
Wait a minute. Roberta Flack is 81? What?!!! I remember going to see her in concert in California in 1989. She didn’t seem so old then! It was a great concert – she was a captivating performer and singer … but let’s set aside the shock of another performer who suddenly seems much older than we remember. (Where did 30 years go?!)
Running is (literally) a sore subject for me at the moment. I seem to have damaged a tendon in my heel and so my regular forays along the various trails around Mahón and Es Castell have been suspended, replaced by walking – which is still good exercise, but not quite the same, as any runner will tell you. And so I watch others jog their way past with a mixture of resignation and frustration.
So the quote on Roberta Flack’s putative album spoke quite loudly to my inner runner: “I compete only with myself, for my progress is my true victory.” Which is generally true regardless of tendon problems. Running for its own sake can be regenerative. And no one is too old to run: “Everybody tells you, ‘You should have given up long ago,’” sings Robert Flack.
But, as the words continue further in the song: “Never give up – because you’re running for your soul.”
“Running,” the song itself, was written by Michael A. Levine and is actually from the sound track of a film, called “3100: Run and Become.”
The film, directed by Sanjay Rawal, features runners who participate (I was going to write ‘compete,’ but in a way that would be contrary to the whole spirit of the thing) in the “Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race,” which is not really a race, and which takes place in Queens, New York City each summer. This race, described as “the most elusive, elite multi-day race in the world,” is held around one square sidewalk block (0.56 miles) and requires at least 59 miles a day for 52 straight days – hence the 3100 miles (4900 km for the metrically minded) – to complete the event. It features the transformative, transcendent nature of running and specifically the way in which participating in the 3100 mile run delivers a form of personal expansion.
There is no question that, for me, running is something that takes me to a different mental, emotional and even spiritual place. “Something fills your soul with light and gives you the strength to begin.” Countless sermons – and even magazine articles! – have been begun, or refined, while running.
I realise that this is not everyone’s cup of tea, as it were, but I do believe that everyone has some sort of activity that has a physical dimension that becomes a channel to open up otherwise closed or congested passages of emotional and spiritual expression. For some it might be walking, for others yoga – even the physical demands of singing can augment the uplifting aspects of music. Any activity that engages body, mind and spirit is healthy and makes us complete – we really can be “running for [our] soul.”
We live in a world that has all kinds of competitive forces. The idea that we don’t need to compete with one another – “my progress is my true victory” – is transformative and liberating. And this extends to more than just the physical act of running. If we approach our life’s journeys as examples of the 3100 Mile Race, requiring us to pace ourselves, and focus simply on completing our journeys as the only requirement for personal fulfilment, then we might find ourselves running more freely, with less stress, and more time and energy for the more important stretches of life, the ones that connect us most deeply to what is valuable in life.
The Bible has several references to running, most notably a passage from the letter to the Hebrews which reflects this theme of running our own race, not someone else’s: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
The Apostle Paul uses a number of references to running in a metaphorical sense, especially, in writing to the church in Galatia: “I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.” If we find ourselves distracted and diverted by the race that someone else is running, we will not live up to our full potential, and will run in vain. I remember that the athletics teacher at my secondary school warned us not to look around when we were running a race: “You can’t run as fast looking behind you,” he said, “so whenever you do that, you lose time and pace.” It is advice that applies quite well off the running track!
As for me, well, tendons permitting, to quote Michael Levine’s words as sung by Roberta Flack: “I’ll just keep running, until my race is done. If I just keep running, then I’ve already won.”