Atop my current nightstand stack sits Send A Runner, A Navajo Honors The Long Walk (University of New Mexico Press, 2021). The 184-pager movingly follows 59-year-old Navajo Edison Eskeets on his 2018 15-day, 330-mile run to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the return of the Navajo people to their ancestral lands in Arizona following The Long Walk, a forced march that uprooted the tribe from its homelands in 1864 and interred them for four years in a military-controlled reservation in south-central New Mexico.
One-third of the Navajo people perished during The Long Walk and subsequent internment. Yet two-thirds of the Dine (meaning “the people” in their native tongue) survived the brutality and returned to their homelands in 1868, in accordance with the Treaty of Bosque Redondo.
Beautifully penned by Jim Kristofic, a Pittsburgh native whoSend A Runner accompanies Edison Eskeets from Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona to Santa Fe, New Mexico while interweaving the tragic history that led up to the Long Walk a century and a half ago.
During the run, videographer Joe Lunny asked Kristofic why Edison was undertaking such a punishing run. Jim explained it this way: “the run is a kind of prayer that you can’t make with words. So you make the prayer with your body because the prayer goes beyond what words can say.”
Anyone who’s ever run with devotion has likely experienced the transcendence a repetitive exercise like running can elicit. It is essentially brain chemistry and doesn’t happen every time out, certainly, but when it does come over you, there’s a sense of being completely in tune with all that surrounds you, a feeling that whispers, “You can do this forever and all will be right with the world.”
In his 2004 memoir, Father Joe, The Man Who Saved My Soul, author Tony Hendra reminded us that it was the Benedictine order that first professed ad opus est orare’, to work is to pray.
“Any kind of work done well, with gratitude and enjoyment for others first and yourself second, binds us together and therefore to God.“
In that spirit, Edison Eskeets, a former All-American runner, coach, artist, and educator, makes the case in Send A Runner: ‘ad currere est orare’, to run is to pray, as he strides, jogs, humps, and hustles through cathedrals of cottonwoods and along transepts of concrete.
This epiphanic quality, I believe, lies at the heart of why humans become so fiercely bound to running. First utilized for survival, running today is how many people in advanced societies decompress while communing with a land they no longer seem to be a part of, to engage with it, its spinning inflected, oh, so gently, by our footfalls.
Yes, we run for exercise and
we run to compete.
We run on the trails
as well as Main Street.
We run to remember even
as we run to forget.
Run to recover and
at times with regret.
We run when we can
then again when we must.
Run to be alive
till time turns us to dust.
Sometimes we run in anger in search of solace, and when life becomes too much, we run to hold it all at bay until the flow begins to transport us beyond the prosaic and toward the profound.
Throughout Send A Runner, Edison Eskeets underscores the power of running to manifest these truths while transporting himself not just to a place but to a spirit.
In honoring the survivors of The Long Walk, Edison Eskeets ran freely where his ancestors were forced to march against their will, as for centuries the Eurocentric worldview reduced indigenous peoples throughout the world to a status somewhere just below fully human, reminding us that history is indeed written by the victors.
Today, the New York Times reports, Native American tribes are experiencing a cascading peril, this one environmental, exacerbating policies — first imposed by white settlers and later the U.S. government — that forced them onto marginal lands that are becoming uninhabitable.
In academia, Critical Race Theory is reevaluating how the social construction of race – there is only the human race – and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers. Yet to its critics, CRT represents revisionist writing of American history that teaches children to hate their country rather than enlightening them to its development and growth.
But history isn’t stagnant; it’s there to instruct. It’s only when we choose not to learn from it that we risk having to relive it. Thus, there are lessons to be learned from both The Long Walk of 1864 and Edison Eskeets’ long commemorative run in 2018. Have we grown sufficiently to fully take in and assimilate those lessons? We can only pray that we have, or yet may still, even as we acknowledge how infrequently prayers are answered.