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Authentic Eagles: Chris Kabacinski On Slowing Down

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.

Chris Kabacinski, MCAS '16

When I broke my foot, I was in the middle of my most demanding semester of college. I was laying out, proofreading, and perfecting the inaugural issue of a publication that I had co-founded; running a forum for Word of Mouth; drowning in a graduate seminar, where the readings and lectures offered me more answers than questions; drafting a thesis proposal; making the most of the time left with my girlfriend, who would graduate come May; and spending time with other roommates and friends. Beneath my optimistic visage and affirmative responses, I was reeling, trying to figure out what mattered while hiding what was the matter. I was moving all too quickly, fueled only by black coffee and a worrisome amount of toast. I couldn’t keep up with everyday life.

At the time when my bone broke, I wasn’t even running fast—that’s the funny part. My friend Brendan and I had agreed to meet for a run at our usual spot, so I took it slow for the minute-long trek to the designated point. As I approached the corner where we agreed to meet, I misstepped, and my foot rolled outward.

I made the few paces back to the curb, hoping for the pain to pass, but it radiated through my foot. I was suddenly aware of my own body. It was my first injury; I wasn’t used to feeling so contained, so limited.

When Brendan joined me back on the sidewalk, I asked him to wait for a minute or two. I thought it was maybe a mild sprain, something that I could perhaps continue to run on if I stretched it out enough. The pain only deepened, spread out with time; we weren’t going to log even a few miles that day. Brendan helped me hobble back to my house off campus, but I adamantly insisted I didn’t need much help, all the while putting pressure on my injured foot. (In reality, I just didn’t have to coordination to let him bear the weight.)

I spent the weekend with my blue foot propped up on pillows, or hobbling around on one foot or crutches. All the while, I worried: what would I do if I couldn’t run, or make it to my meetings, or navigate snowy sidewalks? Would I have to wear a cumbersome boot to WoM Prom or Commencement Ball?

These anxieties didn’t show on the surface. I guess I’m known—at least in my friend group—for my unflagging (or, as someone put it, aggressive) optimism, so it was habit for me to spin this injury into something positive. When I healed, I would be stronger, I told them. Scar tissue is strong. With rest, I’d be better in no time. The bruise looks neat, all discolored and bulging. What breaks your foot makes you stronger.

And slows you down.

As it turned out, it was a small fracture on the bone leading to my pinky toe. The prognosis was bright: six to eight weeks in a small boot, and I’d be ready to free my foot and take off running (slower speeds, shorter distances).

In the middle of a life chat with a friend a few days later, it dawned on me that this injury was life telling me to slow down. All of this happened while I was in the middle of a graduate class teaching us the concept that meaning never held and could never be totally determined. What I learned was that you had to decide what life events would signify. And this was what I wanted my broken foot to mean, I decided: slow down.

I’ve been running for half my life now, and I’ve always wanted to go faster, push my body farther, hurt a little more in order to improve. I considered myself a runner more than anything else, with my running logs, collection of split shorts, and knowledge of track and field; this injury put all that into question. As it happens, everything else felt up in the air, with a long series of transitions looming ahead of me. What would matter when I had to slow down?

Finding my pace was about more than running. Breaking my foot made me realize how quickly I was moving through everyday life, losing the familiar things that gave me joy and purpose. I was so focused on moving forward that I wasn’t being present.

So I spent six weeks in a boot learning how to pace myself. My body adjusted to the boot, and the pain subsided. With my semester slowing down—the most fortunate coincidence—I finally felt like I could keep up with what was going on in my life. For someone obsessed with splits and personal bests, slowing down was a difficult thing for me to accept, but I felt such joy standing for hours on Marathon Monday, cheering on the runners. The year before I had run the Boston Marathon for a charity team; this year I was in a boot, on the sidelines. I was happy not to be running, to be on the other side of the barrier—in this moment, I was able to witness the true beauty of the sport, from the outside looking in.

I remember walking in the South End on one of the first warm evenings of the year. Despite my boot, I was still keeping up with my friends, and I was even jaywalking as aggressively as I had before the break. After a while, the cobblestone sidewalks did me in: the boot had altered my gait, and parts of foot and leg were throbbing from the biomechanical change. Huffing and hobbling, I started to slow down. The pain—coupled with stress and frustration—upset me to no end, and I fell behind silently. It felt like the perfect metaphor for how I felt: losing ground, losing time. It was supposed to be a nice evening out, but I couldn’t shake my awful mood.

I had spent months unhappy and stressed, and this injury was the culmination. It felt familiar to be anxious, to be stretched thin. What had once brought me so much joy felt so empty, so routine. As I lagged behind my friends, I looked up instead of at my boot hitting the cobbled pavement: a springtime evening sky, the Back Bay brownstones, a few of the people who meant most to me. I found a sliver of gratitude there. I felt happy to be behind.

Writing about running is difficult, I think, partly because it’s difficult to articulate what running means without sounding trite or stale. Wanting to run faster was something I could always put into words. It was something that made sense. When I say that breaking my foot and slowing down was one of the best things that could’ve happened to me, I mean it.

At the spot where my bone broke, there’s now a bump, some scar tissue, I guess. Now that I’ve been injured, I find myself gauging how I feel more often, taking stock of what hurts and what’s wrong. It’s a reminder that I do need to slow down. I’m running again, but this isn’t to say I’ve found my pace, at least in my everyday life. I’m still overcommitted. I’m still outrunning myself sometimes (or most of the time).

At the end of Jhumpa Lahiri’s short-story “The Third and Final Continent,” the narrator speaks to his sense of wonder in his everyday life: “Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” Slowing down, for me, is about finding that astonishment in the familiar parts of everyday life: in my relationships, my routines, my involvements on campus, and even running. It’s a matter of slowing down and being present.

I’m still learning my pace, figuring out what in my everyday life gives me joy. When I do check my speed and take time to glimpse the wonder in my everyday life, I remember that slowing down is still moving forward.