When I run with my sister, that first mile is always full of frustration. It doesn't have anything to do with the run itself; that's just how long it takes us to uncork whatever's been bugging us lately.
Because we're so different in so many ways, what strikes one of us as an insurmountable problem often seems like no big deal to the other. I unload my eating anxieties; Traci frets over her latest run-in with the PTO fussbudgets. We almost always come up with a solution, or at least a coping mechanism, by the time we get to the 2-mile mark.
On one especially memorable early autumn run, Traci was bemoaning her fruitless, poison ivy-inducing quest to find a monarch caterpillar for her daughter's class butterfly project.
A few minutes later, we nearly stepped on one, right there on the jogging path.
Traci scooped it up and carried it as we ran. Which was tricky, because it kept crawling over her fingers, leaving a sticky, stringy membrane along its path. But she was equally determined to make this caterpillar delivery and to finish our run. So we took turns carrying the creepy-crawlie, taking care to neither crush it nor let it crawl off the ends of our fingers.
As we ran, we wondered how this journey felt to our passenger. How far does a caterpillar travel before it becomes a butterfly? Probably not 3 miles, which was how far we had left to go when we picked it up. I kept thinking of this William Faulkner novel in which a character who'd grown up in a horse-and-buggy world takes his first terrifying ride in an automobile. We're pretty slow runners, but probably not from this little guy's perspective.
The caterpillar survived its journey, and a delighted Monroe took it to her first-grade teacher the next morning. A couple of weeks later, it turned into a butterfly, right on schedule, and the class sent it on its way with all the usual fanfare.
I like to think we saved that caterpillar's life. The only reason it didn't get squashed was that I happened to be looking down, as I do from time to time ever since another memorable run in which we encountered several garter snakes on that same trail.
The funny thing is, I doubt Traci would've even noticed those snakes if she'd been running on her own. She isn't as freaked out about snakes as I am, so it doesn't occur to her to scan the leaf-covered trail for wriggling reptiles. Most were no longer than my shoe, but we were both glad to avoid stepping on them.
The caterpillar story is representative of our on-the-run problem solving in that each of us provides a perspective that expands the other person's vision. Scientists who study business teams have observed that those who work well together — building on each other's strengths rather than methodically shooting down each other's ideas — produce data that resemble the shape of a butterfly.
I like to think that Traci and I build butterflies when we run. Sure, we do our share of griping and whining, especially in that first mile. But in the ensuing miles, we work the problem, figuring out what we can do to improve whatever's making us miserable.
And on that one run, at least, by preserving the life of a caterpillar, we really did succeed in helping to build a butterfly.