No meals to cook. No washing up. No school run. Yes, this conference in Durham was to me a veritable spa break, for I am a mother to young children. And in the vast quantities of free time, or at least they seemed enormous, I spoilt myself with self indulgent activities such as sleeping.
I also did what just a year ago would have been an act of madness: I rose at 6am to go for a run. It was cold, and Durham is hilly. I got a bit lost, and a definitely ran around in circles. But watching the moon and stars above the cathedral rise up as I ascended towards the finish line it seemed that it was worth the effort. And more than this, I felt I was claiming something for myself. Not just time away from my gorgeous family whom I love. But I was claiming the streets of this new city for myself, and I felt powerful doing it, pleased with my overweight, post partum body.
I have found since starting running that the body confidence that it gives has led not into the shallow pleasure of loosing a few pounds but rather it has been a holistic experience of healing. For someone who has gone through a traumatic birth and other illness experiences, trusting my body is not always easy. But slowly, as I have built up the miles, completed the odd race and tentatively listed 'running' as hobby, I have begun to claim my body back and trust it once more.
And so I claimed those Durham streets for myself. But as I ploughed around, plodding and cursing the hills, I also claimed my body and my right to be there. And I claimed those streets for all who are not where they want to be: for the over weight, the lonely, the depressed, the odd, the outsider, the desperate, the afraid, the lost, the shy. I claimed them for the ill and those who feel worthless. I claimed them for mothers who give their body for the creation of life itself. I claimed those streets and as I stood panting in the shadow of the cathedral, stuck erect over that city, I did so before the clergy came to pray and before the sun arose.