I hope that running through the Ann Arbor Cemetery doesn't disqualify me from going to heaven, because it is the only place I've ever gotten a runner's high and I don't like running anywhere else. One friend of mine says she runs because it makes her feel alive. When I run, I usually feel like I'm dying. But in the cemetery, I do feel alive — by comparison.

I tell my body that running is good, but it's in too much pain to listen. I can get its attention only for matters of life and death, and the graveyard is the perfect place for this. There, I tell my body, "At least you can feel pain." Faced with tombstones, it gets the message and pushes through the soreness.

And reading tombstones distracts me from the pain. A tombstone tells me a person's age, sex, and religion. Its decoration can reveal how religious she was. Did she get the simple foot-high cross or did she go all out with the three-foot wounded Jesus model?

Tombstone placement speaks volumes. There's the husband and wife of 50-some years buried by the entrance, away from the other graves; the young couple on either side of their infant son; and a lot of loners.

I observe the stones literally on the run, so I don't have time for epitaphs. I consider this a small tragedy. These dead people's families painstakingly reduced their loved ones' lives to a single sentence and I don't even make the effort to read it. It's the ultimate brush-off.

And if I don't read these epitaphs, nobody will. I have yet to spot another cemetery runner, and I only see mourners on, roughly, one-fifth of my runs. And these mourners aren't browsing, as I am; they know where their loved one is buried, and they don't spend more time here than necessary.

Every day I run past thousands of forgotten people who lived important lives, did important things, and had important friends. Nobody remembers them and nobody cares about them. So I do what I can: I think about these people as I dash by their graves. Passing by, I'll size up a gravesite and imagine what its occupant was like when he or she was alive. My guesses are probably way off, but it's the effort that counts. There's this one guy in the back left corner of the cemetery, and I've decided that he's a bank robber. The thing is, I've forgotten why I decided that, but now that I've got this bank robber image cemented in my mind, I can't shake it. Poor guy, he was probably a priest or something. Still, every time I run by, I say, "Morning, bank robber."

I don't have time for elaborate stories because when a narrative gets too complex, a new tombstone catches my eye, and I move on. I greet the lawyer, the town drunk, the debutante, the professor, the grieving parents. They never say hi back, but I don't take it personally.

Death still scares me. That's why I run. If it'll keep me alive longer — and science says it will — I'll deal with the pain, stretch my calves, and be on my way. But the scariest part about dying is knowing I'll be forgotten. But perhaps one day somebody will run past my grave and think about me, if just for a moment. Maybe he'll think I was a bank robber — or a cemetery runner — and he'll hope that somebody will one day run past his grave and imagine the story of his life.
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