The Riches of Contentment (My 16th Raven Run)Apr 18, 2023
Back in 2017 I was becoming more and more fond of running as a part of my normal wellness routine, and as such I was looking for more reading material about running. It was then that I found a book at my local library entitled Running with Raven: The Amazing Story of One Man, His Passion, and the Community He Inspired.
This book told the fantastic story of Robert “Raven” Kraft, a Miami Beach streak runner who’d run eight miles on the beach every day since 1975. Yes, EVERY DAY. But not only was Raven’s story interesting because of his athletic feats, it was interesting because of his personality, which was fun-loving and had attracted a global community and seemed like something I’d like to experience firsthand.
I resolved to get myself to Miami Beach to run with Raven myself, and the following year I did so. I’ve since run with Raven 16 times, and I am proud to call him a friend. His life, and our conversations, are entertaining, but also instructional.
For those of you who are looking to get off prescription medications, survive withdrawal, and move forward in wellness and spiritual growth, the take-home lesson from today’s post will be this: if you can be content with your daily life—even if your life is very simple or comes with some pains—you will feel well and find peace. Find contentment in daily life, and you find joy and riches.
Please enjoy the following story, which is about my 16th Raven Run.
"What Contentment Looks Like: My 16th Raven Run"
The evening began and ended with a dusty homeless man whom Raven had nicknamed Pigpen. Just as we were getting ready to embark on that day’s eight-mile beach run, Raven spotted Pigpen digging through the trash can nearest the 5th Street lifeguard stand, where each day’s run begins.
“Hey, Pigpen!” Raven called, receiving a distracted wave of acknowledgement from the scavenging man, who true to his nickname seemed to inhabit a perpetual cyclone of soot and grime that swirled around him and left his face and tattered clothes blackened.
Pigpen is a Raven Run “coach,” which is to say that he isn’t an actual runner. But nevertheless, as a coach, he is deserving of a Raven Run nickname (just like all of the actual runners) because he is an interesting character who is “always around” on the beach. This status as a coach also means that Pigpen is eligible for the annual “coach of the year award,” which is always voted on in December and January via the printed Raven Run Award ballots that Raven mails out to runners across the globe.
While others South Beach residents and partygoers might look down their noses at the Miami Beach homeless, or perhaps even recoil with some degree of disgust or fear upon encountering them, Raven has a soft spot in his heart for these forgotten souls. He accepts them as beneficial flavor to the recipe that is Miami Beach, and via his nicknames of them and conversations with them he ensures they aren’t totally invisible.
If a person is an interesting character, and by a large a nice person, he will always be okay in Raven’s book.
After greeting Pigpen, it was time to formally get on with the day’s run.
It was just my wife (Claudia), Raven, and I to begin with, an unusually sparse group. But nevertheless the inaugural fanfare was the same.
“You have to ask me ‘What time is it?’” Raven reminded me.
“What time is it?” I called out as we began jogging.
“It’s time for Roll Call!” Raven said with enthusiasm, and then he gave me and Claudia our introductions, which went something like this.
“On my left, in the blue shirt … his mind is always working. It’s always processing. It’s always creating. He’s Overworked Mind!”
I clapped for myself, and then Raven introduced Claudia.
“And next to him, with the fancy hat. She loves shiny things. She loves bling. She’s always sparkling. She’s Over Bling (as in super blingy).
Raven tries to keep nicknames “in the family” if there is more than one person with the same last name on his roster, and since we’d brought my parents down to do the run in previous years, they also had nicknames that began with Over. My mom, Edith, was Over Easy, and my dad (real name Don) was Over Don (a play on overdone).
As the day’s run got going (slowly, due to severe blisters that Raven was battling), we jogged past several event set-ups that seemed to take up most of the beach space immediately north of the 5th Street lifeguard stand. There was space set aside for the upcoming professional volleyball tournament (the AVP Miami Beach Open) and also for an upcoming extreme fitness festival.
I hadn’t seen Raven in person since the previous spring when Claudia and I were last in Miami, and it was great to catch up.
Raven, as always, had some updates on his music. He is an extremely prolific songwriter (having penned lyrics to thousands of songs), and he had recently been given the good news that he’d be recording a duet of one of his songs with a notable country singer. Also, he was now living a lifelong dream as the front man for his own group, Raven and the Dark Shadows. Raven has always been a night owl, and when I asked him how late he’d been rehearsing with his new band the previous night, he told me that they indeed hadn’t finished until about 3 a.m.
As they say in The Phantom of the Opera, “Nighttime sharpens, heightens each sensation, darkness stirs and wakes imagination … listen to the music of the night.”
Raven loves to make music in the night.
It is true that Raven is known worldwide for his running feats, and in my mind his athletic accomplishment (running eight miles every day since 1975, no days off) is on par with some of the great feats of endurance out there—a la Brett Favre’s NFL streak of starting 297 consecutive games, and Cal Ripken’s MLB streak of playing 2,632 consecutive games. However, Raven is really a songwriter at heart, and his true dreams are in the musical arena. He sees a story, and thus song lyrics, in every corner of his life and in every daily slice of beauty and lunacy he witnesses in Miami Beach.
Of beauty in Miami Beach, it often seems skin deep, and of lunacy in Miami Beach, there is no shortage—as is consistently evidenced by the “Spring Break” crowd that descends upon South Beach each March.
As we continued up the beach on our run, past the setups for the volleyball and fitness expositions, there was another sort of “event feel” pulsating across the sand as rowdy crowds of urban spring breakers congregated. The feeling in the air here was bacchanalian, and even dangerous. The music from this section of the beach was hip-hop, booming and full of aggressive ego, and it served as the rhythm by which the barely clothed party-goers gyrated and yelled and slapped each other’s bottoms as they gyrated and yelled. The smell of marijuana is always in the air in Miami Beach, and this area was no different. Also, we were forced to step over numerous empty airline bottles of tequila as we passed by. The atmosphere surrounding the crowds here felt one part festive, yes, but also sinister—a tinderbox itching for ignition.
And indeed, just a couple of days after our run, two people would be shot to death nearby, and the problem of wrong-minded youths, guns, and booze continues in South Beach each March.
The beach is supposed to be about sun and serenity, not aggression. A party isn’t a party if it involves violence. This isn’t “Spring Break,” which implies mostly good-natured college students blowing off steam after long nights of hitting the books.
I don’t know what it is.
Nevertheless, Raven seemed mostly nonplussed by the scene. He said that it seemed to be getting “a little worse,” but then again, he’d seen it all on South Beach, including the period of time after the Mariel boatlift, whereby Cuba emptied itself (including its prisons) onto Miami, and the “Wild West” of the cocaine-laced 80s.
Raven has seen some evil and heard some evil in South Beach, but it hasn’t infiltrated his easygoing spirit and live-and-let-live attitude. He often chuckles or shakes his head at it all, as if to say “just another day at the beach.”
South Beach is home for Raven, specifically his modest Ocean Drive condo is home, and he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. As we were running, he talked about how developers were buying up other condo buildings nearby, making residents a handsome profit but forcing them to move.
“I wouldn’t want to move if you gave me $100 million,” Raven said. “I wouldn’t want to go into a high rise. I don’t like heights or elevators. I like where I am, I have all of my stuff there, and two bedrooms.”
And with this proclamation—that he wouldn’t want to move, ever, not even for $100 million and the guarantee of a spot in a luxury penthouse with beach views—Raven cemented in my mind exactly what sets him apart from most of humanity nowadays (especially the slice of materially obsessed humanity in South Beach): He is content.
Raven is content. He knows what makes him happy in life, and he won’t ever strive to be someone else or somewhere else.
With the exception of some pesky neighbor problems and a greedy condo association, Raven loves where he lives. He has all of his stuff there in that condo—his photos, letters, song lyrics, etc.—his longtime girlfriend, Miracle, lives across the way, and he can simply walk to the run every day.
Sure, he’d like to have a couple of number one songs published and recorded before it’s over, and maybe those hit songs would help him to pay for those fees from the greedy condo shiesters, but other than that, he is content with a capital C—and contentment is something that most of the world just can’t seem to find.
Find contentment in your daily life, and you have found true riches. That is one of the great lessons to be taken from the unique story of Robert “Raven” Kraft.
Toward the end of the day’s run, I had a chance to talk with Raven frankly about a subject that had been weighing heavily on my heart the past year—the passing of my beloved male calico cat, Benjie.
My wife and I had driven in a Wisconsin snow storm to adopt Benjie as a kitten. He was tiny and affectionate with a red ribbon around his neck, and he became a great source of joy and peace in our lives for the next twenty years. Benjie was easygoing and loyal—a true writer’s cat—and when he got sick and reached the end, it was among the most difficult time periods of my life. That was nearly a year ago, and still not a day goes by when where I don’t miss him and long for more time with him.
But, as a Christian with faith in the Almighty and also faith in eternal paradise, I believe I will see Benjie again someday, just as I promised him I would during our last hours together on this earth. And my optimistic view on cohabitating eternity with our beloved pets has some precedent, as it is shared by great Christian thinkers including Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, and Billie Graham.
Nevertheless, the loss hurts. Raven and I agreed on that. He knew.
“I’ve actually had to deal with a lot of depression, and anger,” I told Raven. “It seems difficult to talk to others about. Because maybe they say, ‘Oh it’s just a cat.’”
Raven shook his head. He understood. He himself is a cat guy—maybe this is a Libra thing—and he’d also experienced deep loss a couple of years ago when his feline buddy, Joe, had gotten sick and passed.
We talked about how special each of our beautiful boys had been in our daily lives, the joyous little rituals and understandings they shared with us, and we exchanged anecdotes about life with them.
Raven said that he’d written a couple of songs about Joe—I should have guessed—and I said that I felt certain I’d need to write about Benjie in the future. This would be a great way to help process his passing, share his unique vibe with the world, and memorialize his existence.
Raven and I talked about the possibility of getting “new cats” in the future, but neither of us were too enthusiastic about the idea, and we agreed that any future cat would never take the place of our originals—the “real deals.”
“Maybe if one just shows up at my door,” Raven said.
There are indeed plenty of cats on South beach, and Raven is always looking out for them and knows many of them by appearance and personality. Last fall, when a “rogue wave” swept over the southern end of the beach like a mini-tsunami, injuring several people and crashing over the South Pointe Pier, Raven’s first thoughts were for the safety of the cats who set up residence on the nearby rock jetty.
But the cats survived.
“They must have known what to do and where to hide,” Raven said.
It was past sundown as we finished our run, and as we crossed the 5th Street “finish line,” we congratulated each other—Raven, Claudia, Greek Summer (a late addition to the day), and I. (A fifth runner, Plantain Lady, had already veered off toward home earlier.)
“You did it again,” I told Raven as he raised his arms in the air victoriously, Rocky style.
Again. Every day since 1975. Again.
Around nine o’clock, as the nightlife was awakening on South Beach, Claudia and I walked Raven home after the run, back to that simple Ocean Drive condo that is his castle. Our car was parked behind his building, and he told us that Pigpen was probably parked somewhere back there, too.
“He’s usually right over here somewhere,” Raven said, gesturing to the dark alley behind his building. “Oh, right there he is.”
Pigpen was lying behind a small dumpster, a few feet from our car, and it appeared he was utilizing a small piece of cardboard or some ratty blanket as a cot. He wasn’t wearing any shoes, and his filthy socks were sticking out in our direction.
“Hey, Pigpen,” Raven said, receiving a grunt of acknowledgment from the coach before he went back to sleep.
“I’ll go get Priscilla (aka, Miracle), so that you can say hi,” Raven told us.
“Hey, Mama Bear,” Raven said with mock gruffness as he pounded on Miracle’s condo door (which is literally directly across from his own front door). “Open up. It’s me, Raven, and I’m not alone.”
Priscilla came out and we talked. The conversation veered in several directions, but eventually settled onto Priscilla’s inability to remember faces well—a malady known as prosopagnosia. She said she shared this condition with a very well known actor, Brad Pitt, and added that while she could, via her education and professional expertise, recognize and identify any and all sorts of plant life, recognizing and remembering faces was just not her thing.
“What about socks?” Raven said. “Can you recognize socks?” And with this question he pointed to Pigpen’s feet.
“Raven, you’re terrible,” Priscilla said.
I chuckled. Not because we were laughing at a homeless man, we certainly were not. Raven’s comments were good natured and affectionate. I chuckled because of Raven’s casual attitude toward the whole scene. Again, many—if not most—people would call the police or feel unable to sleep if they knew that a homeless man was setting up camp at night right below their window. But Raven accepted this, and he wouldn’t think of bothering Pigpen because he wasn’t bothering anyone.
It was just another day at the beach, and Raven was content with it all. He wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
MICHAEL PRIEBE is a writer and wellness coach who loves God, family, sunshine, the beach, movies, travel, and running. After reading a book about Raven years back, he vowed to get himself to Miami Beach to run with the legend himself, and he's now run with Raven 16 times. You can read more of his writing at michaelpriebewriter.com and lovelygrind.com, and you can follow him on Facebook or Instagram.
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