As a newly-widow, I had a lot of feelings I didn’t know how to handle – grief, guilt, anger, anxiety, resentment – so I ran with them. Literally. And I cannot believe I just said that. I am not a runner. I was that girl who played in the marching band because I got PE credit for the class. I have always hated running and considered the term “good run” to be an oxymoron.
Much to my parents’ chagrin, I’m afraid, I am a girl who often says what she thinks out loud, and sometimes it’s not pretty. I am not at all like the Bible character Job. If all the crap that rained down on Job’s head showered down on mine, I’d be the first one cursing God. At the top of my lungs. As a matter of fact, only a very small portion of Job’s lot drizzled down on me, and I was already calling God a variety of names that I won’t repeat here.
Jonah, on the other hand, is a character I can relate to. God says, “Go to Ninevah,” and Jonah takes the first ship to the complete opposite end of the earth. For the entire first year after Sam’s death, I refused to darken God’s door. I often said that if God wanted to talk to me, She could come to me, but I was not going to go to Her. She knew where I lived, and She could make a house call. Or send a whale after me, which seemed a safe enough threat because whales are not indigenous to the foothills where I live. More than once I told God to take His own flying leap. I deeply resented the God who could “plan” this tragedy.
I stopped praying. I started running. I was 40, recently widowed and had teenagers on my horizon, all of which is to say I might have been a little overwhelmed. How much harder could running be?
Pretty hard, as it turns out, but running was great for me both physically and emotionally. As I mentioned, I was a little angry, and running was a healthy way to pound out the mad. I got my appetite back. I built up some endurance. Most importantly, running provided a community for me. My group of running girlfriends and I would wake up at o’dark thirty to power through a few miles while the kids were sleeping, so we could be home in time to get them ready for school and ourselves ready for work. [Spoiler alert: If you don’t believe in miracles, let me tell you this – I had teenagers at my house at 5:30 in the morning to boysit so I could run.]
Running is better than therapy. And cheaper. And speaking of anger, anxiety and resentment, no insurance company is involved. My running buddies know everything – it all comes out on the trail. We laugh a lot. Yes, even while we’re running. Reluctantly, I have to say … I am a convert.
Let’s be clear: I’m not out to break any records for distance or speed. I’m not even remotely interested in running an entire marathon, unless I can count the miles in installments over the course of a couple weeks, and Roger Bannister doesn’t exactly have anything to fear from me.
It has taken me years to say these words, “I’m a runner,” but I’m afraid it might be true. Last week I had time enough before a PTA meeting either to shower and get mascara’d or to go for a run. I ran. When I showed up at the meeting, the sweat was still dripping into my eyes. Not pretty. I draw comfort from the fact that these women all have teenage sons, who smell worse than I do before they run. But I think it’s time to admit … I’m an addict.
When Sam’s first deathaversary was on the horizon, one of my dear friends invited me to church. She wanted to do something for me to acknowledge the day. I cannot now recall exactly the words she used, but there was something about her invitation which was so open and genuine and lovely. I trusted that whether I accepted or declined, my friendship with her would be intact. And as soon as she extended the invitation, I knew that church was exactly where I wanted to be that day. A homecoming. I donned the boys in collared shirts, and off we went, not realizing that the whale was about to spit us right back in the direction of Ninevah.
In his sermon, the pastor talked about Jacob wrestling with the angel. Now Jacob is another imperfect character that I can identify with. The pastor was comparing Jacob’s struggle to his own struggle over his young child’s death years prior and how very angry the pastor himself had been with God. And I thought, here is a man who knows how much pain I’m in. He explained that by wrestling with the angel Jacob was keeping his connection with God – staying in relationship with God, and Jacob did not let go until he was blessed.
All those times I was calling God names, all God heard was me calling Him.
As it turns out, running just might be its own type of prayer. God found me on the trails, and He brought me home. All those names I called God, and He only had one for me: daughter.
My current favorite running route is a four mile loop starting and ending at my house. The first three miles are a mix of ups and downs, some rises, a few flat spots, but mostly gentle slopes downhill. The last mile hurts. It occurs to me that the four miles approximate the four decades of my life – the first three not without challenges, but the last mile home is a butt-kicker. Breathtaking. When you live at the top of a hill, you really have to want to come home.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not a good runner. I had a good run. There’s a difference.
But I am a runner. That’s good enough.
Wishing you light and strength on your path. And a good run.