Reunion Tour

We girls got together for a reunion run around the Rose Bowl recently. These girls are the women who ran with me at o-dark-thirty for months after Sam’s death, and boy, was my world dark both night and day back then. These running friends paced me for hundreds of miles over the course of several years, through valleys of sadness, anger and grief, up mountains of fear, across miles of joy, serenity and strength. I would say that these ladies healed me, but one of them told me, “The truth is, Charlotte, you were healing yourself. We were just privileged to watch.” I cannot help but wonder, though, whether I would have kept moving forward if they hadn’t been watching.

We had a schedule. Short runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, long runs on Saturdays. We signed up for a half-marathon. Some mornings, depending on the work-kid-life dynamic, there would only be two of us, sometimes as many as six or seven, but we kept on track. Literally. When later one of us was training for a full marathon, the rest of us divided the route into shorter distances, so the marathoner almost always had a companion along the way. A real support team. But life got busy, and our regular morning runs fell by the wayside. Over time, most of us suffered injuries and disappointments, all of us have launched children in a variety of forms, many switched job situations or marital status, some willingly and others reluctantly, and several changed homes. Still, we move forward.

Then one of our number reached a point where she needed companions for her journey. It was time to get the band back together. We issued the clarion call.

The reunion tour was a blast. When teenagers at home no longer find us funny, beautiful, intelligent – or even remotely reasonable – then it is a distinct pleasure to spend an hour sweating and swearing with kindred funny, beautiful and intelligent women. When the septic backs up over a holiday weekend, the grouchy cat shreds another sofa, and the dog develops a neurotic reaction to hearing the football game on television, so much so that the whole family gathers surreptitiously around a laptop behind closed doors to catch the highlights instead of turning on the flat screen in the family room, it is a relief to hear others’ tales and travails of homeownership, quirky pets and psychotic sisters. When one of our children receives an award, scores a win or gets that fat envelope from a preferred college, our joy is amplified by sharing the news with these friends, the same friends who were there for the child’s concussion or his car crash or his heartbreak.

The power of community to lift, to love and to laugh is remarkable. We liked it so much we decided to run together again the next week, but I almost didn’t make it. Primarily for reasons associated with the prior evening’s activity, the get-together of another group of hilarious, gorgeous, witty women, at an equally raucous but slightly more sedentary event – our book group. I seriously considered curling back up in my cozy bed instead of braving the cold, but then I thought about the many early mornings that the girls had gotten up early to run with me.

I load up the dog’s crate, and we head out to greet the morning. There is healing power simply in the act of showing up.

We walk, we run, we pause. We listen, we laugh, we cry. We share stories of disgruntled children bemoaning the existence of chores and our inadequate parenting. We encourage each other through family traumas and holiday gatherings, which are occasionally one and the same. We put one foot in front of the other, some days more slowly than others, but still moving forward. It is an honor and a privilege to go alongside, bearing witness to the progress, seeing each other’s beauty and value. And we’ll do it again next week.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And friends along the way!

Falling Apart

I had a dream last night about going home. The house of my childhood was almost unrecognizable, and the landscaping was so overgrown that I had to park on the street. There were stacks of books, newspapers and files on every shelf and surface and clothes hanging to dry from every doorway. People were standing around, chatting idly in every room of the house, many with a drink in hand, seemingly oblivious to the chaos. I felt as if I had stumbled into a party I hadn’t been invited to. I couldn’t move. I stood still, staring blankly, overwhelmed by the noise, the mess, the humanity, and then my cousin came to my side and gently touched my shoulder to get my attention. When I turned to look at him, I realized that the house was quiet, and I asked where everyone went. “Oh sweetheart,” he said, “they’ve been gone for half an hour.”

***

My father died two months ago, and the usual post-death arrangements, notifications and paperwork have pretty much been my focus. I have busied myself with phone calls and appointments, and I have distracted myself with trips to Goodwill and the lawyer’s office. We’ve hosted lunches and met for coffee and celebrated Dad’s birthday without him. I’ve done a reasonably good job of taking care of logistics and being patient and compassionate with other people’s sad feelings. But now, the party is over, the hoopla has died down, and everyone has gone home. Things have gotten quiet, fewer condolence cards arrive, and when the phone rings, it’s an automated telemarketer and not the voice of a long-lost-but-much-loved cousin. Gone is the busy-ness, and the real business of grieving begins. The spinning top has spiraled to rest and toppled over on its side. My heart aches. I’m falling apart.

It’s not a bad thing, this falling apart. I’m just sad. In some ways the maelstrom of paperwork is simpler to handle because there’s no time to think or feel. I can be numb and in denial and interrupted. But this administrative place does not actually tend toward healing. Soon enough, reality presses and grief demands its toll. This is the moment when I realize I’ve been holding my breath. Now that the service, the phone calls, the obituary writing, the stuff is all done, I exhale. I don’t have to hold it together for anyone else any more. Which in itself is a gift. First the falling apart, then the healing. I can fall apart.

I order my son’s AP Physics book, and that’s when I start to cry. Partly, of course, this is exactly what it seems on its face. Son Number Three is a senior in high school, and this year is typically an emotional roller coaster for the parents. I know this path. It is painful, but it’s also everything he has worked for. It is a difficult, but welcome, transition. As I click through the book order, it’s not so much the graduating senior that brings me to tears, it’s the fact that my dad – with his PhD in Nuclear Physics – was supposed to be here to tutor the boy. Our family physicist is gone. So I cry.

I suppose I might be able to help the boy. After all, I took high school physics once. Then again, that was 30 years ago, and my own father taught the class. Sigh.

I didn’t want to take physics. I wanted to take choir. My parents, however, insisted that I sign up for physics. When the registrar later informed me that the class was cancelled due to low enrollment and that I should choose a replacement class, I was delighted. I chose choir. Several of my friends were in choir. I had always wanted to sing, now was my chance, and I happily reported the good news to my parents that night. I remember my father’s crestfallen face at the dinner table. “They cancelled physics?” He couldn’t believe it.

Dad marched down to the high school the very next morning and arranged to teach the class himself, for the hour before the regular school day began in order to avoid other scheduling conflicts. All for the annual salary of one dollar. I couldn’t believe it.

My favorite yearbook photograph from that early morning class features the back of my head resting on the desk. I am sound asleep. My dad is smiling at the front of the classroom, the chalkboard covered in equations and arcs, the professor dusted in chalk. There were only six of us in that class, getting up early our entire senior year, and I must have learned something of physics, because I did well enough on the AP exam, but I’ve forgotten all the details. What I do remember was that Dad loved to share his passion for physics. Personally, I didn’t get quite so excited about the subject, but I learned what it looks like to be so passionate about something that you cannot help but share that enthusiasm in how you conduct your daily life. I hold on to that lesson. But still, I miss my dad.

I take my grief for a run, and as usual it’s hard. I want to stop and walk, but I keep the momentum by choosing incremental goals, just a few steps ahead of where I am, from this little crack in the sidewalk, to that yellow leaf, to the black mailbox, to the oil stain on the asphalt, to that acorn up ahead, and I inch forward until I reach the Spanish house at the top of the hill where somebody who loves me lives, and this process, I think, is much the same as getting through the languid days of grief. One day at a time, sometimes just an hour, from today to tomorrow to Thanksgiving, through an anniversary.

I move through the sludge. Intentionally. Slowly at first, but gaining ground. There will be other “physics” moments along my path, when memory and gravity will work against me, but I know that sadness is not a force that eliminates joy. On the contrary, feeling the sorrow is the healing trajectory that leads to laughter and song. I will get it together. I promise. But right now, I’m falling apart.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And wholeness, eventually.

World Travelers

It took me a while to choose the artwork for my office. For several months, I stared at the blank, white wall, wondering what might belong in that place. There’s something appealing to me about the freshly painted walls, free from scuff marks, dings and imperfections. The open space invokes excitement and mystery. The wall calls out to be adorned. It is full of potential, but the process is also intimidating. And expensive. Art is risky. The piece should have an appropriate message and be the right colors. I’m going to spend a lot of hours sitting across the desk from this art. What if I don’t like it as much as I thought I would? I can’t just try it on for size, and I will not be allowed to return it. I cannot afford to change it out like fashion, assuming the latest trend in hemlines with each season. It’s a commitment. I dared not rush into this decision impulsively. I spent hours clicking on various paintings and photographs, some original art, some prints, trying to picture the small image on the screen taking up residence over several square feet of wall space. After some time, I found the perfect piece, but then it almost didn’t arrive.

My best friend from college lives in New York City. Louise grew up in Wichita, we met in Houston, and now we live on opposite coasts of the country. Occasionally, I feel the physical distance between the two of us like a vast Midwestern cornfield, but more often than not, I feel close and connected. I know what would make her laugh and what (or who) would irritate her. We occasionally speak live on the phone, but we exchange text messages almost daily. For the entire first year after Sam’s death, she sent me an encouraging email message every morning and every evening. Every single day. For an entire year. She never missed. She was going through a protracted, contentious and expensive divorce at the time, but she remained present with her support and her humor. When she met my Tim for the first time, she took me aside and warned me, That man’s in love with you.

A client mentioned a website that features artists from all over the world and suggested that I might find a suitable piece there. I did. I felt drawn to it almost immediately, an oil painting entitled “Riverside” by an artist from Ghana. It conveys a moment of peace in the midst of what surely must be a difficult journey. I shared the picture with Louise for her blessing, and she loved it, too, as I knew she would. Somewhere between West Africa and the west coast of California, the painting went missing. UPS lost track of it. It vanished. The representative from the art website offered to give me a significant discount on another piece. I clicked and clicked to find a suitable replacement, but nothing fit. The wall stayed blank, no longer inviting but rather disappointed, resigned to waiting for the second-best option.

I ran my first (and so far only) half-marathon with Louise at my side. We trained on opposite coasts, comparing progress and injuries along the way. We shared a training schedule and smoothie recipes, and we encouraged each other when illness, weather and teenaged-boy-related incidentals interrupted our flow. After a few months, race day arrived, Louise flew to the west coast, and I drove up the coast to meet her. Together, we ran the 13.1 miles from the foothills to the beach, all the while motivating each other with anecdotes, insights and ‘atta girls. Every step after the 10-mile marker was a personal best for me. I had never run farther.

“Riverside” is mostly green and yellow, a tangle of trees so thick that the path the two women travel is obscured from the viewer. The river flows in the foreground, including reflections of the women in the moving water. They have come to fetch water, a task that probably takes up the majority of their day. In the painting, they have turned from the river’s banks, and they are heading back home to their village, each balancing a large water container on her head. The women appear tall and strong, almost regal, one with a blue headscarf and the other with red.

I also ran that one-and-only half-marathon with my husband Tim at my side. Flanked by my best friend and the love of my life, I have never been stronger or happier.

“Riverside” arrived at my doorstep unexpectedly. The cylindrical package appeared travel-worn at the edges but otherwise intact. There were no unusual markings or labels to indicate where it might have been diverted or delayed along its path between Africa and North America. As I carefully unrolled the painted canvas, a small leaflet fell to the floor with a brief description of the piece, the name of the artist, and the tagline, “Every treasure has a story…”

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And safe travels.

IMG_5216

Sacred Steps

There are so many things I love about running, not the least of which is that anyone who has known me for longer than a decade will believe that the real Charlotte has been abducted by aliens based on the appearance of the words “love” and “run” together in one sentence. I did not willingly run until I was 40 and then only because I needed to do something with all the mad that was torqueing me after Sam’s suicide. Running turned out to be an effective method to pound away a lot of anger. It was, for me, my own version of the fast and the furious.

Nearly nine years later, I am still running. I’m far from furious (and I never was fast), so there must be another hook. It’s the companionship of my defective hunting dog. It’s the joy of being outside, the connection to nature and fresh air. It’s the simplicity: I don’t need a court reservation, a bicycle pump or a team, just a good pair of shoes. It’s definitely a sense of accomplishment, and it’s an excellent excuse to go shopping for running clothes, which is cheaper and more fun than therapy.

But mostly, I run for the metaphors.

Every step counts.

I’ve put in a lot of distance since I took up this awful sport. I’m physically stronger, more emotionally balanced, and I have a drawer full of running tights and tanks. Running is hard. So is grief. But there’s an alchemy in the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. Running away doesn’t solve problems but running as a means of facing into the pain of loss is empowering. The steps need not be quick; a plodding, methodical gait just as surely brings me closer to healing as a blistering pace. In fact, the slow, deliberate steps are themselves the very evidence healing, because they demonstrate that I am not stuck. Inertia is not holding me back. I shift my energy from hurt and anger toward peace. Movement is success.

And there’s more good news. As my physicist father says, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. So off I go.

It’s not how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.

Every time I lace up my shoes, leash up the dog and head out the door is a victory. It doesn’t matter whether I go around the block or the Rose Bowl, how fast I run, or how long I spend on the trail. Life has a way of dishing out stops and stalls in myriad forms – injuries, inclement weather, doubt, fear, family issues and stray white dogs. There are a million reasons not to go, but when I do, I feel better for the effort.

Getting back on the trail again is not necessarily easy, but it is an option. Not unlike dragging myself out of bed in those early days of suffocating grief. A running habit is a practice in resilience. I rarely regret making the choice to get out and run, because it means that I have not been defeated, not today.

It’s about the journey, not the destination.

I never believed it possible to find enjoyment in the process of running. Honestly, do runners appear to enjoy the process? After many miles under my belt, I can say with a straight face that I have become an enthusiastic, if untalented, runner. Getting out and moving is joy incarnate. It’s a meditative time, a space for reflection and place to stretch. Maybe I’ve just become serotonin and endorphin addict. Maybe I’ll reward myself with a new pair of running shoes. There are worse things.

There are also the vistas and wildlife. I live in the foothills above Los Angeles, and I never tire of the way the morning light falls on the mountain terrain. The sunrise brings possibility. An early run is a great way to connect with the energy of a new day.

For the most part, our local wildlife consists of deer, song birds, harmless lizards and small rodents. I have, however, seen more coyotes than I care to count and had a few unfortunate encounters with leashless dogs. Mercifully, I have only seen our local bobcat safely through the kitchen window or posted on FaceBook. Not counting the suit in the Audi, the least civilized animals I engage on my run are my own native jealousy, resentment and endless chatter, and those beasts get quiet and calm in the course of a long run.

Life is a series of ups and downs.

True enough. There are no flat routes around here, unless you’re inclined to run around the high school track ad nauseum. Which I’m not. I’d rather sport neon orange and head for the hills. Which is to say, I’d rather fall in love and run the risk of loss and heartache.

Life’s road trip brings incredible joy and great sorrow, torrential rain and sunny days. Some miles are faster, some slower. Some hills are steep and slippery, some a long, gradual climb. You can call them opportunities, challenges or butt-kickers. Which makes it all the more satisfying when I stand at the top, inhale and smile. It’s not without its hazards, notably the shiny, black Audi careening past at breakneck speed, but I’m not bitter.

It gets easier.

It doesn’t, actually. The first mile always hurts. Every single run. But the second mile is easier than the first. Usually. Sometimes it’s worse. Runs can go that way.

It will get easier and it will also get harder, but somewhere along the road I get stronger. In any event, my story has not ended yet. My favorite variation of the It will get better/All will be well/Don’t give up encouraging theme is “Hang on little tomato.” The image of a little red tomato holding persistently to a green leafy vine, waiting for the clear blue afternoon amuses me no end. I can almost smell the sunshine on the vine from my childhood vegetable garden. The sunny someday is a hopeful path. True, I enjoy the days when the running is easier, but I keep running even though the course is challenging. I am hanging on.

We are all connected.

Years ago, I started running with a group of intrepid ladies who hit the trails together in the early hours of the day. With kids and work and other of life’s interventions, our schedules rarely align these days, but even when I go by myself, I don’t feel alone. It is nearly impossible to get out into the day without running into somebody I know in my stomping grounds. My community of runners is omnipresent, including friends, strangers and bloggers. We run down dreams and renegade children. We wave at each other and our rescued canines. Even if we don’t know each other’s names, we are companions on the journey.

I often have fortuitous meetings with people I know along my path. An impromptu conversation with a neighbor, a smile and a wave at a generous friend on her way to drop off kids, sometimes my dear husband Tim on his way. He stops to give me a kiss, and I am blessed beyond measure. More often than not, I return home from a run filled with gratitude and surrender. Sometimes even forgiveness.

Keep breathing.

Breathing is key to the whole process. My life mantra applies equally well to a run: “Inhale, exhale. Repeat as necessary.” Running as meditation is my favorite form of the sport. Sometimes I think when I run, which proves to be a great source of inspiration. Sometimes I reach that place where I stop thinking altogether and the mind escapes its hamster wheel. These moments when stillness and movement connect might be the most beautiful experience of all. In this space, I am rhythm and motion and power. I just am.

I wasn’t motivated to hit the pavement in order to gain fitness, achieve a personal goal, raise awareness or find community, although running has provided all of those. I was yearning for peace of mind, which, much to my surprise, I found on a run. The journey continues, and every step toward wholeness is sacred. That is why I still run.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And sacred steps.

Dog, Agnostic, and Other Measures of Grace

The car ride to school is sometimes the most quality time I get with my busy teenager on a given day and not nearly enough time to connect and check in. But every now and again the mile drive is entirely long enough to create some serious mother-son angst. I was attempting to encourage my son to rely on me as he navigates the challenges of high school. What I meant was that I will do whatever I can for him. What I actually said was that I would throw myself in front of a bus if I thought it would help.

Yup. To the child whose father threw himself off a building.

In my defense, I will just say, Oh nevermind. There’s no excusing this one. It’s true that the suicide-related idioms run rampant in our culture. But his own mother should have behaved better.

Note to my mom friends: You might still be in the race for runner-up in the Mother of the Year contest, but I’ve just clinched the title.

I confess my maternal transgression to an agnostic, my dear and amazing friend Helen. She continues to love me and support me no matter what stupid shit comes out of my mouth, which – obviously – is no small measure of forgiveness. She is more accepting and open-hearted than many a church-goer, and I thank God for her daily.

Helen reminds me that holidays are on the horizon, including her own extended family’s particular brand of dysfunction and various Christmas-related anxieties, and that she might yet have a chance at the title. She’s right. This competition is going to be a sprint to the finish line.

With a little grace and some real fortitude, there’s still time to redeem myself. I lace up my running shoes, and I leash up the dog. The so-called hunting dog has placed himself strategically in front of the heating vents this morning. His sister is hunting quail in the Dakotas. Meanwhile he sits shivering in Southern California. We all have our strengths. Or not.

And it is precisely this weakness that opens a space for me to breathe. The dog is almost everything his breed is reputed to be, except for his aversion to cold, wet feet, and we adore him. So it is with all of us, our vulnerabilities and glitches do not preclude us from being loved.

I’m going to run. I’m going to breathe. I’m going to forgive myself. I’m going to apologize to my son and try again to say what I mean: That I will do whatever I can to support him, and that I will love him no matter what.

On our run, the defective hunting dog and I turn up a little street that we don’t usually traverse. As we come around a curve along the route, we slow to a stop, for in the middle of the road there are four deer, a mother with her three young ones. They appear to be adolescents, still immature, even though they are almost the size of the mother, who stands tall and alert, almost regal, while the three skitter to the shrubs along the sides. She stays still, not taking her eyes off me and my coyote-size dog, as though assessing the risk, even though a car approaches and slows from the opposite direction. She does not budge until she is confident that her young ones have found cover, and only then does she shift – intentionally, gracefully, powerfully – out of harm’s way herself.

That’s the image I meant to convey to my son.

As the dog and I continue, we pass an open field where the deer now race, hurtle and spring, exuberant and unaware of threat or danger, and again I stop to look. They are breathtaking in their youth, energy and innocence. The young bucks (which almost rhymes with something I called my own kids the other day) are fast and strong and will soon overtake their mother. Yet she guides and protects them in whatever ways she can. I imagine she stops – as I do – admiring her young with pride and delight.

I pause, grateful for the reminder that I am not alone on the path that is motherhood, full as it is with both dignity and remorse, success and disappointment, hurting feelings where I intended to console, but coming back to each other still. I know he needs me less as he takes his faltering steps toward independence, despite my own parenting mis-calcs and his occasionally unfortunate, juvenile behavior. We re-create our relationship as the child achieves a milestone, and I step back to watch. I smile, continue on my way, and look forward to telling my son about the deer.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And small graces.

!Yo Puedo!

I grew up in a devoutly religious home. We went to church services twice a week. Religiously, as it were. When I was a little girl, I used to write Bible verses on a slip of paper and keep them in my pocket. Usually a verse from a favorite Psalm or Bible story, almost always including a promise of presence and power. Often these messages began with the angel’s command, “Fear not.” Even if I didn’t pull it out to read, the folded verse reminded me of divine presence, like tucking an angel in my back pocket.

Shortly after Sam’s death, we flew across the country for a family bar mitzvah. Sam was a Cuban Jew, and I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but just trust me on this point. One of my cousins used to have a stand-up comedy routine she entitled “Jewbans.” Anyway, we flew to Little Havana (Miami) to join the celebration.

My cousin’s sister “Alexa” is a cancer survivor, a stunningly beautiful woman with the most amazing, gentle green eyes. Graced with strength, fortified by family, blessed with intellect and heart and humor, she is a princess warrior. She is one of those women whose power and gentleness emanate in equal parts. I had never met her before, and I found my place next to her, soaking up her energy and warmth. She didn’t speak much English, and I only speak a poquito de Spanish. But pain is a universal language, and suffering levels the playing field.

Several of us cousins stayed up late one night, folding programs, preparing party favors and name cards and centerpieces. We laughed and chattered — in a mix of Spanish and English — and eventually our work was done, but we kept up the conversation, softer voices, still hands. I didn’t sleep much in those days, and I was grateful for the female companionship in the late hours.

Alexa looked at me with her beautiful green cat eyes, and she saw me. She saw the confused and wounded little girl, tucked tight in a ball. She saw the grizzly bear mother, rising to her full height, roaring, claws outstretched, prepared to eviscerate any threat to her cubs. She saw the young mother bird, gently folding a chick under each wing and singing her little ones to sleep. And she saw my own inner princess warrior, a prayer in one hand and a sword in the other. Without judgement, and with recognition, she saw all of me. I curled up in her arms and wept.

It is one of the greatest gifts we can offer each other — a place to be known and safe, a place where the frightened child and the fearsome warrior both reside.

Throughout the week, Alexa would offer me words of encouragement, mostly in Spanish. At the end of the week, she presented me with a single white 3×5 card: Yo puedo! No tengo miedo! Soy fuerte! Salgo adelante! Yo si puedo! SI! And on the opposite side, like the answer to a vocabulary flash card, in English: “Don’t forget: “I can!” 

From the early stages of my process, I was determined not to get stuck in my grief. I still keep Alexa’s card in my wallet, not unlike the Bible verses I carried with me as a child, so that I will see her words and think of her eyes and remember: I can!

This morning I’m planning the route for my run. I am tired and busy and I don’t really want to run at all, not even with my trusty side-kick, the defective hunting dog. But my girlfriend has talked me into another half-marathon (um, yeah… more on that later), and according to the training schedule, I need five miles. I do not even want to go that far today.

I lace up my running shoes and head out anyway. I aim low. I might walk a few miles, but only to take the edge off the dog. After the first mile, I start to wonder whether I could hit the three-mile mark and yet avoid the construction that seems to be afflicting the local streets this week. All this makes me think about how Life’s construction zones sometimes block my intended path and send me in another direction. I have several friends for whom Life has recently thrown up a big DETOUR sign, which has forced them to stop, gather their strength and start again in a different direction. Several are facing really big things: cancer, career changes, marital issues, the death of a sibling, financial challenges, parents in declining health and crises of faith. And, of course, the adage is true: a mother is only as happy as her least happy child. Fathers too. My own least happy child is decidedly downcast, and I spend the first part of my run on the verge of tears.

I think of my friends, many of whom picked me up and dusted me off when Life threw me a curveball, knocking me to the dirt. The least I can do is to keep running, like a prayer in motion. I decide to run by one girlfriend’s house in particular, not necessarily to stop (although I would if she wanted me to), but more like an intentional prayer loop, holding her tangibly in my thoughts and heart. It will add an extra mile to my route, but that’s what friends do. And as an incentive, I intend to let myself walk the last mile home.

I don’t stop and knock at my friend’s door because I don’t want to interrupt. (Not to mention that I suspect she would prefer a “virtual hug” from her panting, sweaty friend.) But I do hesitate for a moment — even though I’m afraid I might not get moving again — in an expression of solidarity. Like the song says, “When you’ve got troubles, I’ve got troubles, too.” I hold her in my heart and inhale. I exhale encouraging thoughts in her direction.

Inhale, exhale, repeat. Another of my favorite mantras.

Yo puedo! (I can!)

I begin to move again, first walking, then running, mentally pushing myself with the same thoughts I directed toward my friend. As I approach the home stretch, I am still thinking about several friends and the challenges ahead.

No tengo miedo! (I am not afraid!)

I remember their strength, their faith, their capacity for love, forgiveness and humor. I am winded. I’ve now achieved the prescribed 5 miles and can completely justify walking the last hill. My legs are heavy.

Soy fuerte! (I am strong!)

But as I contemplate the pain, anger and fear facing some of my friends, I press on. These women and men propelled me along my own healing journey with their strength and positive energy, and they inspire me still. I aim to encourage them and offer support along theirs.

Salgo adelante! (I’m moving forward!)

It is not until the steep hill home that my own tears spill over, but this is the place real strength lies, where the wounded little girl and the princess warrior make their way. Because the fact of the matter is that vulnerability and humility often require more fortitude than climbing up a hill. The tears and the sweat run together in one salty mess. Which is why I recommend wearing sunglasses on a run.

Yo si puedo! SI! (Yes, I can! YES!)

I reach the top and smile.

Whether you call it prayer, intention or desire, I believe that there is power in the positive thoughts that we radiate toward our loved ones. In fact, I know this to be true because I have experienced time and again the lift that comes when friends hold me in their hearts.

That extra hill was for you, my friend.

!Si, yo puedo!”

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And words of encouragement.

Global Positioning System

For Mother’s Day a couple years ago, my husband gave me one of those GPS watches so I could track my time and distance when I run. I love it, because I am a dork. At the time I was training for my first (and potentially last) half-marathon. It is fun for me to sit at my desk, download my activity and admire the little red line on the map and blue elevation gains chart. I like to see the miles add up, and uploading my run from the cute pink device to the computer serves as my equivalent of a running diary.

I play a little game to motivate myself when I run. I try to make the second mile faster than the first mile, which is generally a “gimme” because I walk the first quarter of a mile to warm up. Really, it’s to make sure the dog is “empty” before we pick up the pace, which believe me, is not significantly faster. Then just for fun, I challenge myself to make the third mile faster than the second. If I’m in for four miles, my goal is to make the fourth mile faster than the second mile, knowing that it’s going to be hard to beat the third mile, and on the rare occasions that I continue for 5, then the fifth mile has to be faster than the first mile, all of which indicates that the law school inflicted brain damage appears to be permanent.

Before I even step out the door for my run, I have a map in mind of the route I plan to take. Notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, my inner perfectionist control freak likes to think she‘s still in charge. The difference between me and the app is that I map my run before I go anywhere. He-Who-Is-In-Charge (or is He?) can only take so much of my shenanigans before He shakes up the ant farm.

The other day I head out for my run, armed with poopy bags, my GPS watch and a four-mile plan. After about the first mile I realize that I have a technical issue, and in the interest of discretion, I should head back home. But this detour is not part of my plan, and there is no way that I can hit my target speed (if you can even call it speed) if I turn home at this point on my path. I live on a hill. There’s a reason I can round out the third mile faster than second mile. I cheat. I know the route that I’m going – because I’m the one who planned it – and the 3rd mile is still on the downhill slide.

Reluctantly, I head up the hill. I had intended to get in another couple miles, but I’m so annoyed that I’m ready to call it a wrap as soon as I get home. I’m not sure why I’m feeling bitter. Maybe it’s the simple fact that I don’t like stopping. Or maybe it’s just really poor planning that teenagers and their mothers suffer hormonal swings simultaneously. But in my mid (okay, late) forties, I am getting better at breathing. After a few sighs and a couple more inhales, I realize I can still hit the four mile mark – even if not within the time I had hoped – by changing my route to a figure eight instead of an oval. Undaunted, I head out again. Okay, slightly daunted. But not defeated.

There are four high schools in our little town: the public one, the private one, the catholic boys’ school and the catholic girls’ school. Three of the schools are located within two blocks of each other, but the catholic girls are sequestered way up at the top of a hill. It’s a beautiful campus, and they are closer to God up there. And farther from everybody else, which if I had any daughters, would appeal to me as well. To get there, you have to take a couple curvy streets, none of which are particularly well-marked, serving as an effective “moat” around the castle of princesses.

As I’m settling back into a running rhythm, a flustered grandpa driving a sedan asks me how to get to the girls’ school. Maybe he’s on his way to watch his princess play basketball? Or to hear her sing? He’s probably late. I stop, and I get out of my own head long enough to give him directions. I wouldn’t have been in this spot at this moment if I had been on the route I originally intended. Maybe I was supposed to be here now. Not for myself but for somebody else.

Maybe it’s not all about me.

A lost elderly gentleman and a crabby middle-aged mom manage to bring light into each other’s paths. Somehow the Divine, with a little shake of the ant farm, transforms my sullen, selfish self into something else altogether. In what surely must be one of my less attractive states, surly and stinky, I could still bring light and direction to another person. And he brought a gentle reminder that — even armed with my fancy pink GPS device — I am simply not in control. My role is to be myself. Perhaps I could accomplish that with just a little more grace.

One of my favorite meditation instructors begins and ends each of his classes with a slight bow, hands pressed together, and the Hindu expression “Namaste.” Which translates approximately as “The divine in me honors the divine in you.” Humbled, I uttered a quiet “Namaste” as the man drove away in his gray Honda. It occurs to me that we just may be the answers to each other’s unspoken prayers. Maybe, if I pay attention, the simple fact of my presence is enough to bless another’s soul. His presence blessed mine.

Ironically, as I relinquished to need to control my route, I found security simply as a child of the universe. As usual, my run – though not how I planned it, or maybe because I didn’t  – has brought me perspective.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. Namaste.

Whispers

I am feeling small and defeated and my inner visionary has screwed up her eyes tight and crawled back into her room. She left a note on the door that says, “Namaste… I’m meditating,” but secretly I think she’s sleeping. And I suspect her note means something less like “Namaste” and more like “Scram!”

I am overwhelmed with deadlines and schedules and the general household mayhem that accompanies kids and cats and dogs. I’ve heard a rumor that summer brings with it a slower pace and a gentler aura, but the only slow pace around here is the speed at which I run. And while my sweet lapdog is especially serene these days, I believe that’s because he’s going deaf. Or maybe the little black dog with the gentle spirit is just too hot to care.

It’s been months since I’ve been able to run, and I am more than a little frustrated because I thought I would only be out for a few weeks. Not to mention that it takes about 17 minutes for a woman over the age of 40 to start atrophying after her last workout. Just as I was turning the corner on the sprained ankle, I tried the Rose Bowl with my running buddy. After about a quarter of a mile, I could no longer keep up the pace or the conversation. I could talk or run, but not both. So we walked, because not talking sort of takes the fun out of running altogether. But I still couldn’t catch a full breath, and breathing is key to the process.

Two bouts of bronchitis later, I was starting to lose my sense of humor over this whole healing process.

I run for the same reason I pray and do yoga and read fiction. Sometime after the first mile, which is hard every single time, there comes a moment, maybe after two miles, maybe after three, when all I hear is my own inhale and exhale, and I find a rhythm in my own stride. The many voices calling “It’s too hard,” and “I don’t belong,” and “I can’t,” retreat a distance where I no longer hear them, and then I hear the still small inner voice, whispering, “Yes, I can,” “Yes, I do,” and “Yes, I am.”

Last weekend, I ran the perimeter of the Rose Bowl again with my running partner, and she gave me a high five at mile three. My friend recognized the landmark before I did.

When the loud voices are clamouring with negativity and I’m struggling to catch a full breath, there is still a quiet confidence that says “It will get better.” If only I can find my way to hear its message.

The best gift my stepson gave me for Christmas was unintentional. (This being the child who wasn’t exactly delighted about my presence in his life and found multiple ways to express his displeasure in those early years of our relationship.) We were at grandma’s for Christmas morning omelettes, and we were standing in the kitchen with our coffee when he caught my arm and blurted out, “Thank you.” Flummoxed, I said “You’re welcome… For what?”

To which he replied, “Thank you for not giving up on me.” “Oh honey,” I said, throwing my arms around this teddy bear of a boy, “Never.”

But the truth is, it is probably more accurate to say that I had given up on him dozens of times… I just kept coming back.

“courage does not always roar. sometimes courage is the quiet voice

at the end of the day saying, ‘i will try again tomorrow’ ”

~ mary anne radmacher

Yes, I will.

***

Wishing you light and strength. And a whisper of encouragement.