Still Running

I am all or nothing.
Everything I do is all or nothing.
I either eat the whole hog until I’m sick, or I starve myself until I’m dead on the sidewalk with a small plate of bacon next to me. There is no in between. And even though I know I am this way, and even though I know it is stupid to be this way, I can’t seem to do anything to change it.  Moderation is not a thing I do.  There’s probably a lot of joy to be experienced between the all and the nothing. But I will never know that firsthand.

Last night, as I was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, I reflected on the year that is now essentially over and thought ahead to the one rolling in.  2022 was terrible. Just the worst. I can’t do that one again. And as if I have any control at all over events in my life, I made some decisions about 2023. Logically,  I  decided the solution was running shoes. I would greet 2023 with a new pair of running shoes. With new running shoes, I would immediately lose 20 pounds and be ready for a 15k. With new  running shoes, I would be able to outrun the things that sat down on me this year.

A new pair of running shoes would fix everything.

And because I had decided this would fix everything, I couldn’t leave anything to chance. I didn’t strike out on my own and go to the Nike outlet as I have done in years past. This time, I went to a real store with real sales people, who used real technology to scan my feet and tell me what it would take for me to become a dark horse champion.  I spent a chunk of my morning doing this. I spent a chunk of change as well. I walked away with one pair of socks, one set of insoles, and two new pair of running shoes.
Running shoes that would fix everything. Obviously.
You know what’s better than one pair of new running shoes?
Two pairs.
Double the success rate of the ALL I was chasing.

I hadn’t considered the fact that the person running in the shoes was still me.
Same feet.
Same legs.
Same questionable stamina.
Same 20 pounds to shed.
Same age bracket.
Same hamstring injury that’s been nagging me for a full year now.
The only thing that was different was my lofty expectation that these high-end running shoes would generate a Christmas miracle.

I put the first pair on at home and launched an elaborate mental game of Buyer’s Remorse. I do this every time I spend more than $3 on something and have to wear it out in public. Suddenly the sales person was out to get me. She was small enough to fit into my right calf. How could she know what it was like to be me? How did she know what shoes I needed? The shoes were bigger than they had been in the store. Nothing was right. How would these shoes solve my problems if they didn’t fit me perfectly? How would I really know if they fit me perfectly unless I took them out for a test run?

I put them on and started running my two mile route, just to see. My plan was to run 2 miles in the first pair and 2 miles in the second. I would have a read on both pairs if I ran in both. Today. Because today was an ALL day. I had to do it all.

One mile in, at my halfway point, I was thinking the right shoe was perfect and the left wanted me dead. From there I began to think about my exercise goals. And my hamstring. And 2022.  And last night’s dream about Jennifer where we said goodbye again, but this time we both knew it was goodbye. And the holidays. And how well I had done through the holidays.  And the darn left shoe.

I wanted the left shoe to behave. To make me faster. To fix my hamstring. To give me back my friend. To deliver the 2023 of my dreams.

I went for all.
I got nothing.

And after two solid weeks of dry eyes and celebratory dinners and gift exchanges, I was crying under my sunglasses in a brand new set of Brooks. Because in these brand new spanky-doodle Brooks, I had changed exactly nothing.

By this point, I had blown my nose into the yards of 3 strangers, which was gross but incredibly necessary. And I was shaking my head at the whole situation.
But I was still running.

And that’s the thing. I’m still running. But why do I have to run like a crazy person? Why not walk? Or run some but stop when I need to breathe? I was pulling my arm through a sleeve this morning and looked down at my ampersand tattoo that I got on Jennifer’s birthday. The ampersand represents what’s in the middle of the all and the nothing. It represents life.  It represents the wounds of 2022, but it also contains the gifts. I want to stand like a svelte rock star at the starting block and I want to cross the finish line in the top 5% of runners half my age, but I don’t want the gimpy, 2-mile flop and cry that exists in the in-between. The ampersand is the actual running. Life is lived in the ampersand. Races are run, not necessarily won, in the ampersand.
So I’m thinking about that with new shoes on old feet.

I can run into 2023.
And I can run out of 2022.
I can change my shoes, but not my path or performance.
I could win a race outright and still feel loss.
I could lose 20 pounds and find some other frivolous thing to scrutinize.
I can white-knuckle grasp everything within my reach and never have control.
I can run hard.
I can run steady. 
But I can’t run away. 
I can’t run away from what I gather along the way, blessings and blisters alike. 
I can only keep running, resting when I need to.
Because sometimes life is hard.

Whether it’s all or nothing.
Whether it’s fast or far.
Whether I place for my age or crawl across the finish line just ahead of the cop car.
Whether I’m wearing new shoes, old shoes, bad shoes, Dr. Seuss shoes, or no shoes.
Ultimately none of that matters. 

What matters is I’m still running.

Shards of glory

Grief is an animal.
It greets you differently every time you meet it. You can try to meet it on your terms and with your timing. You can go prepared. You can bargain and bribe and bestow. But it’s an animal. It’s totally unpredictable.

Today is a big day on my grief calendar. But so far it doesn’t feel that way. And two weeks ago, on a day that had no calendar significance at all, I was snotting through Kleenex like it was the cool new thing.

Today is the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death. And because my friend, Jennifer was always in tune with those dates, it is also the one-year anniversary of the last time I talked to her on the phone. Before the holidays got busy. And before she got sick.

I have been thinking about this year a lot lately. 2022. People often start the year with a focus word. One year I chose the word “intention.” Another year I chose “discipline,” which is a tiny bit comical in thinking about myself. Was I expecting a miracle? I didn’t choose a word for 2022, because 2022 got to make all the choices. It chose my words for me. Shredded. Shattered. Unraveled. Loss.
It took me apart.
But here at the end of it, I’m thinking back and looking forward and applying emotional glue and bungee cords to the pieces that don’t fit like they did 5 years ago, or one year ago.
I’m shredded, yes. I’m not the same me I was on December 8, 2021. And while I didn’t get to choose my circumstances–
Or my mother’s–
Or Jennifer’s–
I do get to choose what I’ll do about it all.
And being shredded still leaves me with all the parts. They’re just a little more unhinged, maybe, and don’t always line up like I’d prefer.

Some words for my 2023 might include therapy and prayer, because I’ve certainly been doing plenty of both. But the two words that have risen to the top of my short list are “acknowledge” and “accept.” I am acknowledging that loss is often hard and lonely and dark. It zigzags when I prefer to move in an upward, linear direction. My people help so much, but the grieving and the healing is a solo act. In some ways it feels like starting from scratch with nothing. I am acknowledging that this is where I am and accepting that it’s okay to be here and start from here. I don’t plan to stay here. Acknowledge.

And though this past 11 months has hobbled me at times, I would be remiss if I didn’t give equal time to the beauty I’ve witnessed. I lost Jennifer. And there are no words I could arrange to convey the value of that friendship or the depth of that loss. But I gained perspective and people that I didn’t have before.
I gained her sister and her daughter and her mother and her friends.
I gained her kids’ friends.
I gained a new anchor in my faith that wasn’t there before.
I gained a solemn appreciation for how short–and how sweet–life is. I try to notice everything.
I gained the absolute assurance that she is with God and He is with me.
And for 3 decades, across marriages and children and celebrations and tragedies, I had her by my side. I had the best friend.

Last week, I was standing in my kitchen looking out on the Hillsborough River. It is a different river every day and I never get tired of looking at it. This time of year, the Cypress trees do their best to participate in Autumn. And the last hour of daylight casts them in their best color, with hues of orange and yellow deepening in the waning light. It occurred to me as I stood there that the most beautiful moment for a tree comes when it is about to drop its leaves. They are brilliant because they are dying. There is grace and sweetness in the end of something. The threshold between life and eternity is a sacred plot of ground.

So I scratched out my thoughts about that. And I thought again about the year ahead. There will always be darkness. I can’t know when or how I’ll run into the animal of grief. But I can look for the light and I can carry the light. My mother taught me how to do that. Jennifer modeled how to do that like no one I’ve ever seen. And in the shadows, God has given me people who are bright when I flicker. It is enough.

So things are different this year. I am different this year. And maybe I’m starting from scratch, in the sense that the ingredients are different and my structure has changed.
But I’m not starting with nothing.
I’m starting with everything I need.

The Color of Surrender

To let go of the green–does it hurt?
To let the November gold climb up your trunk–does it feel like dying?

Do you know you are beautiful?
You are beautiful.
Never more so that now,
Right now,
In your surrender to what is.

The last hour of the day crawls up through your branches
and shoots out through your leaves,
reflecting a relinquishing light
in shards of glory.