A bundled up run in some rare bluebird sun helps me to remember.
Who knows what running will be for me this year, but today it was good.
It’s a scary thing to learn you have cancer and I have wondered every day since how this could have possibly happened to me.
A gut punch landed when I opened my Facebook feed a few days ago and saw beloved Anchorage cross country skier Kikkan Randall had posted a statement that she’s in treatment for breast cancer. Kikkan. Young. Strong. Vibrant. Successful. At the top of her game. Olympic Gold Medal top.
I have wondered every day since how this could have possibly happened to me.
Kikkan shared her story through a variety of outlets this week. She’s ready to fight. She knows how. She is inspiration and courage. Always.
And yet in this moment our superhero is vulnerable.
Her question haunts me: How did this happen?
The impulse to connect dots is reflex. We need to make sense out of our circumstances. We watch others work through their troubles and we hope to avoid similar fate, if only we can know how this happened.
I remember how my first miscarriage sent my mind reeling in the sudden shift of expectations and plans (+it was a hormone roller coaster). The doctor sat there with us, quiet and generous with his words and time. You didn’t do anything to cause this, he said.
Cause and effect is a real thing. Of course it is. And choices matter. But sometimes the car comes around the corner and slams into you.
I have wondered every day since how this could have possibly happened to me.
Sometimes there is no good answer.
From the book of Ecclesiastes —No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.
And for that, the question my therapist puts to me so often: That being true. How are you going to live?
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” –Rainer Maria Rilke
Rooting for Kikkan in the race of her life.
And learning to live the questions.
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you…….
It was a grey Monday here. There have been an awful lot of grey days here this summer. But this Monday hung particularly heavy. I worked outside much of the day – digging, digging, digging. One thing led to another as I pulled weeds, moved huge rocks, dug out shrubs and ultimately disassembled an overgrown mess of an old fountain feature in our new-to-us side yard. I hadn’t planned to take it apart and completely clean out when I started to dig that morning, but by the time I found a place to stop it was 4pm. I had worked through lunch and missed my window for afternoon coffee, but before a shower and dinner, I swapped garden clothes for running clothes and laced up my shoes for an easy hourlong run. Wearing shorts and t-shirt, I felt the bite of a just barely 60 degree day as I headed north through town to the head of the Coastal Trail, where a downtown city street dead ends and the trail begins.
It was the last Monday in June. A grey day so much like this one, in fact. Mountains in my view. Chill air filling my lungs. I’ve written about that day before. Of course. Over and over and over I try to make sense of what happened to me that Monday morning in June, thirteen years ago today. A brain injury is a thing. A frustrating, confusing, messed up thing. It changed my life. It still frames my life.
As I ran the trail Monday afternoon, I moved at my target pace with ease. My training has been good this season. I could feel strength in my legs, the determination of my will, and the rhythm of my every breath. My body is jennifer-strong these days. I sense the edges of my strength and I am careful there. Off the trail, through the neighborhood, and up a final hill just because I could, I ran to the end of my hour with no trouble. Except for that weight that had been pressing against me all day. All that digging. A solid, good training run. Yet there was….something. I couldn’t yet name.
Later that evening as the boys sat around the TV watching an episode of Chips, I put on a coat and went out for a wandering walk. Rain began to sprinkle as I got close to the lagoon so I pulled up my hood and hunkered in. I stopped there awhile and watched the mass of birds out on the island. So much activity in this season of babies. It all seems chaos to me. Screeching gulls fly to and fro, gaggles of geese march around calling out with their own loud voices, and terns dart about on the wind. Closer to shore, I watched a quiet duck dive under water and emerge in a different spot a few minutes later. Over and over. Minding her task, eating an evening meal against the soundtrack of all that noise.
After awhile the rain stopped as gently as it had begun and I pulled my hood off and started to walk again. As I walked I realized that I finally knew what I’d been struggling to name all day. It was sadness. On this grey day, the last Monday in June, the 13th anniversary of that car accident…..sadness.
For that. This >>>
I have been running again. Long distances. Often.
The last time I ran like this was (also the first time) in Spring 2016, and I was training for a July half marathon. I was also enrolled in a writing class that spring and had recently written <500 words on a dandelion so, as my feet pounded the track during my Half Training Group practice (two years ago today), I was primed to notice this bedraggled spot of gold lying along my way.
Dandelions. Resilient. Defiant. even in their fading light.
All that spring and into the summer I struggled to identify The Why for my all-in commitment to running. I’d never been a runner like that before. As I ran through the slushy edge of Anchorage winter and onto the ice-free trails of spring I often turned to a friend, my husband, my therapist and said, “I don’t know why I’m doing this!” I diligently worked at ALL THE THINGS with an eye toward my July race goal. Each early Saturday long run took me further than I’d ever run before. Ten miles, eleven, and twelve. “You need time on your feet,” the coaches said. I learned exercises for strength training, drills for speed, and how to use foam rollers for recovery. “You need to replenish your electrolytes.” I discovered Huma and Nuun and Skratch. I showed up at every practice where the coaches led us through drills, sent us on tempo runs, hill workouts, and long miles. As the Saturday morning long runs lengthened from minutes to hours, my confidence teetered. Midnight sun leaked around the edges of our blackout curtains on Friday nights as I lay adjusting sore muscles, wrestling my pillow, and trying to sleep through my worries. “Will I be able to run that far? Can I stay focused? Can I really do this thing?” But every Saturday morning I showed up. I kept turning in my time.
And yet I struggled to name My Why.
When I snapped this picture I saw the scrappy courage of a dandelion. That persistent bright yellow head – the essence of dandelion holding out to the very end.
I couldn’t know in that moment how my running story would soon go so wrong, but I did know quite well that life is hard. It twists and it turns. It cuts you down. It knocks you off your feet.
18 months after the surgeon fixed my ankle I’m back to running hills, speed workouts, and strength training drills. I’m more cautious this time. Not quite sure how hard to push my ever- breaking body and leery of setting goals for my competitive self, I haven’t signed up for any races. But I keep showing up.
And there. I am finding My Why.