Monday, April 25, 2011

When It's All Just Too Much - Run!

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.” ~Leo Tolstoy

The police light comes on, flashing in my review mirror. I feel the rush of dread as I pull to the side of the road and the police car follows me to a stop. "Oh, I don't need this - not today". He takes a minute to get out of his cruiser, does the cop-saunter to my window, and asks for my "papers". Into the glove-compartment I reach rummaging through a pile of old registrations and insurance cards - looking for something that just might have the right dates on it. Registration, check. Current insurance card - well that is sitting on my desk at home, where it usually is so that I will remember to put it in the car which, of course, I never do. Ugggg. I lose it. I immediately brake down into tears. Now, this is NOT my usual mode of dealing with "the man". I recognize when I've screwed up, and accept my just punishment - but today, somehow, this is the last straw and I snap.

This got me thinking about what I believe I should be able to handle and how much I should and can demand of myself. And, what keeps me sane when so much seems to be falling apart?

This week I have a marathon to run - and I've been training fairly intensely since February. I've run 4 longish races (10-13.1 miles each) over the past two and a half months. I've trained through a Colorado winter of cold, snow, ice, and wind maintaining about 55-62 miles a week. A month ago my mother, who lives 1600 miles away, was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer. I spend several hours each day on the phone with her, and have flown to New Jersey to see her once, and will go again after the marathon. When I'm not talking with her I am worrying about her - usually during the wee hours of the morning when I should be sleeping so that my body can recover from a 20+ mile run or hard tempo session. It seems that the news is never good, and she is now in the hospital due to her reaction from an overly aggressive chemo treatment. Add to this the fact that the end of the semester is fast approaching, and with it piles of work to grade and frantic students to console, advise, and admonish, depending on their situation. And then there's my 4 year-old, who is the light of my life - but at times a whirling dervish of energy that is challenging to direct and appreciate.

So, what the hell is my problem? Why am I having such a hard time coping with it all. "This isn't so much", I tell myself. And yet, there I sat, on the side of the road sobbing because I was pulled over for speeding! We all have a breaking point. There's good and bad stress. But somehow it was all blurring together into one mass of mess.

For a short time I thought: "Maybe I can't do this. Maybe I should just not run this marathon. Maybe this is just too much." But then it came to me - I am alive now and this is how I express my life now, moving through the world, powered by my own body and spirit. This is the animal I am now. Running is how I say "Yes" to life. Running is an expression of my humanness. Aristotle argued that what makes a human human is that we are reasoning, social, and political beings. Those are the things we do better than anything else. But I want to add running to his list of "distinctive excellences". We may not be the fastest beings - but we are made to run. A horse may be faster than us, but we can run farther than a horse (thanks to our calf muscles). Our bodies are meant to move, and when we don't move them we suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally.

And so I will run. And, I will keep on running, even if I am sobbing the whole way...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Running Through Pain: Why I Must Keep Running

My plane traverses the country from Colorado to New Jersey. We fly into the darkening night as we move farther east. It feels symbolic of what is happening to my family. I've made this flight countless times, and this time I wonder if it will be one of my last. Four years ago I took this flight with my husband and 9 day-old daughter to attend my father's funeral. I knew then that life would begin changing much too fast for my comfort. Now I am off to visit my mother, seriously ill and terrified - thrust into the world of hospitals, and doctors, and tests, and tests, and tests...This faced by a seemingly healthy woman who has never been sick, never been in the hospital (except for childbirth), and looks and acts at least 20 years younger than she is. But cancer ignores all these facts.

These events have left me feeling sad and confused - How can I just go on living my life when my mother is going through all of this? It seems somehow inappropriate to go on doing the things that make me happy, while she is living in a world of abject terror. I look at my beautiful daughter and cry because someday she will die. I sit in the hospital and wonder if this is what awaits me in the not so distant future. When cancer hits, life as we know it, stops. Everything is focused on the war within your body. Your life is now arranged around appointments, and tests, and treatments - to what end? - you know not.

Everyone says: "use running for strength and peace", but my mother has none of that. Life goes on, I am told - but not for everyone - or anyone, really.

So why must I go on running?

Because I have to believe
Because knowing I gave everything, matters
Because of my daughter
Because of my mother
Because I have to try
Because it's more than just a run
Because when I do, there's always a chance...

And this I must tell myself everyday.

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