Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mourning the stolen finish lines

I ran tonight.
It was 7:30 by the time I was done with work and teaching and had a little bit of space to just put one foot in front of the other. I ran alone, only about 4 miles. Along the river, under low clouds. Not fast. I’m not fast. But I do it anyway.
I’ll run a couple of half marathons this year. Spring and fall. I always do. My husband and our sons have stood at so many finish lines for me. My sweet, smiling boys, all of them.
The kids must get so bored sometimes, standing there, waiting to see me come around the final turn. My husband has to get tired of holding that damn camera, hoping he can get the shot as I lope over the finish line.
My littlest son, Ben, is 8. Just like that littlest son who died at the Boston Marathon, standing there with his mom and his sister, watching the runners. Ben is my runner. He can cover a mile in just over 8 minutes, his small, strong legs whirling, his face set in that determined, unpretty scowl he got from me. “We’re the runners in our family,” he tells me, slipping his small hand into mine.
I run a half marathon in a little more than 2 hours. If I ever attempted a full, I’d hope to come in around the 4:15 mark, like most of that slow-but-steady crowd that was striding toward the finish line in Boston, running toward relief and joy, when everything we knew about that moment changed.
That moment. It’s such a good one. That moment as you see the finish line come into view, that moment you see your boys waving, that moment you cross over and they find you and hug you despite the sweat, and you can’t quite catch your breath yet to thank them for standing there, to tell them you love them -- but you will. You will.
That moment is one more we’ve lost, isn’t it? One more lovely, bright thing that’s been taken. Will I ever see them standing there again without thinking of this? Will I tell them not to stand there anymore? I can’t breathe now, when I think about them standing there.
I’m thinking about dropping out of Nashville, my friend texts me.
Next week he’ll run a race there with 32,000 people. He and I ran that race together last year, back when that moment was still whole, still utterly and unambiguously good. I don’t know what to text back to him.
My initial thought is, Friend, don’t cancel. Please.
But then I think, Would I want my boys standing at that finish line? And I can’t breathe.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t offer any advice. I don’t have any. My next race is in May. I think I’ll go. They’re supposed to go with me, they’re expecting to stand at that finish line.
I think we’ll go. Probably. Maybe.
For the most part, runners are inherently happy people. We take a lot of pleasure in effort, in goals set and met, in the journey as well as the destination. We tend to travel in packs, but we also delight in solitude.
The people I run with laugh about pain, compare injuries and share tips on treating them, make a good-natured joke of the bad runs, turn the good ones into the stuff of legend – epic stories told and retold, enshrined forever in their running story repertoires.
They know exactly what you mean when you say, “I’m so tired; I really need to run.” They know exactly when to text just that word: Run?
The people who love us most may not get it, but they get how much it matters. There isn’t much in life more purely joyful than seeing those people at the finish line of a race. There isn’t much that feels better than that.
There wasn’t, I mean.  There wasn’t.
I don’t know what to do with this loss. I don’t know how life looks without that moment. I don’t want to be angry, but I’m so angry. So angry, so sad. But I don’t know what to do with it, this enraged mourning for all those stolen finish lines.
So I did the only thing I know to do. I ran tonight.
I ran.

With our boys at the finish line.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

We're all made of stories. Well, I guess we're mostly made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen. But also stories. They really should be on the periodic table.

Writers never stop writing, even when they appear to be doing other things. We're writing when we run, when we cook, when we do the taxes or get a pedicure. It's all fodder for the narrative, and our minds are forever turning over and storing the details for later use.

But guess what? You do it, too, even if you aren't a writer. You build and tell and retell your own story every day -- to yourself, to your friends, to your family, even to strangers. We all do it, even when we don't mean to. Even when we don't realize it. We can't help it.

Today's column in the Times Free Press reflects on the power of narrative to strengthen our connections to each other and to show the people we love that, while there may not be happily ever after, there's always another page to turn.

Thanks for becoming part of the story.