12/5/2018 – A Christmas Card from Home by Way of Heaven

This morning began with a series of text messages.  Texting is not my preferred mode of communication, and I don’t use it often, so when a series of “dings” occurred in rapid succession, it was a sure sign that something was amiss.  Indeed, My Aunt Fran went to heaven this morning.

I sent a short message of condolence to my cousin and read the same from other cousins as they came across my screen.  I brewed a cup of coffee and sat in the quiet living room, not quite sure how to feel.

I grew up with many loving aunts and uncles, but Aunt Fran was a favorite. She taught Sunday School and Children’s Church.  She had a room in her basement full of little toys that she would give out as rewards for good behavior. For many years, she regularly cut my hair while I sat on a chair in her basement and she even allowed us to roller skate on the concrete floor.  Sometimes Fran would “kidnap” me for a day. Friendly’s Ice Cream Parlor was a short walk from her home, and we would go together and she would buy me a sundae that was so big that I couldn’t finish it.  Aunt Fran bought me my very first tea set, long gone now, but I remember it well.

Aunt Fran was a talented story teller.  Whether the story was from the Bible or from her youth, Fran had a rare talent for making even the ordinary exciting.  I particularly remember her re-telling of the story of David and Goliath.  She played each role, picking up smooth stones and putting them into a pouch for her imaginary slingshot, and then carefully fitting each one into the pouch to slay the giant.  A day with Aunt Fran was magical.

Mom and Fran were constant companions during the years that they shared at the Apostolic Christian Rest Home in Mansfield.  Each had her own small apartment just across the street the other.  Fran couldn’t see, and Mom had a hard time walking.  Mom was Fran’s eyes, and Fran was Mom’s legs.  They were a good team.  They complemented each other; they needed each other.  Even when Mom’s illness had progressed to the point where she could no longer truly care for herself, she wouldn’t leave Fran.

When cooking a big meal became too much for Mom several years ago, I began cooking Christmas dinner and transporting it to Mansfield, where we would serve up a feast in Mom’s small apartment.  We always invited Aunt Fran, and she always came down the hall, usually bearing gifts, which were often treasures from her own apartment that she no longer used for herself.  I use one such gift – a cast iron skillet – daily, and the lamp made of pink Himalayan salt glows in my study.

In the final year or so that Mom and Fran spent together, Fran’s hearing was failing, and her mind wasn’t working as before.  Last Fall, I was staying a few days with Mom prior to bringing her home with me because Mom had grown too weak to get herself in and out of bed.  She became very sick the night before we were to leave for my home, and I had to call an ambulance.  I called Fran’s apartment, too, but there was no answer.  Although I asked other family to let Fran know what had happened, she was convinced that I had stolen Mom away in the middle of the night without even letting them say goodbye.  No amount of persuasion by myself or others involved could ever convince Fran that I had, in fact, wanted her to know what was happening and even had tried to reach her.  As far as I know, Fran never forgave me.  I had never known Fran to be angry, but angry she was.  That night, I not only knew I was going to lose Mom, I lost my Franny, too.

Forgiveness is a lesson that took me more than 50 years to understand.  I’m doing much better with it, but I still struggle with forgiveness regularly.  It’s easier to understand it than to master it.

I struggle often to let go of the hurt that I cause myself with other people’s words and deeds so that I can just love them – unconditionally – regardless of if they apologize or even feel bad for their “wrongdoing.”

I struggle to forgive myself for the times that I fail – whether it’s the dumb thing I did in second grade, or one of the times that I failed so completely that people I love won’t forgive me even though I’ve apologized.  I struggle to let go of that pain, too, and just love them – unconditionally – regardless of if they return that love or even acknowledge my existence.

When I am having those particular struggles -the ones where I struggle to forgive myself – I slip into a mindset where nothing I do is good enough.  I don’t write because “who else would ever want to see it.”  I don’t post pictures of my knitting or of my teacups because “people will just think I’m looking for attention.”  I don’t play the piano because I’m rusty and I make a lot of mistakes, and I struggle to get on the treadmill because I’m slower than I was in 2016.  Forgiveness is the key to happiness, if you ask me, because letting go of pain frees up so much energy to just enjoy life and to just enjoy living.

This morning I forgave Fran for being angry with me, and I forgave myself for not foreseeing that my failure to reach her myself would cause hurt so deep that it would destroy a 50-year bond.  I allowed myself to weep, and to imagine Fran and Mom, reunited.  I believe that Fran, moments after her death, was restored to perfect health with perfect hearing and a sharp mind, and that she understood perfectly when Mom told her that I had, in fact, tried to phone her.

I made it to the office this morning a little late, but pretty much on time.  All day, my memories have kept spilling out my eyes and down my cheeks.  I’m not one given to loud crying generally, but my eyes have grown very leaky since I reached “a particular age.” It’s one of many reasons why I don’t bother with makeup.

When I arrived at the office, my mail was piled on my desk.  On the top of the pile was an envelope with a handwritten address.  A bright red cardinal appeared on the postage stamp in the upper right corner – a lone pop of color on a black and white document.  It’s said that the sighting of a cardinal is a message from a loved one in Heaven.  I saw a post to that effect on Facebook yesterday, so it must be true!

I looked at the return address and saw Dalton, Ohio 44618.  Home!  No matter how long I am in Vermilion, which I love, my heart screams “home” when I think of Wayne County.  In the envelope was a beautiful letter from a beautiful lady who has always been special.  We haven’t seen or talked in more than 30 years, but today, just when I needed a lift, her letter landed on my desk on a morning when I was down, not only because my aunt died, but because the stubborn needle on the scale just won’t budge no matter how strictly I diet or how many miles I run right now.

She shared some of her memories of my parents which I had forgotten about, but which flooded back.  She told me how much she’s enjoyed reading the little blog posts that I share.    She talked about my writing about struggles and transparency and told me that I make a difference.  She put a smile on my face.

I keep coming back to that cardinal on the stamp, and the idea of a message from a loved one in Heaven. The letter left Dalton, Ohio, a mere 50 or so miles away, on November 28th and arrived here on December 4, a day when I wasn’t in the office.  I didn’t personally receive the letter until I got to my desk on December 5- six days after the letter left “home.”.  The pony express would have been faster!  That dear lady closed her letter with “God’s grace and blessing on [my] journey.”  In God’s perfect time, a letter landed on my desk at least 4 days late, carrying with it a message of love and hope and friendship.  I feel like it also carried with it a message of forgiveness from Fran, and perhaps a “hi, I miss you,” from Mom, stuck to the letter with the glue on the cardinal stamp.

My friend from back home had no idea what I would be struggling with on THIS day on the day that she mailed the pretty Christmas card with the beautiful letter inside.  She simply listened to the call she felt to reconnect.  In doing so, she made a difference.  In this day of instant messages and texts and emails, it is such a thrill to open a card or letter and read a message meant just for *ME*.  Had she emailed, instead, I never would have received the message with the red cardinal at just the moment that I needed it.

It is possible to smile through tears.  I know, because I’m doing it right now.

Love,

Be

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Common Ground vs Middle Ground

Common Ground and Middle Ground aren’t the same. Common Ground is the set of things that we share. We’re humans, we’re parents, we love coffee, or we love dogs. Finding common ground is a strategy used for team building and conflict resolution. It is a form of connection that builds bridges.

Middle Ground is compromise. If your land is on the north bank of the river and my land is on the south bank of the river meeting in the middle of the river is somewhere between your camp and my camp.

Nobody has to win or lose to find common ground. We may share the common ground of loving dogs but be on different sides of a political issue. Nobody loses a thing to find common ground.

Middle ground involves loss. If you stay on the south bank and I stay on the north bank of the river, we have not moved to middle ground. If we both wade out into the river, we both leave our camps.

Middle ground is not always right. Sometimes it’s downright dangerous. Sometimes, if we wade into the river to meet half way, we’ll both drown.

Finding common ground is rarely wrong.If we’re going to heal the divide in this country, it starts by finding common ground – finding out where we are alike and where we agree. After we’ve found common ground, we may have issues where we can find middle ground. There may be issues where we will never find middle ground, because there is only right and wrong.

five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.  That’s one year.  I buried my mom a year ago today – right about now.  I have known a lot of loss and pain in my life.  I’ve lost pregnancies, been divorced, buried a husband and my father.  I’ve been through plenty of tough times.  I thought I had a pretty good handle on grief.

I had the bright idea to start blogging my journey through grief on a day by day basis – I thought that I could somehow write a primer that might help others through coming to terms with the loss of their parent.  I was so arrogant as to sit down and write out a timeline of topics that I would write about – the lessons that I would teach myself about grief on my timetable.  I can laugh at the audacity now.

I didn’t write all of those blogs.  I didn’t write many of them.  I found the list not so long ago and threw it away.

When you are grieving, sometimes the minutes creep by so slowly that you think morning will never arrive.  Sometimes you open your eyes and realize it’s Friday and you haven’t finished the Monday to-do list.

The only way out is through.  I made it through five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.   I made it through a year.   I’ll make it through the next one, too, and the one after that.  Such powerful lessons of love I have learned.

I didn’t write those blogs, but I filled journal after journal.  One day, perhaps soon, I’ll read them through.  Perhaps there will be something of value to share. Perhaps they’ll make good kindling for next summer’s campfires.  Only time will tell.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, for me at least, has been  a time to process the changes.  I’ve let go of so many ideas that no longer served me.  When something irritates or annoys me, I ask myself if it would matter in a year.  If not, I do my best to let it go and use my energy for something more productive than worry.

I’m back to singing silly songs at inappropriate times (but not in court).  My smile isn’t a mask hiding sadness or depression – it’s real these days.  I no longer have to stalk joy like it’s a rare animal in a dark jungle.  Joy sits on my shoulder and sings again.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes – measure in love.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life
Of a woman or a man?
In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died
It’s time now to sing out
Tho’ the story never ends
Let’s celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the love
Remember the love
Remember the love
Measure in love
Measure, measure your life in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love
Songwriters: Jonathan D. Larson
Seasons of Love lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

 

 

What is Success, Anyway?

I had the great pleasure of meeting some wonderful people on a recent trip to Colorado.  One of them felt like a “new old friend” – one of those people who for no readily-apparent reason I just instantly like and can talk with easily, as if meeting with an old friend.

Like me, she’s had setbacks, including painful injuries.  while admittedly, I don’t know all that much about her, but she is smart, pretty, and has accomplished a lot in her trips around the sun.  She told me, quietly, that she doesn’t think she’s successful.  I asked her, “what does it mean to be successful?

She told me that she’d have to think about it.   It told her that I would, too.

Dictionary.com lists three definitions for the word “success.”

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
  3. a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors.

I don’t really feel that any of those definitions defines what I look at when I attempt to define “success” as it applies to me or to those who I encounter in daily life.

If I accomplish one set of goals, I may have achieved success, but am I still “successful” if I simply stop there?  Are the possession of wealth, position and honors a good measure of success, really?

Is my success as a lawyer determined by my financial gain or by the number of people whose lives I touch?  Is my success as a measured by keeping my children alive to adulthood, or must they thrive on their own in an adult world?

I didn’t feel very successful as a young adult.  I don’t know what my personal measure of success was at 28, but I do recall that I was nervous about meeting my biological grandparents because I was divorced, a single parent and overweight.  I didn’t consider that the fact that  I was employed, working hard and buying my own home may have looked like success to my grandparents.

As a 33-year-old undergraduate student, I tutored a young man in math.  I was not a top math student, but my scores were higher than his, so I learned how to solve the problems and then I taught him to solve them, too.  We both passed the class.  That was definitely a success.

My personal framework for success is evolving.  At one time, I would have deemed myself a success having received a college degree.  When I attained that goal, I was proud for a moment, but I still didn’t feel successful.    Now that I have a BA and  JD and my own law practice, I feel successful when I win an argument and I don’t feel successful when I compare my paycheck to that of a colleague working for a big firm.

Since my conversation a month ago with my new, old friend, I have put some thought into answering the question of, “what is success?”

I’ve trained for two half-marathons.  In both cases, I logged hundreds of miles in training.  I did not finish my first attempt.  I did finish my second attempt.  Was I a failure the first time and a success the second time?  If “success” is measured by completing a race, then that is the case.  Although I felt momentarily defeated when I was “swept” from the course on that first attempt, I was proud of having successfully completed a training program, losing a bunch of weight, and gaining a lot of self-confidence.  I overcame a lot of obstacles in order to chalk up that failure.  Overall, that experience, and the fire it lit under me to finish the next time was definitely a contributing factor to my later “success.”

Speaking of that weight – I still have a sizeable amount to release.  am I a success for having lost over 100 lbs and keeping most of it off, or must I reach that elusive “goal weight” to be a success in the health arena?  Do my A1C, resting heart rate and blood pressure measurements contribute to success?

I’m very much a success story in some arenas.  In other areas, I’m a desperate failure.  I choose not to focus on those because I can only fix one or two things at a time.

One person who reads my musings may call me a “thought leader.”  Another recently told me I was full of Bull***t.  Guess which one I listened to (and then look back at the space between my blog posts in recent months…)

For today, I will define “success” as living a life consistent with my values.  That’s a higher bar than one would think some days.

What is “success”?  Do you feel successful?  What will it take for you to feel like a success?  Leave em a comment.  Let’s have a conversation.

Embracing the Dark

My “brand,” for want of a better term, has been “comfort and joy,” but the truth is that I have been doing my best to load heavy on the “joy” part.  I find joy in colors – in wild, bright, nearly-neon shades of pink, orange and green.  I have teacups in every color of the rainbow.  I wear eyeglasses that are splashed with many colors.  I love color.

I’m currently listening to “Learning to walk in the Dark:  Because Sometimes God Shows up at Night“, by Barbara Brown Taylor.   The author’s soothing voice is a reminder that life isn’t always colorful.  We have spent generations filling our world with light – chasing away the darkness.  We’ve lost the ability to take comfort in dark things – dark places. Her voice came at me through several podcasts in a short time.  On an impulse, I turned in an Audible credit and downloaded the recording.  I’m so glad that I did.

I’m the first one up in the house most mornings.  I flip on every light switch I pass, filling the house with the artificial sunlight emitted from all of those high-efficiency LED light bulbs.  The author asked questions, and I pondered, “When was the last time that I truly sat in the dark?  When did I last watch the night sky and watch for the stars to appear?”

It seems that August and September each lasted about 10 minutes. Here I sit, already part way through the month of October. My beautiful summer garden has begun to turn brown around the edges.  The petunias are bearing their last blooms; the herbs are going to seed.  Winter is Coming (sorry).  With Winter comes long nights.  With my windowless office, it is far too easy to arrive at work in the dark and leave in the dark.  I must be intentional, some days, to glimpse the sunlight at all.  The vibrant orange roses I purchased a week and a half ago have finally turned brown.  I rinsed the apple-green vase and stored it away.

Emotions can be dark, too.   We can confront dark emotions without being consumed by them.  I’m amazed by the videos of dangerous creatures – night creatures – like wolves and bears and foxes that make their way into backyards and play in the pool or on the trampoline.   I find delight in watching their apparent joy.  Had those homeowners been frightened by the beasts and turned on the security light, flooding the yard with artificial sun, the animals may have scurried away into the forest.  Instead, they sat back and allowed something magical to happen, and those videos have brought happiness to thousands, like me, who will never experience the sight.

In the wake of my mother’s death last year, I pursued joy like a drug.  I purchased yarn in bright colors, hoarded away in quantities it will take many months to deplete.  I asked for (and received – thank you, darling) a room painted a yellow (called “joyful,” no less) in which I could sit and do happy things while looking out the window at happy colors.  Honestly, the room hasn’t received much use.

No, I’m not currently depressed.  I’m just coming down off of an artificial high.  I’ve never used recreational drugs, but I’m told that some so completely deplete serotin – the happiness hormone – that it’s difficult to feel happy after coming down from the high. Those same substances, administered by a professional, can be used to combat serious issues like PTSD. Like those drugs, “Joy,” I think, is best in small doses.  It’s much more special that way.  Seeking out joy is hard work.  An item is only novel a time or two, then unless it is connected to a special memory, it begins to lose its magic.  It becomes another pretty thing to sit on a shelf and dust.

Instead of running from garden to lake seeking perfect sunrises and sunsets (filled with fuschia and orange), I’m going to take a look around at all of the perfect,ordinary, taken-for-granted blessings.  There is beauty in ritual – in the mundane.

I’m not swearing off of joy – I’m just trying to find a rhythm – to get back to appreciating the ordinary.  To enjoy comfort while at the same time allowing darkness  – sadness, melancholy and longing – to creep in where I can watch them from a safe distance.

My dear aunt and uncle in Arkansas recently sent me a gift – a video of my mother and her siblings in 2009.  One sister had already taken up residence in heaven – but the rest of them sat and told stories about growing up – about Christmas and toys and the poor family who stole milk from the cows because their children were hungry.

That DVD sat on the table in the foyer for more than a week.  I was afraid of it.  I don’t know if I was afraid of seeing my mother’s face and hearing her voice.  I don’t know if I was afraid that she might say something about me and my failures as a daughter.  I can’t truly describe the nature of my fear.  I just know that I felt it.

After moving the disc from one room to another, I finally popped it into the computer, sat back with a pot of tea, and watched it end to end.  I allowed the tears to come.  I allowed the grief to come into the yard and bounce on the trampoline.  I allowed myself to laugh at the funny parts, too.

Like the wild animals playing on the swingset, though, dark emotion is a wild creature that for those of us who have found our way back from depression must be respected for the wild thing that it is.  Like the woman filming the black bears, I can watch sadness from the safety of the kitchen window, but it would be foolish to invite it into the house and give it a place at the table.

I would never go out into the yard if a bear was there, but I might brave the night to see how close I could get to a fox or a raccoon.  I would face fear of the dark for the potential experience of seeing something special up close.

If you never go out into the dark, how will you ever see the stars?

 

 

 

 

 

My Life as a Plant

I just returned from a weekend camping in a place with absolutely no internet connectivity.  My cell phone did not work.  Zero bars.  Nada.  No Facebook.  No weather.  No checking my calendar or sharing pics on Instagram.  The only purposes my handy dandy pocket computer served were alarm clock, music player and e-reader.

Our 18-year-old son is old enough, now, to spend a weekend without Mom and Dad here to manage him.  He wasn’t alone, though.  It was closing weekend of the musical theater show he has been rehearsing for all summer long.  He’s a busy guy.

I had intended to ask my son to water my plants while I was gone, but I forgot, and by the time I arrived  home, a few were just beginning to droop.  I don’t generally keep indoor plants because I have a tendency to kill them, but for a few brief months every year, my back deck becomes a tropical paradise filled with a riot of colors.  I “visit” the plants nearly every day.  I pinch this one back here to encourage more blooms and I move that one a little to the left so that it gets more sunlight. Sometimes, though, I get busy and I forget a day of watering.  Earlier this summer, a combination of a badly-planned container and failure of a drip-watering system led to a “dead” planter.  I had my husband drill a bunch of holes in the bottom of an old aluminum tea kettle that was my mother’s, and I filled it with vines and flowers.  It was lovely.

I went out to the deck one night to commune with my flowering friends and found the kettle plants wilted and dead-looking.  The soil was crispy.  The leaves were crinkly.  The situation looked pretty hopeless.  I cried a little.  I had “built” that container as a tribute to Mom, who I lost in November, and in that moment, my irrational mind felt that I had let her down (again).

My husband said, “just throw the plants out and buy new ones.”  It was tempting.  Instead, though, I soaked the container thoroughly.  I used my garden shears to cut back the completely brown parts and I moved the kettle from the hook where it hung “crooked,” as if pouring a cup of tea to a shelf where it could sit flat (and was much easier to water).

I began watching the kettle planter each day.  On Day 2, it looked a little better.  The leaves that had still been green, but were wrinkled instead of full and lush had filled back out. The extremities on the vines though, continued to wilt and grow brown.  I pulled out the shears once again and cut back a little more.

By Day 3, the “core” of the planter was beginning to look healthy.  There were no flowers anywhere, but the greenery was looking healthier.

By Day 7, new runners were beginning to appear from the vining plants.  By Day 10, a few buds had appeared on the the plant with the tiny white flowers.

Now, two full weeks after the disaster, three of the four plants have made a brilliant recovery.  They almost look as if they had never been nearly killed. I say “almost,” because if you look closely, you can see the scarring on some leaves.  There are some brown parts, too – but if you view the kettle from a distance, you would never know that it was nearly a lost cause.  The fourth plant, with it’s delicate leaves and tiny fuschia blossoms, though, isn’t faring as well as its neighbors.  Perhaps it is the diminutive size of the leaves.  Perhaps this plant wouldn’t have thrived in the same container as the other three even without my unintentionally-caused drought.  It’s surviving, but it isn’t thriving.

While running on a narrow trail through the forest this weekend (without music), I began thinking about the plants in Mom’s kettle.  When you neglect a plant, or when it goes through a crisis, it begins to shut down.  It conserves precious resources for its core.  It keeps its center alive for as long as possible.  Humans do this, too.

It was just about a year ago when Mom told me that her cancer was “alive” again, and that she would need radiation treatments to knock it back down.  In the weeks leading up to that day, I had celebrated my 50th birthday.  I was joyful.  I was celebrating life.  If I were a plant, I would have been “blooming all over the place.”

As the illness progressed, it took her mind.   My own soul began to wilt a little.  My extremities began to wither – I stopped seeking out people and conversations.  A leaf began to die here and there.  She became sicker and died.  People soon stopped sending cards and notes.  The flowers people sent died. The houseplants that people sent to the funeral died, too.  I suppose the fact that I hadn’t watered them had something to do with it.  We entered the longest winter ever, and I had my own “dark night of the soul.”

With Spring came hope.  I waited impatiently for the last chance of frost to pass so that I could plant new life in the containers that still held the wilted remains of last year’s flower garden.  The trails called me, too.  I began running again on paths through woods and meadows.  I began smiling more.  As the pots and kettles and gutters filled with living, blooming things began to fill my life with color, my mood lifted.  I began reaching out.  I even invited people long gone from my life for coffee and conversation.  I, too, began to bloom again.

I recognize my plant-like nature.  When there is a “trauma” in my environment, the “extremities” are the first to go.  I stop doing the extra things that bring me into contact with others.  I stop “vining” – reaching out for new places to connect and grow.  I stop blooming – whether my blossoms are written words or photographs of pretty teacups.

My grief is not over.  Most days I am happy, but once in a while I will forget for a moment that Mom is dead.  I reach for the phone to call her, or spot something I would love to send her.  Those moments are no longer enough to ruin me for the day.

By late Winter, if I were a plant, I would have looked pretty sad.  I imagine I was there, with my long, flowing fronds, once lush and green, now hanging sad and brown.  Someone would come along and offer a word or encouragement and my “core” plant would lap it up.  At work, I would have an opportunity to help someone, and they showed their appreciation through kind words or referrals that brought me more and more to life.  Each act of kindness – each “touch,” whether physical or through the magic of the internet – was like a drop of rain to my parched soul.

Running through the Mohican State Forest this weekend, I was in awe of the resilience of plants – especially the trees.  In some spots, I was forced to climb tree roots as if they were a staircase.  In other places, I saw trees that had been blown over completely and started to grow again in a new direction.  Trees don’t give up and stop growing because there is a storm.

I don’t picture myself as a tree.  I’m far too fickle.  I’m more like a vining plant with long colorful fronds that blooms brightly once in a while.  As I heal, my fronds are filling out and buds forming.  as I hit “publish,” I will have put out my first blossom in a long while.

So, today I will be like a plant.  I will bloom where I’m planted while sending out vines, seeking new places to experience and erupting in an occasional flower that, when wilted, sends seeds out to land in someone else’s waiting, fertile soil of their imagination.

Who are You Going to Listen To?

Here’s a quick recap for those of you who don’t really know me or have lost touch.  I got hurt badly in a fall just before law school.  Already significantly overweight before law school, the injury, horrible diet (can you say free pizza?) and hours and hours of studying coupled with a completely sedentary lifestyle added up to a middle-aged woman who was not just morbidly obese – I was “super obese.”

Some years later, through changes in diet, DDP Yoga (check it out – it’s amazing) and putting on a pair of running shoes for the first time in my life, I lost over 100 pounds.

My Facebook feed was full of photos of the meals I prepared and notifications from Nike Running Club that I was going for a run.  When people “liked” my post, the app would cheer.  It was really motivating!  I attempted a half marathon in 2015 and was “swept” at mile 8 (I couldn’t maintain the minimum pace).  I didn’t give up.  I was training for a “rematch” with the same half marathon course when I read a Facebook post written by a law school classmate who I considered a close friend.

I don’t remember the exact words, but the gist of the post was that people who aren’t serious athletes shouldn’t post about their workouts – that we just are attention seekers and our “friends” don’t really care about our workouts.  Especially guilty were those of us who enter a competition and fail to complete it.  I was devastated.  He didn’t write my name, but I was all of those things.  I did manage to finish the 2016 half marathon attempt (just barely), but afterward, I lost my mojo.  I would run a few times a month, but I never got back into a predictable schedule.

I stopped posting, so I lost the “cheers.”  I stopped running, so I lost the endorphins that exercise releases.  I started eating potato chips again.  Life took some really tough turns, and instead of going for a run to ease the anxiety, I turned back to food.  Over time, I packed on nearly 50 pounds of weight.

As a self-employed person, my health insurance premiums became really expensive.  I switched from traditional health insurance to a health share plan, and in order to be approved, I had to agree to work with a health coach.  He doesn’t tell me what to do.  He helps me to set goals, and when we check in every week or so, he asks me how I did.  With his help, I’ve dropped 30 pounds.

I’ve missed running.  I’m very slow, so running any distance requires a significant time commitment for me.  My “homework” from my coach a couple of months ago was to sign up for a race.  I signed up for the Cleveland Rite-Aid Marathon Weekend 5K / 10K Challenge which was held this weekend (May 19-20, 2018).  The “overachiever” in me couldn’t just sign up for the 5K.  I had earned 3 medals in 2016 for completing a challenge, so registered for both the 5K and 10K and I set out to repeat that feat.

Here in Ohio, the weather has been miserable.  To top it off, my left foot has decided to grow some benign, but uncomfortable “lumps.”  These two factors combined to make a very serviceable excuse to skip training runs.  I skipped lots of them.  Basically, I didn’t train – I just ran a couple of times when the weather was nice.

I checked the weather forecast mid-week.  Saturday and Sunday were supposed to be stormy.  I ran the 5K / 10K in 2016 when Cleveland had sleet, hail and thundersnow (yes, that’s a real thing) in mid-May.  I nearly didn’t pick up my race packet.

By Friday morning, the forecast had improved.  The forecast showed clear windows for both races.  I posted about not being ready and about my food hurting, and a running friend (an ultramarathoner, no less) encouraged me to join the ranks of the injured and undertrained and do it anyway – so I did.

Saturday was the 5K.  I did really well.  I ran the fastest 5K I’ve run since I started running again.  I was stoked.  Sunday, I arrived at the start and it started raining.  I very nearly turned back, got on the train and made my way back to my car.  The voice of my “friend” was back in my head.  I was going to finish near the very back of the pack.  I hadn’t made it to anywhere near 6 miles in my training runs, and to be honest, other than yesterday’s 5K, I had only run once or twice in the past month.

I was just about to allow my “friend’s” imaginary voice that was telling me that I did not belong on the course to persuade me to return to the car when another  law school classmate saw me and talked to me for quite some time.  He was running his first race.  That brief conversation gave me a minute to chase the other classmate out of my head.

I was sore from the 5K.  I held back the first half of the race because I knew that I was under-trained and I was virtually certain to run out of steam.  I was fine until about mile 4.5 when we had to climb a really steep hill.  I was really tired.  I wasn’t in pain, but it was hard to make my feet go faster than a slow walk.  My pace had dropped, and that guy’s voice in my head was working on me again – “You didn’t train for this.  Nobody cares about your posts.  Nobody cares about your run.  You’re a fake!”

I was discouraged.  I felt like crying when a voice cried, “Betty!”  Yet another law school classmate stopped in the middle of her own race to grab me and wrap me in a hug.  Take that, “mean guy.”  People do care.

The last mile and a half was slow, but I didn’t care.  I was soaked to the skin (the rain never did completely stop) and out of energy, but I had a grin on my face that nobody could erase.  I crossed the bridge over the Cuyahoga River that was just before the finisher’s chute.  I collected my medal.  I found my way to the tent where I received another medal for the completing two races in one weekend, and ran into yet another law school classmate.  She cared, too.

This is a long, long story.  The moral of the story is be careful who you allow as a “tenant” in your head.  Nearly every time I post on social media about a run or a race, I receive a whole bunch of “likes,” which I translate as a positive thing.  Maybe it *is* attention seeking, but if that little reward keeps me on the track or trail, I think it’s worth it.  Anyone who is not interested has the power to block, unfollow or simply “mute” me on social media.

I allowed one post by someone who was probably going through his own issues YEARS ago to be an excuse not to do things that are good for me.  Even sadder, that same guy wrote a post a couple of months ago apologizing to his social media friends for basically being a jerk a couple of years ago.  Months later, I was still allowing his years-old post to be my excuse for not trying.

I ran more than 9.3 miles this weekend, most of them in a cold, miserable rain.  I didn’t use an app that “cheered” me, but I received live, in person love from people I haven’t seen in person in years.  I collected 3 medals to hang from the cane that I used to need to hobble around my law school.  Most importantly, I’ve issued an eviction notice to the imaginary “friend” in my head because I don’t want to renew his lease.  It’s time for him to go.

The announcer at the race said that 15,000 people were registered for today’s events.  The fact that I found three people I knew, some at just the right moment to keep me from “throwing in the towel,” and one to share my joy in having finished went beyond coincidence.  I believe in miracles, friendship and a bit ‘o luck.  Today I experienced all three.

To all of the people who have told me that I am an inspiration and the reason they started doing something hard – whether it was going back to school or exercising – even running: I’m back.  Being told that you’re an inspiration can be uncomfortable.  I wonder why people say that sometimes because I am so imperfect.  Perhaps it is that very imperfection that inspires.  I get back up time and time again.  It’s okay to stumble.  It’s okay to lose your way from time to time.  Finding your way back to the path  is what matters.  Thank you for believing in me when I stopped believing in myself.

To the friend who accidentally found his way into my head:  I didn’t write this to call you out.  It looks like your life today is going in a fantastic direction.  I miss you and I’m proud of you….I just don’t want you in my head anymore.  Okay?

The moral of the story is:  when you have to choose between listening to people who love you and want you to succeed and people who are going through a hard time and complaining about something they don’t like on social media, choose wisely!

Peace out, I’m going to go hang up my medals!

~Be~