Tag Archives: strength

The Road

We were on gchat. I wonder if years from now, I’ll start this story and my curly headed child will look up at me confused about some archaic structure, “What’s gchat?” in the same way that kids do now when asking about a time before cell phones. Still, I remember when gchat started, that blinking box, connecting our conversation across continents, states, or even the same room. We were on gchat and she had moved to DC and calls were difficult to come by. I’ve always had a hard time on the phone. The box blinked. “Let’s run a marathon.” I’ve been a runner since high school and do it for the sheer joy of the wind and the pounding pavement. A marathon was a challenge feeling seemingly impossible, but a good goal. “Ok.”

I never thought I would actually do it. I wanted to think I could do it, but I had also given myself an out even at the beginning to not go through with it. Still, I told her “Sure.” I mustered excitement about how it would be incredible. We imagined the scene. Two years later we signed up. We planned to do it together in DC and I started training in Atlanta. The hours it takes to train start small, but then they get longer. Five mile runs turn to nine miles, to thirteen miles, and you plan your life around the next three hours you’ll spend with the road. As the day got closer, I struggled with a challenging job and other life variables and then made the choice to run alone in a race in my own city, rather than with her. I told myself I could still give up. I didn’t have to do this.

I started running cross country my junior year of high school. My coach was a wiry old man, white haired and no time for excuses. He had lived a lot of life and appeared to expect us to embrace the pain and thrill of it. This meant he expected us to run every day of the week. It was his proven method. It was his holy grail. He expected it because he was also out there running, every day. That fall, I planned my life around this assumption: that if I got out there, every day, it would change me. So, I made sure I got plenty of sleep and ate during classes to carb load before runs in the afternoon. My weekends were treks that started before the sun was up on buses to old horse racing trails. Even on race days, we trained. We ran a mile before our race and a mile after and we always sprinted the last 100 yards. Over and over. Regardless of how I felt.

I loved running. I hated running. And, it slowly became the place I found myself. I went there to think. I went there to cry. I went there to laugh, to fight, and simply to be. I could feel whatever I needed to. And, I could keep moving. Running became my solitude. The road doesn’t care what you look like or if you failed your last assignment. She doesn’t care about the fight you just had. She doesn’t care about your promotion or the little money you have in your bank account. The seeming good or the bad. She asks you to get out there and accepts whatever you’ve got. She just asks you to show up. 

When I ran that day, I had a couple of friends who followed the course and met up with me along the way, at the parts I felt like I could barely continue on. When my phone died and my music gave out and they let me swap with theirs. When I had a particularly long hill. And, just to say, “You can do it” and then “You did” when I finished, tired and overwhelmed with emotion.

If you ask anyone who has run a marathon about what it felt like to finish, I wonder if they’ll struggle with the sentences. There are few words to really speak when in the midst of a victory. Nothing really does it justice. When you’ve put every last ounce of energy and hope into something and then it’s done. The pure joy and utter exhaustion.

As a counselor, I think about how I feel sitting across from someone who is fighting for their life; like they’re running a marathon, and I couldn’t be prouder and more honored to be there with whatever they bring. I want to see their face and the triumph as they show up through the pain. I want to be there when they get to the other side of that finish line and find the person they are and the strength they have. That’s what the road hopes for. That’s what she taught me.

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It started happening again. I started crying at stoplights. On off-ramps. When my car slows and you’re standing there with a sign about work or being a veteran or needing to get home. And, it takes everything in me not to get out of my car and do something. And, it takes everything in me not to shrink away, look everywhere but your eyes. And, sometimes I don’t. I focus on the light, changing. It always changes. The seconds are so slow.

I went through a period of time where I always had a granola bar tucked under the seat. I kept spare change cradled in the cup-holder, just to have something to give. I wanted to help. I went through a season after where I stood in self-righteousness that it would only feed the problem, not give any solutions. The system is the problem, I raged. When I was working in nonprofit sector, I felt like I could connect you to a resource. I felt like I had an option. We need relationship more than anything else and these days I am strung thin and wish I could give you more than this smile. 

Why does it always come back to what I can give? My entitlement squirms out even when I’m hoping to shake out the injustice in this world.

I’m a counseling grad student and trying to make it through the day hearing heart ache and lost dreams morning after morning. I’m not a saint. And, most days the only thing I have to hold onto is the hope that this great big God of ours is telling a long story. And, some days I do just want to sit at this red light, waiting for the change, and cry.

We all need to get home. I’m still wondering where mine is. As the leaves begin to break into reds and oranges, nostalgia  stirs this part of me that holds onto fall hikes, boots crunching on paths, flannel and laughter. I’ve begun to know the lines of this city, the ways the roads fall into each other, anticipate the traffic. It’s like this ongoing relationship where I both love and easily compare it to a past love, a one that has probably become a beautiful distortion of reality. Idealism has a way of doing that.

I get on twitter during my breaks. They’re talking about Ferguson again. In 140 characters, rage and injustice and hope. I hold my tongue and my heart. I write out sentences. Delete them. Write them out again. Sometimes I push “send.” I am easily consumed by the urge to blame, and I blame myself. I’m activated and once that happens it’s hard for me to make the next right decision, a decision that could actually do some good in my neighborhood. A decision that could call out the injustice and move towards peace. I want to invite others in rather than push them out. I’m still unsure what that looks like going forward. I’m still asking the questions. 

I’m putting those granola bars back in my car. Maybe I’ll buy an extra cup of coffee this morning. I may be small and unable to change the system today, but your dignity is worth more than that. It’s above any inadequacy I feel. You’re strong. I want to tell you that. Let’s both keep fighting. A red light’s not a lot for a conversation, and it’s enough for a smile.