Tag Archive - Struggle

R2R2R: Day 1

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The sky spreads over us like a sapphire sea studded with stars. We swallow clean, cool air in gulps as we pass through the sweet silence of a world still sleeping. We whisper morning prayers as our flashlights sweep the path in front of us, all the while sinking lower and lower into the canyon.

It is a grudge match of sorts, this return to the canyon. A redemption. We came last year to walk from one rim to the other, rest for a day, then walk back. But illness prevented us from completing the second leg of our hike. So here we are in the predawn hours, treading this same bit of earth where we finished last year, hoping that the training has been enough, that the changes in our packs will serve us well, that we clear the floor of the canyon before it reaches its predicted high of roughly 100 degrees.

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Dawn breaks softly, color aching back into things. By the time we reach our first water fill station at Supai Tunnel, we pack away our flashlights. Sunlight creeps over the stones liberating their brilliant hues. All day long I will watch this magic. The canyon–with its layers of white, red, green, and violet stone; its deep recesses that bend light, or catch it and hold it hostage; its peculiar promontories and funky formations that cast long, irregular shadows–is a veritable playground for light.

We reach the floor ahead of schedule, but we remind ourselves that this first portion of the “floor” has a good bit of rough and rugged undulation. (A fact which none of the sources we read ever told us, and was a brutal surprise last year. So I am telling you now.) Two or three miles later, the trail begins a long, comfortable meander along the edge of Bright Angel Creek and the gurgle and plash of water is our constant companion.

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A network of old power poles follows the basic outline of the path. Some still have wire wrapped around beautiful glass insulators. My dad, an electrician, used to have some of these when I was a little girl. They fascinated me then and they fascinate me now. I have to resist the urge to shinny up one of those poles and pull one down and shove it in my backpack. Especially the blue ones.

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Sometimes the walls of the canyon crowd very close here, thrusting skyward in an unbroken line. They provide welcome shade from the slanting rays of morning sun. Gathered round their feet and growing impossibly from crevices in their sides are an astonishing array of plants. I am constantly distracted by them

We reach Phantom Ranch a little before 11am, almost an hour ahead of schedule. I pull a stack of postcards from my pack for our children and godchildren. These I stuff into a saddlebag which will ride out of the canyon later today on a mule, the only place I am aware of in the U.S. where mail is still carried this way.

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We refill our water bottles and eat a substantial snack. 14 miles in already and I am hungry. And here I make my biggest mistake of the day. Summer sausage is a classic trail food. We brought one from home thinking we might need it before we got to Phantom Ranch. I eat half of it, 3 1/2 ounces, reasoning that I need the protein for the climb, and that it is easier to carry it in my stomach than in my backpack. It is too much at once. I will pay for that.

We walk through Bright Angel Campground just before crossing the Colorado River and commencing our ascent. The thermometer reads 95 degrees. In the shade. It is 11:15.

The next 3 miles or so are almost entirely exposed. Shade becomes a scarce and coveted commodity. Every time we find a patch of it, we linger. My stomach full of fatty sausage and the brutal heat are a bad combination. I feel sick. When we come to our first creek crossing I plunge my bandana in and proceed to douse myself from head to toe. I squeeze the water over my head and let it run in cool rivulets down my neck and back. I press it against my face. I slather it along my arms, my stomach. Then, I dip the bandana once more and wrap it around my neck. The relief of this is delicious. And completely necessary. It will make all the difference. My motto becomes: Linger in every patch of shade, dip in every creek. The water in my water bottles is becoming sickly hot. But I make myself drink it. Must drink. Must. Drink.

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Coming into and out of Indian Gardens

Indian Gardens is an oasis, literally, halfway between the Colorado River and the South Rim. Native Americans planted crops here centuries ago and now cottonwoods and mesquite grow in the same stream watered soil. We stop here for our first water fill since Phantom Ranch. It is so good to drink cool water again I down my first pint before we leave. We rest for a bit in the shade. I lie on my back and drape my feet across the top of a bench. We visit with fellow hikers and laugh at jokes that only those who have seen the canyon as we have seen her this day understand. Some folks minister to their feet, others share snacks and advice. We leave our oasis refreshed and renewed with just over 4 1/2 miles to go.

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I am infatuated with the sky. Always. But especially here. Intense cerulean, the perfect foil for the fluffy white clouds that have been increasing all afternoon. Now and then, a gray one. Interloper. A light mist begins to fall. Gentle. Cool. Most welcome. I turn to take a photograph of the clouds and when I lift my eyes from my phone, I see it. The rainbow. I begin to wonder if there is a limit to how much beauty one person can stand. I am treading dangerously close to that border. I take about 40 pictures, pausing now and then to just exult in this moment. In being right here, right now. Feeling the great goodness of the Father in the air and the mist, in the grandeur of this place, in the excruciating beauty of water bending light, in the strength of my legs and my heart, in the joy of sharing all of this with my best friend.

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The last mile and a half prove to be a challenge for Mike. Fatigue, heat, and lack of sleep the night before have conspired to make him feel exhausted and sick. But he keeps moving forward. One step at a time.

As we come to the end of the trail, there are no cheering crowds, no medal around the neck. Just the knowledge in our gut that the work of the day is done. I am as tired as I have ever been. But my heart is full…

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*All photographs in the post taken with my iphone. The only one that has been edited is the one at the top. I deepened the saturation a bit to make the rainbow more plain. However, if you look at the rainbow shot inside the post (unedited) you will see I didn’t alter it much. The colors were just this marvelous. If you would like to see other photos from our adventures out west (more than I will ever be able to use here) you can visit my photo album on facebook. I believe you can get to it directly by clicking HERE. I plan to write about day two tomorrow, so come back if you want to know how it turns out. 🙂

Letting Go

I realize I am holding my breath as I make the cut. Red leaves are just unfurling on the tips of the limbs, full of promise. And I am lopping them off. It hurts my heart a little, and I feel like I owe my roses an apology. But I hold my breath again and make the next cut.

Because I love them.

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Roses need air. When their limbs become all tangled, they suffocate. They stop blooming. They become vulnerable to disease. Even death.

So every spring I choose a sunny day (to strengthen my heart), I give myself a little pep talk, and I ruthlessly cut away the excess. I gather up bundles of limbs with their tender new leaves, and it’s all I can do to not cry.

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It is an inescapable irony that all this cutting away happens smack dab in the middle of Lent, when I myself am feeling the slice of the pruning shears. And I wonder if my Father has tears in His eyes as He cuts away at my excess, giving me room to breathe. Strengthening. Restoring me to health.

Instead of freedom from possessions, O Savior, I have pursued a life in love with material things, and now I wear a heavy yoke…I have discolored with the passions the first beauty of the image, O Savior. But seek me, as once Thou sought the lost coin, and find me.

Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me.

~The Lenten Triodion, Canon of St. Andrew

As I feel hunger in my belly; as I make prostrations; as I borrow words of deep repentance from those wiser than I; I wear this letting go, this cutting away, inside my body. And sometimes it hurts. I see my own tender leaves fall to the earth, and I am too much attached to them, sure that I cannot be me without them. But I hold my breath, and stretch my arms out to the Gardener as He makes the next cut.

Because He loves me.

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Jesus said, “I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch of Mine that bears no fruit, He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit….” ~John 15:1-2

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Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim

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If all you ever see is a photograph, you can’t help but sense something of its grandeur. You will understand it is unlike anything you have ever known. You will marvel at the colorful layers, at the jagged edges and curious shapes, at the blue of the sky.

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If you stand on its edge…well then. You will feel something in you grow larger to meet it. You will breathe deeper, stand taller, and your soul will begin to sing. Your eyes will try to fasten on something familiar; something to keep you from dancing off into the abyss. And the deep gladness you feel for the gift of being here, even once, will astonish you.

A breeze blows up from the canyon carrying silence. A silence that is ancient and raw and wide. You watch sunlight paint the stone in brilliant washes, while pockets of shade keep certain secrets to themselves. You strain to catch a glimpse of the river, but the cold, dark Colorado is elusive unless you walk the rim trail to the west. There you will see fragments of its sinewy form and, if the air is still, hear the thunder of its rapids.

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But if you dare to dip below the rim…then, my friend, you truly begin to know her. You feel the grit of her against the bottom of your boots. The deep plunge of her walls becomes a memory in your muscles. And the play of sun and shade are something you wear on your skin. You are becoming part of her; your footprints in her soil, her dust on your skin. As the rim recedes further and further into the distance, you are astounded that the river is still so far beneath you. And the enormity of her becomes a visceral, ponderous reality. You rattle around inside her like a bead in a washtub.

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She whispers secrets to you. She shows you stones of vermillion that break open to centers of verdigris. And you walk on the green dust. She startles you with clumps of yellow wildflowers, purple asters, piles of snow. You look up to see a bighorn sheep perched on an impossible ledge, and pass a rattlesnake curled against a stump. You feel the wind that blows up off the Colorado River. You hear the shimmer of the aspens.

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She will test you. She will ask questions of you. Questions about motivation and fortitude and what it means to truly love. You may taste pain and despair on her behalf. She will prove that there is more to you than you know. And she will provide companions on the journey. Companions who encourage and tell stories, commiserate and give advice. And if you manage to climb out on the other side, you will understand that a part of you is hers forever. That you are wed to this place, to this endeavor, to the blood and sweat and heartache of it, to the wild extravagance and the glory.

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On Saturday, October 12, the state of Arizona re-opened Grand Canyon National Park to the delight of a great many federal employees, and to visitors like us who poured across her threshold that very day. On Sunday, October 13, Mike and I hiked from the south rim to the north by way of the Kaibab trails. It is one of the hardest and most rewarding things either of us has ever done. Due to some unexpected health issues, we did not return to the south rim on foot as planned, but rode the last north-south shuttle of the season back along with 4 other rim to rim hikers.

The hospitality we received on both rims and the sweet companionship of fellow hikers on the trail were unforeseen gifts. The long, leisurely hikes we took along both rims on the days following will linger in my memory as golden morsels of grace. My gratitude for the health and strength to undertake such an audacious task is without bounds. And the knowledge that so many friends and family were following our story and cheering us on magnified our joy immeasurably. To all of you who provided kind words of encouragement, and especially to those who offered hospitality in our hour of need, thank you.

My heart is full.

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When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~Mary Oliver, excerpted from “When Death Comes”

Toward Something Grand…

Grand-Canyon

Two weeks from today I will wake on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Mike and I will rise before the sun, eat a hurried and simple breakfast, make one last check of our packs, board the 5:30 hiker’s shuttle to the North Kaibab trailhead, and commence our descent into the canyon. Over the course of 7 miles of switchbacks and twists and turns we will drop almost 6,000 vertical feet. Another 7 miles across the canyon floor will bring us to the Bright Angel trail where we begin our long climb out of the canyon.

This is the second day. A return to the South Rim where our adventure began two days, and 47 miles, before.

But the journey began even earlier than this…

We have dreamed of doing a rim to rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon for several years. We began researching and planning in earnest just over a year ago, reading blogs and websites of the crazies who have done this before and lived to tell about it. We made reservations 13 months out, the earliest opportunity, and began training 6 months ago.

Training has looked like this: Long hikes with packs once a week, increasing in length to a total of 23 miles and one back-to-back hike in the Great Smoky Mountains of 28 total miles. Lots of cross-training, running, walking, yoga in between. A major focus on nutrition, particularly during these final weeks. Scrupulous attention to packing to make sure we have everything we need and not one ounce more. Testing out foods and hydration on the trail to see what works and what doesn’t.

Everything that goes in my pack is in a stack in my closet. Nuun tablets to add to my water for electrolyte replacement. This I will alternate with a combination of chia seeds (which help with hydration and supply protein and Omegas) and peppermint oil (which helps oxygenate the blood). Pistachios, almonds, dark chocolate m&ms, dried cherries, sesame crackers, and rice crispy treats for fuel. (Add to this boxed lunches we will pick up at Phantom Ranch both days.) Gloves, hat, ear band, and fleece for the below freezing start. These I will bail by the time we get to the canyon floor which can be as much as 30 degrees warmer. Lavender oil for skin irritations, disinfection, sleep, etc… Sunscreen, bug repellent wipes, flashlight, moleskin, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, water purifier, Chacos, extra socks, bandanas (multi purpose), rain gear, and my phone. Almost half the weight of our packs will be water; 100 ounces, roughly 6 pounds.

grand canyon leavesThe leaves are coloring on both rims. The beauty will be staggering when we go. This, along with the cooler temperatures, is the reason we chose to go in the fall.

That decision, as it turns out, may have been costly.

Because today Grand Canyon National Park, along with all our national parks, will close. An early and unfortunate consequence of the government shut down. Compared to federal employees who will be trying to figure out how to feed their families, while our illustrious leaders posture and dig in their heels and refuse to compromise, our loss seems small.

But right now it feels really big.

The North Rim Lodge and most of the North Rim facilities close for the season on October 16th because snow will soon make the road into the park impassable. If we do not go on time, we do not go at all.

So this morning, I remind myself of all the beauty we have seen this summer on the trail. Of birds and bears, of snakes and squirrels, of an extravagance of wildflowers. Of unplanned adventure. Of long conversations with my husband. Of the dreaming, which for me is always half the fun. And though I still hope Congress will astonish all of us and figure something out quickly and we can proceed as planned, I am learning all over again that sometimes the journey itself is the end.

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.~Ursula K. LeGuin

 

Into the Wild…

It was supposed to be just a simple training trip. The Warner Parks had given us some good hill training, but we needed the physical and mental fatigue of long sustained miles of up, and significant altitude gain, in preparation for the Grand Canyon. So we headed to the Smoky Mountains for a couple of back to back hikes.

IMG_5348It was 2:00 in the east by the time we hit the trail to Rocky Top. Ten minutes in we had our first surprise. Mike was in the lead, but I saw her first. “Stop,” I whispered. He continued. I grabbed the back of his shirt and said, more helpfully, “It’s a bear.” He stopped. We were already closer than advisable so we backed up a little. Then the first baby tumbled out of the brush. We backed up some more. But not so far that we did not see the other two come chasing after their brother. They rolled and played, bounded and pounced, and mom mostly ignored them. They were in no particular hurry to get anywhere, so we just watched. And I tried to remember if I had any food in my pack that was not wrapped. Anything that might make me smell tasty. Once they finally left the path, we began to move tentatively forward, keeping an eye on them. As it turns out, they were keeping an eye on us too. The little guys stretched up onto their hind legs to see the tall funny looking people with humps on their backs. Mom, though, had apparently written us off as harmless. Good.

We climbed, mile after mile, practicing our rest step, hydrating frequently, stopping occasionally to remove our packs and relieve our feet. When we connected to the Appalachian Trail, the path began to go down, then up again, then down, as we moved across the crest of several mountains to get to the one we were after. This was more mentally fatiguing than you might imagine. It is difficult to give up altitude painfully gained, knowing you are about to have to climb it again. But then there was the up that was only up, and we ascended past the trees and onto the rocky crest and the world opened up all around us and it was so glorious that I thought I would gladly do it all again, though, in fact, I can’t imagine that that would have even been possible, but in that moment you feel invincible and will promise yourself almost anything. We dropped our packs and spread our arms and let the wind cool our hot, weary bodies. And it was so quiet. And still. And lovely.

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The descent took roughly half the time. Still, darkness overtook us. We pulled out flashlights, listened as the song of crickets joined the gurgle of the stream, dodged a few diving bats, and tried to remember exactly where it was that we saw the bears. Mike wondered aloud if they locked the picnic area where the trailhead was located at night.  As it turns out…

We suspected we were in trouble when we saw no other cars. We knew we were in trouble when we drove up to the gate. With the padlock. As we tried to figure out exactly who one might call in such a situation, I got out to see if just maybe the padlock was not locked. I suppose some ranger had gotten tired of being dragged away from his family to rescue crazy hikers who did not bother reading signs about parking areas closing at dark. Thank God for that. I slid the padlock out, Mike drove through, and I carefully replaced it just as I had found it and breathed a thank you to kind, practical human beings everywhere.

After a shower and a late supper, we looked at the forecast one more time before setting the alarm for an early wake up. No change.

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A light mist fell as we commenced our ascent to Mount Leconte. We congratulated ourselves on our fortitude and thought how silly we would have felt for backing out for something as innocuous as this.

Though the Smokies are littered with waterfalls and cascades of every sort, Rainbow Falls is the tallest. That, and the rainbow it produces on sunny afternoons, are its claim to fame. But as a general rule, the output is rather meager. As a general rule…

IMG_5375A couple of miles in, the rain picked up considerably. We pulled on rain jackets and carried on. We noticed how the colors of the leaves became more intense when wet. We looked out through openings in the trees at a world swathed in mist. We gave thanks for the canopy that withheld much of the water. Several streams crossed the trail. There were log bridges for a couple. The rest were crossed by stepping on larger rocks that stood above the water. We remarked early on how even the trail itself looked like a dry creek bed. As we neared the top, it wasn’t dry any more. Rivulets of water had begun to course down the center of the path. A curiosity. A slight inconvenience. For now.

By the time we reached the summit, our breath poured out in clouds of vapor and there were bits of ice in the rain. A fire burned in the lodge. We poured the water out of our boots, wrung out socks and jackets and hung them over chair backs to dry, and snuggled up to the stove. We devoured our lunch and drank our weight in coffee and hot chocolate. The memory of that warm coffee would be a comfort to me for some miles after.

Tearing ourselves away from the fire was painful. Shoving my feet back into those cold, wet boots made me want to cry a little. But it’s amazing how quickly the body acclimates. We started back down the way we had come, but we soon recognized that a considerable change in the trail had taken place while we rested. The rivulet was now a stream four or five inches deep. We straddled the path walking on its sides where we could, occasionally finding large rocks in the middle, avoiding stepping into the water at all costs. We would eventually give up on that.

The first water crossing was the worst. It had occurred to me by then that the rocks we had crossed on before might be difficult to find now. It had not occurred to me that they would be buried under a foot of roaring water tumbling headlong down the mountain. We walked up and down the creek looking for a place to string together rocks and make a crossing above water. It was not to be found. We dared not cross on the higher rocks for fear of being washed off and carried over the cliffs below. So we walked behind them figuring that if the water took us, the rocks would stop us. The freezing water came up to our thighs. We held our breath and held onto one another and pushed through to the other side. My heart was filled with gratitude and my boots were full of water.

Mike made me jump across the second stream. I didn’t think I could do it. We were jumping from one wet, mossy rock to another and it was a big gap and the pack made me feel like a rhinoceros on stilts. But he would not let me be a coward. He jumped first and did not die. He promised to catch me if I fell. I also did not die. I was very glad about that.

We continued to dodge water in the paths until the last mile and a half or so. It was mentally exhausting, all that navigating. It took us as long to get down as it did to get up. That never happens. But, we were rewarded by a view of the falls that most people never get. People who were only hiking as far as the falls were turning back because a couple of the water crossings were on that side of the falls. Perhaps we would have turned back if we had started then, I don’t know. I am glad now that was not an option.

As a training hike, it was far more effective than we planned. We learned a lot about packing for rain and are making some adjustments in our gear. Though the Grand Canyon is in the desert, sudden thunderstorms are always a possibility. As an adventure, it exceeded anything we might have hoped for.

Mike said to me, “When I am old and can’t remember anything any more, will you tell me the story of how we almost died but didn’t?”

“Yes, my love, I will.”

Rainbow Falls before

Rainbow Falls before

Rainbow Falls after

Rainbow Falls after

Man With Bicycle

I can’t stop thinking about the man with the bike. I passed him last night as I walked along the harbor in San Diego. He was not the first homeless man I had seen during the evening. There had been dozens. I suppose San Diego’s mild climate makes it a favorable place for those who must shelter out of doors. But it was the bicycle that arrested my attention.

Presumably, all that he possessed was contained there. Everything was thoughtfully arranged and strapped with great care. Flattened two liter bottles were pressed against the outside and I wondered if this was how he collected water. And where he found it. But, mostly I wondered, “How does he decide what goes on the bike?”

How would I?

I thought of homeless men I have sat at table with. Men who are part of the Room in the Inn program in Nashville. Of how ordinary they are. I recollected just how few things have to go wrong for someone to end up on the street. Why him? Why not me?

And if it were me, what would I try to keep with me?

If I could…

My grandmother’s quilt lovingly stitched during the cold months of winter? Photo albums that tell all our stories? They would be too heavy. I would have to pull the photos from their pages; maybe pack them in a plastic bag to protect them from the rain. What of the tiny clothes I sewed for my babies? They would be impractical. But how to give them away?

I did not speak to the man. It was late. I was alone. But I have not been able to stop thinking about him. Imagining him once swaddled and kissed by a happy mother, running with the carefree abandon of a little boy, dreaming dreams of the future. Maybe even as a young father cradling his newborn son. And now he sits, nodding, on a bench by the sea. All that is left to him makes two small bundles on a bicycle.

And I don’t know what to do with that.

Be Kind

It is like a weight in the chest. Pressing in. Threatening to steal the breath. And you carry it with you everywhere; to work, to the grocery store, even to church. No one may ever know it is there. You wish you could forget it, lay it down for a moment. The grief is so deep. Sometimes you wonder if it will kill you.

You seem to be late everywhere you go. And you forget things. And you know people are frustrated with you and you wish you could think clearly but there are so many things to remember, so many decisions to make, so much that could go wrong, and a precious shortage of solutions. And you are tired. So tired. But sleep does not come. Will life ever be better than this? Will it ever be “normal” again?

I know this feeling. Intimately.

I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had in the past couple of weeks with friends who are up against something so big that it threatens to undo them. My heart hurts for them. Yet they get up every morning, get dressed, feed their children, and go back at it again. Their courage inspires me. And as I watch them walk in the world like the most ordinary heroes, I wonder how many of the people I encounter every day are carrying burdens like these…

She is making excruciating decisions to insure the compassionate and competent care of her mother who can no longer care for herself. Her mother doesn’t understand. She is furious.

She and her husband have completely reordered their lives to accommodate the unique needs of their precious son who they love more than life. It is a choice they make willingly. But it comes at a heavy price.

She wonders if the divorce was a mistake. But he has already remarried. And her children adore their new stepmother. She has never felt more alone.

Earlier this week, my friend Laura related this story:

This morning I mentioned to a check-out clerk at a local business how happy I was to see her back at work (she had been gone the last few times I had stopped in and I had missed her). As her eyes brimmed with tears, she shared that her daughter had died unexpectedly and she was just getting back after receiving custody of her grandchildren. We talked a few minutes longer until the next customer came to the register and she thanked me for asking about her a couple times. I would have missed such a blessing and an opportunity to share love with this sweet lady had I hurried in and out this morning like I sometimes do – a powerful lesson I won’t soon forget!

Today you and I will live our lives among people who are hurting, whether we know it or not. We have the opportunity to be dispensers of grace and generosity.

Let us be kind.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~Philo of Alexandria

Boston

A week ago yesterday, while my husband attended the home opener of the Boston Red Sox, my son and I climbed to the top of the Bunker Hill memorial, photographed squirrels playing in Boston Garden, and strolled along the wide lanes of Commonwealth Avenue, just a block and a half from where two explosions rocked the world yesterday.

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I grieve for those who lost their lives, and for those who love them. I grieve for the injured, some of whom are fighting for their lives even now. I grieve for runners who dreamed of this day all their lives – a dream I understand only too well – who trained for months, years maybe, just to qualify, and had the clean joy of this moment stolen. Mostly, I grieve for a world that is broken. A world where hate is sometimes nourished to a point that this is an inevitable result.

And yet, even in the grief, there are reasons to give thanks: For first responders who once again ran toward while most of us would run away. For capable, dauntless medical teams on the ground and in hospitals who provided, and continue to provide, the best medical care in the world. For ordinary heroes; runners and spectators who put themselves in harms way to aid the injured, doctors and nurses who flew back from vacations to assist, hundreds of volunteers, including marathon weary runners, who are offering to donate blood.

The running community is a generous community. Always. Being part of it is one of the things I love most about being a marathoner. But this is far bigger than that. At the precise moment when we witness the worst of which we as humans are capable, we see, in startling relief, the most ordinary, extraordinary heroism. The mark of God in us all.

May all of us seize this opportunity to love better. To feed generosity and not hate.

“Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother.”
~
from the Lenten prayer of St. Ephrem, the Syrian

My love and prayers are with those who grieve in Boston and beyond, and with those who continue to care for them. Shalom.

stuck

stuck. surrendering to despondency. numbing myself to the creative impulse because i am afraid. i feel tired and empty. nothing to say. where to start?

i watch others. new content, brilliant life-giving thoughts beautifully articulated day after day. a seemingly endless supply. i envy them. i hate them. a little.

god forgive me.

i blame my circumstances. so busy. so many demands on my time. but who isn’t busy? i imagine stephen king sitting in his utility room, typewriter on his lap, after a long day of teaching, crunching out novels. i watch friends who work full-time jobs, raise families, and write books. and i feel like a sluggard.

but mostly i’m a coward.

tentative, whipped, barely holding things together myself. how do i give anything to anyone else? paralyzed by my inactivity. inertia feeding inertia.

once upon a time i created every day. was most of it garbage? or did creativity beget creativity? did surrendering to the flow mean that the flow carried me? and now i am the artless swan, hauling my clumsy heft, afraid to surrender to the very flow that would carry me if i let it.

i don’t trust it.

i fear i will drop down in and there will be nothing there. and no one will read. and i will have no excuse. and it’s safer to pretend that i don’t want it, or that it is impossible, or that it is someone else’s fault, or that if circumstances were different, i would be different.

i am weary of myself.

weary of excuses. weary of lazy. weary of blaming.

ready

to surrender.

The Swan

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly

swan

a mostly unedited, stream of consciousness blather, lifted from my morning pages.

Mad props to Nita Andrews and Patsy Clairmont who shared this provocative poem with me. It has been good food for thought.

Acadia: A Photojournal

Saturday, October 13: We rise before dawn for the trek up Cadillac Mountain, to be among the first people in the U.S. to watch the sun climb out of the Atlantic. We huddle in the clean, cold air as the sky warms to soft rose and apricot. Low lying clouds pulse with gilding as the disc of the sun begins to emerge. An audible gasp ripples through the crowd. I am startled by how fast she climbs. Maybe two minutes, rim to rim. Magic.

After breakfast, we head out for an explore. We drive the marathon route. It is much more hilly than we imagined. And stunningly gorgeous. We drive through quintessential New England villages with their frame and clapboard houses. We drive along the sea where waves hurl themselves into the rocky shore with a roar and flurry of foam. We pass under golden Aspens, sturdy evergreens, and maples and oaks aflame with orange and crimson. All against a cloudless sky of excruciating blue.

And I wish the run was today. And it is difficult to imagine that tomorrow it will rain. And I try to remind myself to breathe in now, and let tomorrow take care of itself…

Sunday, October 14: We wake to the unmistakable sound…of rain. And I want to turn over and go back to sleep. Because rainy days are wondrous for sleeping. But not this rainy day. I will myself to pull on clothes. We join one other couple for the early “runner’s breakfast”. They are young and precious. This is their first marathon. They seem slightly terrified. The innkeeper brings us warm banana pancakes. “It’s pretty rough out there,” he says. Yep. Pretty rough.

There is a break in the rain for our walk to the start. A mercy. We will have two others during the race; neither more than ten or fifteen minutes in duration. The temperature will never climb out of the forties.

At first the rain falls steady but easy. But eventually it gets harder and begins to seep through all our layers. I have nursed an ankle injury all through this training. It never hurts when I’m running (because my body is warm). Only after. Today it will hurt. I can’t get warm. By about mile 16 or so I am doing a lot of walking. Mike is kind and assures me he couldn’t be doing much better himself. It will be our slowest time ever. Six hours. Even the sweet young couple from breakfast will require almost five hours. We had no time goal. The real rub is that for six hours we will have no relief from the wet and cold.

And yet….there is beauty. Even here. Even now. The yellows and flames of yesterday are luminous against the gray. The sea is shrouded in a mystery of mist. Sodden evergreens drip fragrance. Men and women, boys and girls, stand in the cold and damp dispensing nourishment and kindness.

Most of all, I am grateful for the man running beside me. He and I both know that, difficult as this is, compared to some of what we’ve gone through over the past few years, this is a cake walk. So we keep putting one foot in front of another. We complain. Sometimes. We share treats squirreled away for moments of greatest need. And we laugh. A lot. And when it is over, we know today has been important. And next time life throws the impossible at us, we will remember today. And we will put one foot in front of another. One day–one minute–at a time.

Monday, October 15: Walking down the stairs is the hardest. We move like old people. (We are grandparents, after all.) We laugh at one another moving like old people. 🙂 We head out for one more romp through Bar Harbor and Acadia before leaving behind the land of lobster and fresh fish and chowder, and heading home. The morning is blustery, but warm. Sixty degrees before breakfast. Sunshine is intermittent. Sky and sea are sapphire and slate. And I can’t help thinking to myself, “This would be a lovely day for a run…”

*All photographs in the post taken on the days before and after the run. Cerulean skies are Saturday. Skies of slate are Monday. All but 4 were taken along the marathon course. We obviously did not take photographs during the race. I intersperse them throughout the race day account, in part, for irony. See more photos if you like in my Facebook album.

**Acadia National Park is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi. It owes its birth largely to Theodore Roosevelt who also oversaw creation of the carriage road and its beautiful stone bridges. It is located on Mount Desert Island just off the coast of Maine. Find it on a map HERE. (about two thirds of the way up) Prior to the French and Indian war, “Acadia” composed a large region of French settlement reaching well into Canada. The British drove out the French settlers and renamed most of the area Nova Scotia. You can read one account in Longfellow’s tragic poem, Evangeline.

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