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Increased Perspective

12 Mar

The only easy day is yesterday. A phrase that the Navy Seals often utter.

I thought that I had a hard week leading up to my birthday. It culminated on Friday with some backwards steps in completing a crucial April work project, with not fully processing my Grandma’s death but knowing this would be my first birthday without a card from her, with a weird email from someone I was becoming good friends with letting me know that maybe he didn’t want the friendship to progress in the same way I did, with making an error in judging at my gym which led to a new friend having to redo a hard workout and me having to apologize for my error and with an awkward conversation with a coworker asking him to please stop stalking me. My pride was shot on Friday, and by the time my birthday dawned, I was still reeling.

Then I learned tragic news regarding the death of my brother-in-law’s not yet born but nearly full term infant son. Between that and a day spent on planes or in airports, I mentally postponed my birthday because it was all too much.

So then I read this sentence in Service: A Navy Seal at War, on March 3rd. “At 4:27 am local time on March 3, 2002, Neil Roberts became the first SEAL to die in the War on Terror.”

Ouch. I considered postponing my birthday for a full year. Or choosing a different date entirely.

Life doesn’t unfold the way we want it to. That has become so clear to me on this vacation I just took to Montana. Holding a toddler for 3 hours on a plane while her army mother dealt with two broken legs, was not my ideal plane ride. But I’m guessing it wasn’t mom or toddler’s ideal either. Spending 3 days in Glacier National Park and it being so foggy that I honestly could just have easily been in New Jersey for all the stunning mountain scenery I saw, wasn’t my plan. Struggling with cleans and snatches at Crossfit while my friends set PR after PR is frustrating as anything.

But you know what else wasn’t in my plan? A hot tub on a clear night with beer in hand and stars above me and engineers talking shop. Six hours in the forest of Glacier National Park snowshoeing on 7 feet of snow (the trail signs were all buried below us and the trail markers way up on trees were below my hip level) while snow fell lightly and continuously and I felt like I was in Narnia. Hours and hours in a car singing The Decembrists and Milk Carton Kids and Of Monsters and Men songs while gazing at snow capped mountains visiting a state I’d never been to before.

On our last night, we decided on a restaurant for dinner after what took ages. Nothing could top the Mexican and Creole cooking we’d already enjoyed but this place sounded promising.

It was closed.

So instead we ate in a local pub. And the food was delicious. We played cards at our table and made everyone else envious with how much fun we were having. And then we visited the local brewery where we had the place to ourselves. I never would have planned the $8 for 6 sampler beers, the couch and fireplace, my intense love for Huckleberry beer, the rodeo on television, the amazing beer posters on the walls, the root beer on tap, the shuffleboard and games in a balcony overlooking the brewery operations, the fun of being on vacation with no plans on a Monday night. Or the fact that somewhere along the way despite my cold and sinus issues, despite the high altitude and the dehydration and the lack I sleep, I had relaxed. I had stopped working at vacation and started chilling out.

Maybe I would never have planned all the bad stuff that happens in life, that piggybacks on top of itself until I stagger under the strain of it all.

But I would certainly never have planned most of the good in my life either. The friends I’ve made this past year alone – who’ve gone from strangers to soul mates so quickly it’s almost scary (I’m still waiting for them to hit the panic button and eject.) The scariness but excitement I feel over moving in with one of my best friends. The fact I’m actually taking vacations this year.

In Service, Marcus Luttrell often says “thank God for another day.” Can I honestly thank God for all these days? The really great ones and the really awful ones both?

Yes.
The only easy day was yesterday.
But since I never know if I have a tomorrow, I’m going to be thankful for each today.

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I Blinked and It was Fall

14 Oct

I blinked and it was fall.

One minute I was tanning in the lovely garden next to my building and the next minute I was regretting only wearing two layers of shirts biking across the Mass Ave bridge to work.

One minute I was visiting family in Pennsylvania, running around outside in short sleeves, and the next minute we were buying pumpkins and gourds and corn husks for my grandma.

One minute I was wearing as little as possible in my gym, trying to stand as close to an oscillating fan as possible, and the next minute I’m contemplating long sleeves and full length workout pants.

One minute I was excited for a long Labor Day weekend of fun and sun and the next minute I am thinking about what fun dishes to make for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I’m not complaining. I love fall. But the passing of time does make me pause and contemplate the brevity of each season. The quick thought of “it’s almost summer” followed by a blink and “we’re in the midst of  summer” and a deep exhale of “summer went by so fast.”

I like to savor my favorite things. I much prefer looking at wrapped Christmas presents under the tree than unwrapping them.  The anticipation of fun events and memorable outings keeps workdays fun.  And fall? By January 1st, I’m already eager for September to November. Does everyone feel this way or is it the special curse and blessing of those us born and raised in New England?

I blinked and it was fall. And I jumped right in.

The May Reading List

10 Jun

I’ve been waking up a lot of mornings thinking “I should post something.”  And I have a vague idea of what I should post but by the time I have a few free minutes, I’ve already forgotten it.  (So clearly it was something really special…not.)

Today, while walking home in the pouring rain from the T, I thought “I should blog!”

Then, I passed a bus with a Monsters University billboard on one side (“I can’t wait to see that!”) and a Pirates of Penzance poster on the other side and I spent the next 5 minutes thinking about how I hope I never ever have to watch The Point, The Phantom Tollbooth, or Pirates of Penzance with my kids someday. I think I’d rather scrub toilets for twice the length of each movie.  Then I spent another 3 minutes thinking about how weird it is that my 3 least favorite movies start with a P. If we want to make it 4, we could add Pearl Harbor.  Another movie my children will not see (but for different reasons).

By the time I returned to the “I should blog” thought, I was mostly thinking “Wow, if anyone knew how much my bizarre brain bounces around from idea to idea, they would never take me seriously.”

I’ve been bad about blogging lately.  I’ve gotten pretty wrapped up in some new and exciting running groups (more on that later) and working on my Crossfit skills and spending lots of time relaxing with friends rather than being a slave to the To Do List.  And I’ve been getting some reading done as well.

So here, in no particular order, is what I spent my May reading (and no, I’m sorry, I read no fiction this month).

1. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.
No, not personal choice. Have to read it for work. I found it to be…not as controversial as people said. I didn’t disagree with most of it. I didn’t think it was particularly revolutionary or new.  The stories she tells (particularly surrounding Facebook and Google) are insightful and fun but won’t necessarily be easily implemented in other situations.

2. Hell on Two Wheels by Amy Snyder.
This is about the Race Across America.  If you like biking, races across America, intense pain, reading about people doing things that cause intense pain, reading about people biking so much with so little sleep that their neck muscles stop working and their neck flops over entirely – this is the book for you.  Honestly, if you like biking, endurance races, or reading about the limitations of the human body, it’s fascinating.

3  Francona: The Red Sox Years by Terry Francona.
If you like the Red Sox, you will enjoy this book. If you like baseball and are curious about the internal workings (how do players get tickets for their friends and family, what is the behind the scenes day to day existence of a baseball manager like, what did Francona really think of Ellsbury’s injuries and Garciaparra and Joe Torre, this is the book for you.  It wasn’t a lot of ranting, it wasn’t ripping apart those who asked Francona to leave Boston, it was mostly respectful and insightful and fun.

4. Back of the House by Scott Haas (about Tony Maws of Craigie on Main)
My favorite restaurant in Cambridge and possibly the best restaurant I have ever been to.  If you like books about chefs, about brilliant people trying to let other people fulfill their visions, if you are fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes in a restaurant, the various restaurant jobs and personalities and how a menu is created, this is the book for you. If descriptions of cuts of meat freak you out or you get easily stressed reading about orders going wrong/being delayed/chaos, don’t read this book.

5.  Running with Joy by Ryan Hall. 
Emotionally, it was a little hard to read as it was about Ryan’s 2010 training for the Boston Marathon. But it was an excellent book at a perfect time for me – finding joy in running even when the run isn’t fun or is too easy or doesn’t feel right.  Joy when you don’t meet a goal or you lose a race or you don’t even finish. Reading about his daily workouts (yikes!) and his every day routine (so different from my life) and his race strategy and his Christian faith was also fun.

6. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubinstein.
“A true story of bank heists, ice hockey, transylvanian pelt smuggling, moonlighting detectives, and broken hearts.”  The description says it all.  This book is making me laugh a lot. It’s unbelievable in a way that only real life can be – the robberies and the worst ice hockey goalie and the way Hungary worked (or did not work) in the 1990s.  Fascinating stuff within a gripping story.

The Antidote to OverWork

8 Apr

The past two weeks have been dominated by work – a year long project ending overlapping with my replacement for my other job leaving – and me, straddling both, each requiring more hours than I have in a day.

There has been less running, reading, relaxing and a vain attempt to include decent amounts of sleep, sustenance and sanity breaks.  But yesterday, after a thorough cleaning of my apartment, I worked to put last week’s 80 hours behind me and concentrate on the everyday good.

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Liz’s List of Every Day Good

  1. Split Pea Ham soup bubbling in the crockpot
  2. Curling up with a book and no time pressure
  3. Last dregs of hummus on a pretzel
  4. Bird song
  5. Chatting over hot drinks with friends
  6. Crossfit classes making muscles taut
  7. Mailing fun surprise packages to friends
  8. Unexpected heart-warming text
  9. An organized and labeled office, resplendent with windows
  10. Fun plans with friends
  11. Warm showers on tired muscles
  12. Speed of bike on smooth road
  13. Ability to forget to do lists and work when in pigeon pose
  14. Sun filtering through blinds
  15. Surprise mail in my shiny little box
  16. New book smell
  17. Ripe bananas and crisp apples
  18. Nearly empty gym at noon and noodley arms after pull-ups
  19. Clean white T-shirts
  20. Beans growing fat as they soak
  21. Evening runs as the sun sets
  22. Parents training for a 5K
  23. New recipes to try
  24. Days lengthening
  25. Feeling a kid again with jumprope in hand

 

 

Embracing 30: Melting Past Ice

26 Feb

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We have a complicated past, the Charles River and I.

On lunchtime runs and weekend bike trips and paddle boarding and sunny sailing adventures, I love the Charles. I love the bridges and the cityscape and the Harvard buildings and the Hatch Shell and the Fourth of July fireworks. Nearly half of the past decade has been spent here. My love for running and biking blossomed here, friendships began on the running path, conversations happened that I remember verbatim.

But I also have a reverence and fear of the Charles that may be unique. I know the early mornings and late nights when the beauty of the twinkling skyscrapers is breath-taking but the murky river tells a darker tale. When the stunning imagery is almost too much to bear. When I think of those who saw this stunning backdrop with eyes too clouded to keep them from anything but their mission – jumping to end their suffering.

But I am turning 30 next week and I stand here, watching the ice break apart, and I know it is time to let it go.

I cried crossing the bridge last week – a friend stricken with cancer. Too young. It doesn’t make sense. Even where there will be triumph over disease (and there will be) there is still grief. Let it go, Liz.

I stood numbly watching the divers search for a body on New Years. A boy my age, from my beloved state. Too tired from long runs and nervous about a bike accident, I commuted on foot all of January. Twice a day passing the picture frames of his smiling face. Too young. His poor family. The grief is terrible. Let it go.

Last summer, the shriek of metal hitting skin. A motorcyclist, thrown from his bike when a teenager in a pickup truck hit him, crushed by a passing SUV. All I remember is the lone shoe and the splashes of blood. And reading the article by his father, about what a peaceful and loving college student he was and how he headed home for Father’s Day weekend to PA. “We just hung out and he made us laugh. What a pleasure to be with him” said his Dad. Then they put him on a train and later that day – this. Let it go.

And the winter before, watching the woman jump to her death. I can say no more except that I hated you then, Charles, with a coldness that seems silly towards a river. And I dreamt of you often and of her…how cold she must have been…the many hours until they found her…the many days until they identified her. Let it go.

Grief of a different sort – two years ago, my birthday. Walking to meet a guy, a guy who a few weeks ago was special and now is not, but who I still am celebrating with. I bounce between numbness and feelings of rejection and hurt and understanding that this is meant to be and contentment that life is good, but you mock me, Charles. “When do we get to bike in that?” he said when I took a particularly stunning picture of the river at daybreak. “In the river?” I giggled. “No, in that cityscape (he loves them as much as me)…together.” And now I know the answer is never. Let it go.

The ending of a 50k run. Long. Longer than a marathon. But without medals and spectators. And everything hurt and I didn’t want to run the bridge because it is long and windy and the other three guys were faster. And then one, in a whisper, because this is not the sort of thing you do around other triathlete guys who live to mock you, recited e e Cummings poetry to me. The grin is back. I do not know that in a weeks time, two nights before his brother’s wedding, he will sleep and not wake up. All I know is that sometimes I still whisper, despite how meaningless and melodramatic it is, “I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart” when I cross. Let it go.

And there was the time I crossed the bridge with a coworker to look at a bike. The bike was not meant for me but I thought the coworker was. I was wrong. Standing on the bridge looking at the stars, I imagined happiness. Instead I found pain and insecurity and someone saying they loved me but treating me cruelly and I still struggle with the mistakes I made and the lies I believed about myself. Let it go.

My favorite Gladiator song plays: Now we are free. (Nothing makes me as emotional as this song.)

And I let it all go.

Almost.

The sting is gone. Mostly. Except in tender moments where I need it as a reminder of who I am and what I have seen and how I have lived. I cannot wish the bad away from this last decade but I can allow it to fade.

There will be more – happiness and grief, acceptance and rejection, beauty and darkness – in my 30s. I cannot carry these burdens and I no longer do. But to let it all go means letting part of myself go as well. This I cannot allow.

Break the sharp edges apart – melt the ice into clear flowing water. But let the water remain. I carry it, I carry it all with me, I carry it in my heart.

Compassion Is…Going and Building

9 Feb

 

“Compassion is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull.” – Henri Nouwen

We all know how to teach a child to use stairs.  We walk behind them, coaching them to lift one foot above the other.
And we all know how to teach a child to climb a ladder to get to a slide.  We go up the ladder behind them to catch them if they fall and to coach them on lifting one foot above the other.

We never go up ahead so they can just see us in our vast climbing experience and hopefully learn from that.

We never go up ahead and drag them behind us, pulling them by the armpits.  What does that teach them?  To be carried everywhere?  Children are already experts at that.

Going up ahead allows us to model behavior but it keeps us at a safe distance.  Walking behind someone means we are there if they fall.

On the contrary compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.” – Henri Nouwen

 

 

 

 

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I find this statement so convicting. And challenging. And true. Real compassion (the Mother Theresa type of compassion) requires investment. Is there any greater investment than moving your life, your family, your possessions to a place of suffering?

Building a Home. There.

On a practical level, building a home there means…settling in.  Getting comfortable with sorrow and grief. It sucks. But its the best way to reach out to someone.

No one likes living out of a hotel room. It’s not a home. “Settling in” means unpacking a single suitcase, tossing some toiletries in the bathroom, and then leaving. I’ve been there and done that with people.  A quick hug, a word of encouragement, then I’m gone to explore more interesting sites. Drive-by compassion isn’t what changes lives.

“Settling in” to a home means staking a claim: putting toilet paper in the bathrooms and hanging pictures on the walls and unpacking boxes and searching out every nook and cranny. It’s inviting people in and letting them know “I am here to stay.”  It may not be permanent for a lifetime but it is permanent for the present. You have an address, you can be found, if the house is a mess, at least it is your mess.

Going and building involves action – movement – getting dirty. That much investment speaks loudly to those you seek to help. This is not just a hug at a funeral or a casserole on a kitchen counter (although both are the least one should do). It’s a radical statement that “I am here to stay.”  I respect your grief, I respect your situation, I respect your struggle.  I may not be able to fix it all, but I am here with you – in this foxhole, on this couch, during this period – and I am willing to settle in and stay for however long I am needed. This is not a “I have a reservation and I need to leave by noon unless I can get a late checkout” but an “I am permanently checked in for however long you need/want/can stand me.”

I have personally experienced someone coming directly to me in my suffering and choosing to build a home here. How can I do any less?

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Non-Runners Should Know about Marathon Training

3 Feb

It sucks.

Less so in the spring and the fall. But definitely in the winter and the summer.

Running a marathon to lose weight is a silly idea – it doesn’t work that way. You need more nutrients for the long runs and after the long runs. Most runners I know stay about the same weight doing marathon training although sometimes it distributes differently (skinny jeans are not made for runner’s legs). And some beginner marathoners actually gain weight because the line between eating enough and eating too much is a fine one.

Marathon training is not just running.  It’s following a running plan and eating the right foods at the right time and carrying about your sodium and electrolyte levels and watching the weather religiously and planning your weekend around a long run and foam rolling and stretching and building strength. It’s making sure that marathon training always remains a side interest and doesn’t get in the way of family and friends and work and church and birthdays and errands and paying the bills.

Marathon training is much more mental than physical. Sure, you have to work to build up to running 26.2 miles. But its the mental toughness that is the hardest to gain. Your mind will tell you to stop, to walk “for a bit”, to stress about that little twinge or tweak you feel. Sometimes you get bored, sometimes you feel pain, always you feel like you’ve reached your limits before the run is done.

And no one is forcing you to do this. I mean, that’s good.  Because a forced marathon sounds awful. But it’s also bad because no one is forcing you to do this which means no one is checking your training schedule or knows if you skimp on your miles or don’t run that day it is snowing. People may think that the marathon is the hardest because you run faster and further and you have one chance to hit your goal. But a marathon has accountability and timing mats and water stations and porta potties and cheering crowds and medals. Long runs have none of that.

Sometimes you jump into a run and nail it – perfect weather, perfect stride, perfect mental toughness, perfect fueling.  Most of the times, you don’t.  You wake up exhausted or the weather is too hot or too cold or you feel like you’ve run 10 miles and it has only been 3 (ahh!) or your music and podcasts or route just aren’t interesting you that much. But you persevere.  Then you foam roll (these 5 minutes are much worse than the previous hours of running time) and you shower and you eat and you feel pretty proud of yourself.  And then you move on with your day.  In most cases, the rest of your day is indistinguishable from any other person’s day (except for 20 mile days when you may find yourself sloth-like on the couch with movies and salty snacks and ice packs and the occasional good friend).

Just like you hit a wall in a marathon, you hit a wall in marathon training.  If you time it correctly, your last weeks of peak training (50 mile weeks, in my case) before you start tapering, are where you finally reach your limit.  Just as you think, “I can’t stand any more long runs,” you reach your last run.  Ironically, when you start tapering, you itch to run again.  Suddenly, your long run is 8 or 12 miles and you think “But I just want to do 20!”

 

In fact, all of marathon training is a “grass is greener” conundrum.

Someone asked me recently “What sucks worse than marathon training?”  My immediate response: “Not training for a marathon.”  You just can’t win.