Two years ago today Kurt passed away.
At first I marked the days… then the weeks… then the months. At first my grief took me two steps forward, one step back, one step over the cliff.
I picked myself up again, over and over. Somehow I learned to find ways to make progress, dared to travel on paths and roads that might lead to somewhere new.
The grieving process never really ends, I think, but it does become enfolded within and protected by the new self that emerges with the passing of time and miles.
I have learned that life is finite and precious. Life is lived in moments.
Every new day brings a deeper healing.
I am grateful to be alive, fully present, and joyful on this beautiful June day.
So my disappointing long run the other day did turn out to be just a fluke… as I’d sort of thought it was even at the time. Yesterday I ran a perfect 10-miler that left me feeling entirely satisfied and ready to give myself some extra rest and a proper taper over the next ten days before the Whidbey Island race.
I spent some time after that run thinking about running and reflecting on the literal and metaphorical places I have been as a runner.
Off and on over the past few days I have mused quite a bit about the experience of running, about what it’s like to become a runner, to be a runner, and to discover strength, resiliency, courage, and happiness as a runner. I’ve been re-reading old blog posts (on this site and previous more private sites) from the period during and shortly after Kurt’s illness and death. I’m re-reading my words from that time because I’m working on a paper proposal for a conference… which may finally begin to lead in the direction of the book that I want to write about running through grief.
It hurts to look back and read words that screamed forth from my pain. But it’s also very heartening to see that I found sources of strength… and a big source of my strength was the fact that I somehow managed to get out there and run. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
There were plateaus and setbacks in my running ability and in my ability to hold my life together. There were times I thought I was going to rip my heart out of my chest. Then there were times when I knew that my heart and mind and legs were all strong and I was going to be able to put all the pieces back together.
Running has taught me — and continues to teach me — that anything is possible with determination and practice. I had to complete a PhD program at age 53 in order to finally convince myself that I am intellectually authentic. Learning to run since then has been something like a PhD program for the rest of me.
I’m tempted to say that coping with Kurt’s illness and death were the comprehensive exams for that second PhD, but I don’t want to contextualize or diminish that experience. I do wonder, however, if I’d have become such a dedicated runner if it weren’t for what happened to Kurt. Before his diagnosis, I hadn’t begun to challenge myself as a runner. I walked a lot. I worried about injuring myself. I never pushed myself hard to see how much more I could do. After his diagnosis I began to see running as something I could do to help myself — sometimes it was the only thing I could think of that I could do to help myself. It was the only thing that brought me any sort of respite.
After he died, running got me out of the house. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning. It gave me a reason to eat. It put things on my calendar.
Of course, it gave me places and times to cry.
And it gave me reasons to celebrate.
We all have our life challenges, and we all find our ways to cope.
By choosing to become and be a runner, I have found pride — satisfaction — peace — confidence — and a goodly measure of humility.
Life is short. Our days are numbered. How many steps we take, the places we go, the ways we choose to spend the time we have — these things are up to each of us to decide.
As for me, I’ve logged 250 running miles so far this year. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 550,000 steps just since January 1. They haven’t all been steps of sheer joy, but most of them have been pretty good. And they’re all steps in the right direction.
Slow and happy…
One step at a time!
I don’t normally like to post two blog entries so close together, as it feels like I am upstaging myself. But the rest of what happened in my life today was just too momentous, and too weird, to put into a post that was all about devotion to extraordinary mid-century modern architecture.
As planned, today was my last day at work. I truly didn’t know what to expect, as it’s been 25 and a half years since I’ve quit a job, and I’ve never quit a job without another one waiting for me. So I started my day by running 4 miles, and barely got back in time for my very last meeting at 8:30. This was a simple one-on-one in which I demonstrated to a team mate how to update a web page that I’ve maintained. Once that was out of the way, I had a bunch of congratulatory posts to read on our company’s internal social media platform (I’d blogged there last night about today being my last day… sort of seeded my departure cloud, as it were). Quite a few people said really nice things about me, and that made me feel great albeit just a bit nostalgic. It’s too bad I seldom had the chance to feel so valued while I was actually there.
I took a mid-morning break to walk to the Loewy House, which is less than a mile from my condo. I returned a couple hours later, said a few more good byes, and printed off a bunch of forms that I’m supposed to fill out and return. Then I packed up my corporate cell phone and my corporate PC and took them to the nearest FedEx shipping center. And that was that. I am now free to move about my life.
Yes, it is a little scary (maybe a lot scary) but it also feels so right. I am courageous, I am resilient, and I have so much that I want to do in the real world. I’m going to be all right.
I have often given credit to Kurt for building up my courage, helping me find my strengths, and encouraging me to follow my passions. It’s absolutely true that we met when I was at a low point, beaten down by mentally abusive husband #1 and looking for a way out of that mess — which he offered me, first as a friend, then as a lover, and finally as my life partner in the grandest and fullest sense of that term.
What I’ve sometimes overlooked in that narrative is that I’ve always been tough, ornery, opinionated, reasonably courageous, and extremely strong-willed. He had the good luck (for him) of catching me at a low point when I really needed to find exactly the person that he turned out to be. Still, I had to find the courage in myself to trust the future that he was offering to me.
I suspect that we females are discouraged culturally from showing and acting from our full strength. Bad things actually do happen to women who dare too much. I once tried to explain to Kurt that the possibility of assault is always in the back of my mind, that I never walk alone in empty places, especially in urban settings, without a tickling fear at the back of my neck. He utterly didn’t get it, said he’d never felt it and didn’t know any guys that would confess to such a feeling. Granted, he was a guy who was so low-key and believed so strongly that he lived a charmed life that he (as he frequently bragged) could sleep through “incoming” in Vietnam.
Well, I was five months pregnant with my daughter when a pathetic loser trapped me in a public restroom, and I had to use my wits and my courage to get myself and my unborn child safely out of a very threatening situation. I don’t think that men have experiences like that as often as women do. It happened to me, and I learned that I am courageous.
Still, I am possessed of a large helping of common sense. So yesterday morning when I pulled into the parking lot at a trail access where I’ve run several times before, there was no one there. It was cold and drizzling, but that seldom stops Pacific Northwest runners. I was puzzled, but I got out of the car. Then I noticed that the porta-potty was gone! This presented a biological pre-run problem, but more importantly it was just plain weird. The park suddenly took on an eerie, abandoned quality that I didn’t like one bit. So I got back in the car and I drove to a more heavily-used trail access point. This didn’t feel like giving in to my fear, but simply being sensible.
My location change forced me to run through the center of town, as my favorite part of the trail is closed right now for mudslide repair. I don’t enjoy running in town, because it can smell of diesel fumes and fiberglass down at the yacht works and marina, and because much of the surface is hard concrete. My 6.2 mile slog through the mist yesterday wasn’t all that much fun, but I did it and came home feeling good about making prudent choices, not exposing myself to unnecessary risks, and taking care of myself.
Tonight, however, is Halloween. I’ve never much enjoyed the whole trick-or-treat thing — I don’t like opening my door to strangers and would normally never consider doing that after dark. Kurt used to like to sit near the door and be the jovial guy handing out candy (and he would always buy way too much so he could eat the “leftovers”). Last year he was already too weak from the chemo to do the honors, so I rather sullenly agreed to be the candy-distributor while he watched nearby.
This year there was no way I was opening my door to anyone for any reason. I figured I was just being paranoid until I mentioned my decision to friends and they immediately agreed. I’m here all by myself and I see no reason to advertise that fact to the flocks of teenagers who come through later in the evening. I turned off all the lights, unplugged the ones on timers, and went upstairs with the makings of a picnic dinner — bread, cheese, and wine. The light is on where I’m sitting, nowhere else. It’s been very quiet; I don’t think anyone has ventured through the front gate and up the dark walkway to my front door.
That’s fine. I am not afraid, merely prudent. I do not feel trapped, but rather voluntarily and temporarily cocooned. Tomorrow I have things planned that will get me out and about again. What’s different from a week or so ago is that I now feel in charge of making those decisions about how I will choose to live. I’m starting to make my life happen again. That’s an important and most welcome shift in my perception.
I can do this. I am really going to be OK. There may be ghouls and zombies outside right now, but inside it’s rather peaceful.