I ran a marathon today.
I registered for the race in early November at the urging of a friend. I was, at the time, in a state of despair and regularly relied on people I trusted to make decisions for me. So I said yes.
In late November, I decided that December was going to be my month of finishing. I mostly meant all the half-read books on my bedside table and all the laundry that had accumulated on my chair because I failed to finish the cycle and hang it up, but I also meant bigger things. Getting on a plane. Leaving work for a week. Giving the marathon distance all my effort. Each of these prospects was terrifying. I had to slay a thousand dragons just to park my car at DIA.
Someone precious to me wrote in the week leading up to the race:
“You will have a free heart… feet barely touching the ground.”
The first part was true throughout the travel and race, owing in no small part to its author’s energetic resolve. The second part was true for most, but not all, of the race.
Marathons are brutal. Those twenty six miles hurt. At times, the pain was so searing, so blinding, I nearly cried.
But I pressed on, and at the finish line, I did cry. Sobbed, actually.
I cried for everything I’ve lost and everything I’ve gained and from sheer gratitude for those souls that accompanied me over those miles.
My feet, my body, supported me through the race, but they aren’t what carried me.
In keeping with my typical race unpreparedness, I packed absolutely nothing warm to wear at the start line, at which there was wind and rain. I shivered in my newly-acquired thrift store jacket and milled around, listening to my December playlists… and then I spotted it: a black dog, just the size Butters had been.
These two things; the playlists and that dog, sustained me for miles. And then sunrise.
I counted breaths. Counted my blessings.
My work team.
My best friends. Shawna. Lisa. Jessie.
All family, by choice or by a happy accident of birth.
My beloved running group, and Mel & Carissa & Sara & Stacy & Deb & Beth & Abby & Amber & Maggie & Marcy & Barb & Erin & Susan & Danny & Kate & Mike, who knew how much this race meant. Every step.
Rumi says that sorrow prepares the soul for joy, and that the wound is where the light enters. Put more colloquially, Leonard Cohen wrote: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
But it took more than light to draw me across the finish line. It took love from countless steady and generous hearts and a resolve to sublimate instead of self-destruct.
Sublimation is a word I use frequently with neighbors at crossroads. And I thought about them today too. A lot.
I called on those souls whose lives were unnecessarily truncated this year.
I called on the notes I received from neighbors this week.
I called on the conversation that I had with Y this week in my office. She wept openly and said that I had saved her life. I responded, truthfully and also weeping:
“You save MY life. Every day.”
I thought incessantly about how much more pain the people I get to walk alongside have to endure, for how much longer, and how for them there is no choice, or no good one.
I called on Amanda to pull me up the hills, and Butters to run me down them.
I reminded myself that this moment was what training was for. That I could give up on anything at all, except myself.
I needed the finish moment to solidify my emergence from a really shitty season.
I know that, my heart knows that, there is no cosmic scale for what’s been lost and what’s been gained. How do you weigh beauty against beauty? Love against love? Life against life?
What I know for sure is this: in my despair I got to choose whether to hide or expose my broken-open feel-too-much. I think I’m more judicious now than I was even a year ago, but given the chance, I would choose vulnerability over the alternative every single time.
Because the connection that ensues is more beautiful than 1000 finishes, 1000 sunrises.
Two endnotes about my day.
One: this afternoon I could barely walk. I headed downtown for lunch and hobbled back to my car, where I immediately started rummaging for ibuprofen in my purse. There was a knock on my window: a sweet-faced man, in his 30s perhaps. I couldn’t tell for sure where he slept at night, but my best guess was it was nowhere nice. We chatted for a while, about Colorado, mostly. After several minutes he confessed to me:
“You know, people always look at me like I wanna steal something from them. Which makes me want to. But what I really want is to connect. To love. That’s all we are, you know. Love. We just forget sometimes.”
Let me not forget.
Two: for years, I hiked Section 16 on my birthday. The year Amanda died, right by the waterfall I stumbled into hundreds of tiny purple butterflies.
Amanda HATED butterflies.
So I, as one is wont to do when trying to make meaning of tragedy, decided that those butterflies were her way of telling me: all is well, and all is well, and all is well.
I found solace in that.
Today, after I finished, I found a patch of dry earth and lay on it, face toward the sun, toes in the tropical grass. And there they were: dozens of tiny purple butterflies, skipping, telling me:
All is well. Our beginnings always collide with our endings. Our finishes.