Friday, April 22, 2005

the triumph of the tortoise



I don’t think it’s just me. Over the last couple of days I’ve heard reports from various sources in my circle about overwhelming stress and emotional typhoons that seem to be sneaking up on people. So of course I have to wonder about the rest of you, with whom I don’t correspond nearly enough. Maybe the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Maybe you’re doing fine, who knows.

At any rate, this atmosphere of emotive intensity isn’t all bad. While I fought to maintain balance yesterday amidst horrific news reports (and why go into details – the way things are today, there are always horrific news reports out there), I did, somehow, maintain balance. That struggle, I think, set the stage for a lovely afternoon run with RB (running buddy).

I had a quick conversation yesterday afternoon with another work pal about the lake – how my goal was to run it completely, without stopping, by the end of April. The lake isn’t huge – it’s not like running around Lake Norman or Lake Murray. The circumference is only about 1.7 miles, so a complete run doesn’t take that long. It’s the principle of the thing.

So yesterday afternoon, despite looming clouds, RB and I went to the lake. (It also has the advantage of being flat – a big plus for runners. Or joggers. Or lopers, or what-have-you.)

I fought with the stopwatch for a moment or two, an annoying but necessary ritual. I got it started, and we ran.

OK, I didn’t run, exactly. I jogged. Usually we start our workouts with a 5-minute walk, but it was in my head all day to see what happened if we started off with a slow jog to warm up instead.

The rain started almost immediately. Small drops, then a shower, which had the refreshing effect of relieving dry skin and lips without requiring us to stop for a drink. It kept us from getting overheated. It kept everyone else off the lake.

And it was beautiful. Mist and low-hanging clouds wrapped the early green trees, and the lake itself turned a smoky teal color, darkened from the passing storm.

We ran through the rain. RB has considerably longer legs than I do, so I knew it wouldn’t work for me to try to keep up with her. If I was in it for the long haul (and I was determined to see how far I could go), I would have to keep my pace slow, otherwise I would cramp and quit.

Later she would admit to the same decision I made – she knew she couldn’t shorten her stride if she was going to go for a while. So we ran separately in the rain, and it was fine.

We passed the six-minute mark. Plodding along, each of us in our separate, comfortable strides, aware of each other but not needing to run together to stay motivated. Her presence was inspiring enough, and I watched her figure get smaller and smaller as she pulled ahead of me. I didn’t feel left behind – I felt proud. Proud of her, and proud of us.

The rain petered out as we went around the back side of the lake. We were more than halfway there, and she was at least thirty yards ahead of me. No problem.

When she did finally slow to a walk, I checked the stopwatch. Eighteen minutes. The day before, we had done our usual two minutes on, two minutes off walk/run routine, but today she ran for eighteen freaking minutes. I almost shouted it to her, but I couldn’t spare the extra air.

See if you can make it up the next rise, I told myself. Then, see if you can make it to the second park.

Something startled the flock of brown ducks hanging out on the peninsula in the middle of the lake, and they all rose up at once, their wings beating the air together like muffled hands clapping.

I could see the bridge, where we sometimes stopped to breathe and stretch. RB had picked her pace back up to a run. I was almost to the downhill slope leading up to the curves before the bridge. Just make it to the bridge, I told myself. But the stop sign, bright red in the grey afternoon, was what I really wanted.

Up the tender slope to the bridge, which for a walk was a nice change, but at this point in the workout it was almost the last freaking straw. Past the bridge. Past RB who was clapping and saying “Go girl!”

To that bright red stop sign, where I slowed down, jumped up, and planted a ringing, satisfying slap on the cool metal. “WHOO!” I hollered. “Hot damn, I did it!” I chortled, walking in a circle, not wanting to leave the scene of my success quite so soon.

“WHOOOOOO HOOOOOOOO!!!!” I howled across the lake, hearing the cry return from the back side of the lake. I’d been looking forward to that yell of triumph for weeks now.

I got my breath back, more or less, and I told RB her time. “You ran for eighteen solid minutes. I clocked it when you stopped. Eighteen freaking minutes.” I couldn’t believe us. I was astounded and impressed and one-hundred-percent proud. There was no internal harpy saying “Oh, you only jogged it.” Or “You really need to go faster, it took you 25 minutes to go 1.7 miles.” Nope. That bitch in my head was, thankfully, silent. Because the fact was I had jogged for twenty-five solid minutes, without stopping, without cramping, most of it in the rain, and looking only once at the stopwatch. With a blister from running in wet shoes. HA.

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Brian came home last night with his own stress, and I was frankly happy that he did. It’s not often I get to be the one offering comfort – usually I’m bawling on his shoulder and he’s saying “It’s gonna be OK, honey, I promise.”

Later I confessed to him that the path I’m on right now requires about twenty minutes a day of “just sitting” (my euphemism for meditation.) So I retired to the bedroom for a while (I’m not sure how long, sometimes I lose track of time) and sat. And in the midst of it, it occurred to me that the experiences I had had that day, with RB and with Brian, were both really intense, really positive examples of how people can interact and help each other, just by being there. By showing up. By staying open, and allowing the magic to happen.

It’s a challenge for me to stay open. Somehow, growing up, I learned the values of strength and integrity and independence (gee whiz, how did that happen? just kidding, Dad). Along with them, I also absorbed this mistaken belief that you have to do everything on your own. That it doesn’t count if you get help. That the only thing you can depend on is yourself.

And I’m starting to believe that it’s Total Bullshit. It’s a lot harder for me to rely on other people, but I think it’s closer to how we’re supposed to work as a species. Because even when I’m in a dark bedroom with the door closed, I don’t feel alone. Even when I’m driving to work after dropping off Duckie, I don’t feel alone. I feel the presence of my companions in this life, friends and strangers alike, and – odd to say it, but it’s true – the presence of other beings that I can’t see with my eyes open. This sense of being part of something larger than myself has been both a great comfort, and a source of the emotional overload I’ve been experiencing.

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Over the last couple of days, Duckie has surprised me with some new words and phrases. She has graduated to “milk” – it’s a recognizable word now, separate from the “mama” she usually uses to ask for something to drink. I think she’s starting to realize how powerful words can be – and that her parents and caregivers respond better when she uses words. Also the phrase “Down, Mama” was pretty clear a couple of days ago. And this morning she figured out that you can wave to someone as a greeting and a farewell.

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Fitness experts agree that the metabolism lift you get from a good cardiovascular workout stays with you for at least 24 hours afterwards, so RB and I both seem to be feeling pretty good today. If you read this, I’m hoping you can tap in to some of that calm, energized clarity for yourself.

If you’re not reading this, well, tough. I’m sending it out anyway.


2 comments:

Kiki said...

good for you, andrea, i'm really proud of that run. 1.7 miles is a LOT. after years of on-again, off-again laziness, i finally started working out again last august (high reps of light free weights, crunches, push-ups, done as quickly as possible to try to add a cardio element). it's a daily routine now, and i can't freakin' believe what a difference it makes -- not just how i look, but much more how i feel: really strong and ready to kick ass, in the best possible sense.

i think you just had an incredible high, and the best thing is, it's a reward unto itself, not to mention positive reinforcement. keep circling that lake, girl.

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