Monday, September 20, 2010
I’ll start with the fun one. This past Saturday I ran a Half-Marathon with a woman I’ve known since grade school. Long ago we spent hours upon hours setting our Barbies up on dates and arguing about who had to go out with the G.I. Joe with orange fuzzy hair.. Once school was closed for a week because of snow and we had sleepovers every night – whispering in to the wee hours and sneaking the jello mix to eat straight. And once school was closed for months due to a teachers strike and her mom became our teacher! Our lives have traveled quite different roads, but our connection has held strong. So we met up in Virginia wine country for a half-marathon trail race. Her first race and my first half (she cheered me through my first marathon in her home town five years ago!).
This plan was hatched last spring when the race seemed like the perfect excuse to leave our spouses and children and spend a weekend together, touring vineyards, eating wonderful food, and oh yeah, running a race. The reality hit us in the face last Saturday. We had a plan to run the race with intervals since Lisbeth hadn’t run before and I sometimes have grumpy knees. I proposed 4 minutes run and 1 minute walk. After a few months of training in ridiculous heat this summer, Lisbeth modified it to 3 minutes run and 2 minutes walk. No problem. I could do that.
Race day dawned cool and beautiful. This being a race for women only, it was a great atmosphere. Lots of moral support, port-a-pottys, and laughter. There were women running with stuffed animals (I never did get the complete story on that) and children cheering us at the start and handing out Gatorade at the aid stations. A group of men sang an off-key version of Happy Trails at the start and we were off!
Things went pretty well for about 5 miles. Then the hills began in earnest. Neither one of us had investigated the race enough to know that part of it was on the Appalachian Trail and when they said there were hills – they were serious. Lisbeth’s enthusiasm began to wane, and soon her legs did too. We walked along, me following cautiously, afraid to push her, and Lisbeth lost in her ipod world. In the beginning she had kept one ear bud out so we could converse, but by this point she had nothing to say to me and my Pennsylvania hill trained legs. She comes from Virginia Beach and the only hills she encounters are the man made dunes at the beach. Not a level playing field by far. About mile 7, she shooed me away. Told me she had no intention of running another step and doubted she would even finish. I stuck with her for a little while, but when it became apparent that my presence was more annoyance than support for her, I bounded away up the trail, sprinting to make up for my walked miles.
As I attempted to make up for lost time, I passed all kinds of women. Some were running incredibly slowly, barely lifting their feet. Some were power walking- arms swinging like giant pendulums. Still others were chatting and alternately walking and running as the terrain dictated. Without fail, every one of them cheered me on as I passed. So different from the co-ed road races I have run. But then again, here I was at the back of the pack forging my way to the middle, so this wasn’t really a cut-throat competitive setting.
But I digress. This isn’t really about me gallantly leaping over logs on my way to finishing in the bottom half of the runners. No, this is about my dear friend. My friend who was in pain. Frustrated after having trained in the ungodly Virginia Beach heat and humidity all summer, she questioned whether she had it in her to finish. Even deciding to run this race had been a huge risk for her and now she had to wonder if the people who told her she couldn’t do it were right. I confess that as I ran through the forest, I worried for my friend and I, too, doubted if she’d finish. But finish she did – maybe a bit grumpy (understatement of the year), very sore, exhausted, but jubilant. In the end, her race was a much bigger triumph than mine. I had a great time racing through the woods to my inevitable finish, but what Lisbeth did was so much bigger. She just kept keeping on. She didn’t give up, even when her anger, exhaustion, pain, and self-doubt plagued her. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about. You put one foot in front of the other. You do the best you can and you keep keepin’ on. And you don’t let the nay-sayers stop you.
Which brings me to my other story….about the people who don’t keep keepin’ on. This is the story of my experience volunteering at a political booth at the York Fair on a beautiful afternoon. I’m not saying which political party I was volunteering for, not only because I try to keep politics out of the blog, but because it really doesn’t matter. I’m certain the other booth two spaces down was hearing some of the same stuff.
The following person is fictional, completely fabricated by me as an amalgamation of some of the fascinating souls who stopped by the booth to enlighten me and my fellow volunteers. His presence was somewhat overwhelming. He towered over us as we sat behind our literature and buttons, fuming and sweating through his t-shirt that was straining to keep control of his mid-section. He looked to be about 50ish. He leaned in to our table and one of my cohorts, asked, “How can I help you?” His reply wasn’t appropriate for a family friendly blog, so I’ll translate. “Yeah, you can help me. Holy moly. How can you be out here pushing this person who doesn’t care about any of us? Holy moly! He only wants to put money in his own pocket. Holy moly! We should throw all the bums out!” (I remind you that I am paraphrasing and condensing a much more colorful exchange with this purely fictionalized character).
Our bravest volunteer, a powerful tiny woman who is at least 20 years my senior, stood up and looked him in the eye. She asked, “Are you registered to vote sir?” His reply? “Nah, I don’t vote,” followed by more colorful remarks as to why this gentleman doesn’t choose to exercise his constitutional right.
I do get it. The frustration with government. Believe me, I’ve been there. But too many of us have given up. It’s too much work, it’s seems pointless, and really, why should I bother when so many others don’t? Because it’s not only our constitutional right, it’s our duty and privilege as American citizens to participate in the election of our government. If we don’t keep keepin’ on, then those people this man claimed are running our government really will be running the government.
Life can be hard, boring, frustrating, monotonous at times. But it can also be amazing, phenomenal, inspiring, and plain hilarious. We have to just keep participating. We can’t stand aside. And if we choose to stand aside, we must keep our complaints to ourselves. We prepare as best we can and give it a shot. That’s all anyone can ask. That’s all we can ask of ourselves. I’ve been thinking a lot about living simply. I’m reading lots of books and meditating and journaling on the concept, and I’m starting to believe it comes down to just keeping on. Not racing ahead, not judging the past, just putting one foot in front of the other on a daily basis and paying attention to each moment. There is so much to learn.