Watermelon in the Rain

It’s raining again. On Vancouver Island. Which as newsflashes go is right up there with “Trump Says Something Stupid.

On a walk this morning my daughter, cold, wet and shivering, asked when the rain would stop.

I answered honestly. “Never.”

She knew I was teasing.

So I told her the real truth. “In forty years.”

That’s how it feels anyway.

I have no right to complain. I choose to move here. To an island. With rainforests on it.

There are positives. Like between November and March it rarely snows. And you can count on seeing the sun. At least once a month.

We had a glorious April. Sun almost daily. Light and heat. At a time when the darkness of COVID was shattering the lives of so many people, we walked in magnificent forests with sunshine streaming through, creating a mosaic of sparkling shadows to rival anything the finest art gallery in the world could offer.

In April I ran in shorts and a t-shirt. I needed sunscreen.

Today we’re drinking hot chocolate. It’s drizzling between rainstorms and the clouds look like they’ve captured the sun and banished it forever on this Victoria Day long weekend. The unofficial start of summer.

Some people embrace this weather. Our neighbour loaded up his paddleboard and headed down to the ocean.

I’ve tried. But I can’t. Not when the grey and rain and blah seem to never go away. When the 7-day forecast on the nightly news shows: rain, showers, cloudy, rain, rain, showers, rain.

But when the sun does come, it is glorious. Like the best of everything distilled into golden rays. Everything is better in the sun. Running, sweating, cutting the lawn, flying kites. Working from home and looking out the window at a yellow world. Everything.

And just like everything is better in the sun, everything is worse when it rains. Stress weighs heavier, the blues are darker, injuries hurt even more.

But sometimes a little light bursts through. I started writing this post sitting on the couch. Alone.  Miserable.  Now sitting beside me are my girls. Eating watermelon. Watermelon! The quintessential summer fruit on a hot chocolate day.

I could learn a lot from my girls. Injecting a slice of summer into an entirely miserable day.

Although truth be told, instead of eating watermelon in the rain, I’d rather be drinking hot chocolate in the sun.

A Little Bit of Sunshine

Behind Yellow Tape

From a distance the park in our neighbourhood appears to be surrounded by police tape. Yellow plastic fluttering in the wind prohibiting children from swinging, climbing and sliding.

It’s a park we’re at frequently. Practically daily. Kids play, parents socialize, our community comes together.

Not anymore. You don’t. I don’t. We don’t.

Profound changes in our world affecting us all. For how long, none of us know. A virus that knows no borders has crossed all borders and injected itself into every moment of our lives.

Victims suffer. Their families grieve. Health care professionals risk their lives. First responders hold the line. Heroes work in grocery stores, pharmacies and in the utility companies that keep us warm, lit and connected.

The rest of us continue in a sort of limbo. Working from home, digging in our gardens, walking our dogs, avoiding strangers, standing six feet from friends.

For introverts this new world is familiar – introversion on steroids. For extroverts, it must be awful.

For the millions of newly unemployed it’s hell.

Where it all ends none of us knows. Hopefully well and soon. With shops and restaurants reopening and airlines flying and life returning to something like normalcy.

In uncertain times I embrace normalcy and routine. I ran on the trails near our home every day this week and savoured fresh air, pink blossoms and random beauty – a heron swooping down from the treetops towards the stream below. Another day, another run, I explored a different trail – darker and secluded – as the path ended I found a burnt chair surrounded by beer cans. A reminder that not all is right with our normal world. That some people seek out beauty and then desecrate it, dragging in their garbage and leaving their trash behind. The world we long for isn’t always that good.

Today, normalcy meant starting a quiet Sunday morning in the living room. Writing while my daughter sat beside me, crying real tears because her mom brought her peanut butter and jam and not peanut butter and honey. There is something very special about watching a 4-year old’s sadness that is so real and yet so fleeting.

Before the Strawberry Jam Incident my daughter had asked for the book and pen which were on the stand beside me. I always read with a pen in hand – constantly underlining passages. She has seen me do it a million times. And wanted to do the same. She took the book and the pen, and turned away, so I could not see what she was doing. As she drew she repeated over and over, “You’ll never guess what this looks like.”

This is what she drew.

Molly's Drawing

She was right. I couldn’t have guessed how beautiful her drawing would be.

“You’ll never guess what this looks like.”

Words that apply to our world right now.

A world living behind yellow tape.

 

 

In This Together

Wounded Rain PictureWe started in the rain. We finished in the rain.

Port Hardy to Victoria in eight days. Over 600 kilometers of running.

One cause. Support our Wounded Warriors. Honour the fallen. Support the living.

Eight intense days. Fast running. Slow jogging. Gruelling hills, treacherous declines, glorious flatness.

Eight humbling days. Meeting heroes in Legions up and down the island. Veterans of long ago wars. Veterans who still wake at night reliving those horrors.

Eight days of overwhelmingly gracious receptions. Men, women and children flooding those Legions, and community centers. Preparing meals for us, wrapping their arms around us, digging deep in their pockets and thrusting cash in our hands.

Money to support the injured – our veterans, first responders and their families. Injuries caused by the horrific things so many of them have had to see and do. Trauma after trauma, experienced over and over, and imprinted on their minds.

Our team barely knew one another at the start of the run. By the end we were a family. We loved one another. We watched each fight through tough miles. We shared stories, laughs, and bathrooms. No secrets. No egos. No attitudes.

We succeeded as runners because of the people around us. Warriors themselves. They organized this run, drove us, fed us, clothed us, housed us and cared for us. Unconditionally. One big family.

In This Together. That mantra inspired our run. We repeated it a hundred times that week.

In this together. Those words have taken on a new meaning these last few days.

Our world is experiencing a crisis unlike anything most of us have ever lived through.

Daily life continues, and grinds to a halt simultaneously.

Our run squeaked in under the wire. Before mass cancelations and social distancing. Before we had to stop hugging and high fiving. Before a gathering of hundreds became life-threatening.

Life. That’s all that matters. Life and everything that goes with it. Physical health. Mental health. Love. Family. Community.

For weeks, maybe months, all our lives will change.

We’ll get through it. As a team. In this together.

Cathedral Grove WW

Wounded

We are all wounded. Physically. Mentally. Suffering is part of being human. But so is being there for one another.

I felt that every minute of every hour yesterday. I’m part of the Wounded Warriors Run team. In a couple weeks we’ll start at the top of Vancouver Island and run as a team to Victoria. Eight days, 600 kilometers.

Yesterday we started smaller. One day, and 58 K. A min-version of what is to come.

Our day, and my tears started in Sooke, BC. This small town, not far from Victoria is still grieving three young men killed in a terrible accident just over a week ago. An unthinkable, unfair tragedy.

We started at the Legion.   9:00 a.m. on a Sunday. Neither the time nor the day stopped veterans from donning their uniforms and their medals and greeting us with smiles and sustenance. This Legion exudes history. Grainy black and white photos of men who died overseas line the walls. I saw a bell forged from the metal of an aircraft shot down over England. I listened as the co-founder of this run prepared us for the physical and mental challenges to come, encouraging us to “find our moment.”

It didn’t take long for the moments to come. My tears started when “JZ,” our run director spoke, thanking our hosts. JZ is courageous and passionate and sincere. Our team would run through walls for her. The tears kept flowing when the Legion’s padre spoke about having joined the Legion in 1962 and having seen it evolve. In a different time and era, veterans drank and smoked and shared stories. They were there for one another. And now, Legions are community hubs. Open to everyone. A different time, a different era. The Legion there for the community. The community there for the Legion. Then the mayor spoke, and my tears continued, as she thanked Wounded Warriors for supporting the veterans who live in her community. After we marched outside, where the Legion has its own cenotaph – both simple and glorious, it has a magnificence beyond words. The Legion presented a cheque, over a thousand dollars raised in just the last few days. It wasn’t just a cheque. It was a message. We are all in this together.

The run started relay fashion, our first runners hammering out fast miles on still slick roads, leading us to the Langford Fire Hall. The Fire Chief and Mayor greeted us. Both of them taking the time to be there, and speak, and tell their firefighters and our team that mental health matters. That the job can be very hard. That it takes a toll. And that Langford stands behind its first responders. And those first responders stood with our team. Inspiring us and feeding us. A hearty meal, cooked in a firehall kitchen. A meal to refuel our bodies. A meal with an unspoken message behind it. What’s ours is yours.

Our run continued, and an hour later our convoy pulled into the Saanich Police Department. The reception was extraordinary. An Honour Guard in full regalia lined the entranceway. An entranceway filled with Saanich cops – the Chief, Senior Officers, cops in uniforms, cops there on their day off. I saw a very dear friend who I had worked with for years. I hugged her and it felt great. We’d worked on very serious files together. Murder investigations. High pressure – high stakes. Intense files. We leaned on each other in the midst of those investigations. It was a great hug.

On the journey went, towards Sidney. Our team inspired by “Top Shape” an alumni member whose physical gifts and strength are matched only by his kindness and warm demeanour. Top Shape had run every leg so far, and just kept going. In total he ran over 50 k yesterday. Most of the rest of us did about 10. Pretty inspiring. So much so that “Top Shape” isn’t just his name. It’s a mantra the team uses for inspiration. “Top shape, top shape, top shape.”

My turn to run came with Top Shape and Maria. Maria is an RCMP member – the first Mountie in history to be part of the Wounded Warrior Run. Mounties do most of the policing in British Columbia. I have had the honour to work with many of them. Often, especially in the smaller detachments they are underfunded, understaffed, and overworked. Yet they push on, in the best tradition of that historical police force. They take care of their communities and they take care of each other. In it together.

The last two kilometers were the best. We ran in together as a team. Led by JZ. She wasn’t certain she’d be able to run yesterday. But she did. And lifted us all in the process.

We finished at the Sidney Fire Hall, stopping our run beneath a large Canadian flag which flew from the top of a towering ladder.

Inside the warmth and generosity continued. And the donations. Thousands of dollars from Serious Coffee and The Victoria Whiskey Festival. Multiples of thousands. From organizations that did not have to donate a cent. But did. Giving back to their communities. Humbling and sobering moments being part of a team which is a recipient of such generosity.

We are all wounded.

And we are all in this together.

Sidney Fire Hall

 

I am Third

My father is a mesmerizing preacher. The timber of his voice – the cadence, the pauses, the passion. Almost at will, he can bring his congregation to tears, or fill them with joy, with the power of his words.

I remember a sermon he delivered over thirty years ago when I was just a teenager. “I am Third” was the title. The message was this: God came first; his family came second; dad came third.

My dad has lived that message his entire life. A life of service. Always putting others ahead of himself.

I’m not sure I ever understood the sacrifices my mom and dad made until I became a parent myself. The mantra for the first 45 years of my life may well have been “I am First.”

I read when I wanted. I wrote when I wanted. I ran when I wanted.

In many ways we all create our own worlds. I created one that accommodated me. Christmas is a good example. Every December, without fail, I watched the movies that I wanted to watch: It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, the Sound of Music.

Our three-year old daughter doesn’t share my interest in Jimmy Stewart, Ebenezer Scrooge or Julie Andrews. I don’t think I’ve watched one of those movies, start to finish, since she was born.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss those movies, and a bit of the freedom they represented.

But I don’t ever want that freedom back. Because not one second of those movies – not a single frame, or a song, or a performance, can ever top the joy of sitting next to a little girl as she watches The Christmas Chronicles on Netflix. The happiness in her face matched only by that I feel within myself. Relishing the moment.

Every day I recognize my good fortune, how lucky I am to have all the blessings I have in my life.

That doesn’t mean I don’t miss running at will, reading dozens of books a year, and writing daily. I still read, write and run. But often that occurs between 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. Trading sleep for passions. Embracing the darkness of early mornings. Stillness. Introspection.

With Christmas over, and New Years looming, this is a time for introspection. To take stock of the year that is passing and set goals for the year yet to come.

Immediately, my I am First, mind takes over. It happened yesterday. I wrote down ambitious running goals. A sub-40 10k in the spring, a 50 miler in the summer, and a personal best and Boston Qualifier marathon in the fall. In my head, my I am First head, that is how the 2020 running year would play out. I crave those times and those distances.

I also recognize those times and distances don’t matter.

I want to be a better person. To be of service to others. To my family. To my wife Sonja, who never puts herself first, always working for us – for Molly, and for me. Sonja deserves some I am First time of her own.

I want to be calmer on the inside.

I want to be a better dad. Every day feels like a work in progress – a struggle between knowing when to discipline, how to discipline, and when to let a child be a child.

I want to be better at my job. To strive daily to work with the passion and commitment that led me to be a cop in the first place. More than twenty years ago.

It was well over twenty years ago when I heard my father’s sermon “I am Third.”

My dad has always lived his life in third place.

In 2020, I want to be more like my dad.

Easter 2017.JPG

… That’s my dad, Molly and my mom.  Easter 2017.  One of my favourite pictures ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pointless Acceleration

I wrote this earlier this year.  It came to mind today.  Christmas has been wonderful, yet often chaotic, and it often feels like there is no time to breath, much less read, write or run. ….  Merry Christmas everyone.  DB

POINTLESS ACCELERATION

I accelerated meters from the finish line. Pointless acceleration. I was already sprinting. This surge might buy me a few useless seconds. My goal was a sub 40 minute 10K. Twenty feet from the finish line my hamstring popped. My right hand clutched the back of my leg. I hobbled across the line, two minutes too slow.

It had been an ambitious target. Nine years earlier I’d run 39:55. Back then I was under forty, didn’t have a child, ran often, and had a coach.

This time around, I was close to fifty, had a young daughter, ran when I could, and followed a program I’d found online.

I trained hard. Many weekdays my alarm rang at 3:15 a.m. Cold runs, wet runs, dark runs. I ate a plant based whole food diet. Instead of two glasses of wine every night, I drank one glass weekly. I introduced intermittent fasting into my routine. By race day, I was twenty-five pounds lighter than I’d been at the start of training.

I didn’t train hard enough. I didn’t do enough speed work. Our neighbourhood is nothing but hills. Nothing is flat, nothing is fast. Instead I relied on a treadmill, where too much of the speed comes from the machine, and not enough from within.

Race day conditions were perfect. Cool, sunny, not too much wind. I went through 5K in 20:15. According to the clock, I had a chance. According to my body, it was already over. The last half of the race was a gigantic fade. Dozens of runners passed me. I did not pass anyone.

I trained too hard. I tore my hamstring at the finish line. The culmination of months of training, and a race run at maximum effort. I tried to squeeze out a tiny bit more speed. And a muscle rebelled and ripped. The next night, I woke up with a sore throat. Now, ten days later, I’m fighting a cold that will not go away. I slept thirteen hours last night, and still need to nap, while my nose and mouth compete to see which can expel the most phlegm.

One race, one injury, one cold. Blips in the life of a runner. But they feel like more than blips. They feel like a manifestation of inner turmoil and my inability to resolve the question, “Why do I run?”

I believe that hurting, suffering and sacrificing make me stronger. I believe that if I work hard enough, I can run faster in my fifties than I did in my thirties. The 10K was not a one-off. I envisioned it as the first of a series of challenges. A marathon or 50K in the fall. A 50 miler next year. And the year after that, months after turning 50, I’d try a 100 miler. Worthy goals.

And all of them taxing. On my time, on my family, and, increasingly I worry, on my health. I want to live a long and active life. I seek inner peace. Running can provide that on its own, without races, or personal bests, or ultra-distances. Without injuries and a compromised immune system. I could just run.

But I want it all. I want to show up, on the starting line, with the perfect balance of training and health. I want to cross the finish line experiencing both agony and accomplishment. I want to be ninety on my daughter’s 45th birthday. I want to run with her that day. I want to straddle the line of health and performance for a long, long time.

Born that Way

Maggie is 13 going on 14. Old for a golden retriever, with the failing hind legs to prove it. She is the only Golden Retriever ever that doesn’t smile.   She’s melancholy by nature, with a frown that rarely turns upside down.

But when she feels joy she feels it intensely. She leaps into the ocean to chase thrown stones. She devours dog shit like a gourmand treasures a fine meal. And she loves her family. A loyal, sad dog who wants nothing more than to be by our sides. That saddens me, because I have so little time for her, the demands of family, work and life, usually dropping Maggie to last place on my priority list. I know that when she is gone I will mourn her. But on most days, if I’m honest, she brings me more frustration than happiness. Writing that makes me sad. She’s a good old girl who has been by my side through some tough times, a faithful companion at a time in my life when I didn’t want to be around people and just needed my dog.

I’m pretty sure Maggie was born that way. Sad. I got her when she was two. Attracted by a picture on the breeder’s website of the most miserable looking dog that I had ever seen. A dog that clearly needed a home. A Golden Retriever that needed to smile.

Maybe it’s appropriate Maggie came to me. We’re a lot alike. I’m melancholy by nature. Not depressed, but not happy either. Always conscious of the fragility of life, and the cruelties of this world.

Unlike Maggie I don’t chase stones in frigid water. I chase experiences instead. A good book, an invigorating run, bring me happiness. Although happiness might not be the right word. Because I might not smile when I read or run. But inside I feel fulfilled.

And like Maggie, I want to be around my family. That doesn’t mean I want to talk (to my lovely wife Sonja’s exasperation!). But being with them, in the house together, in the living room together, on the couch together, is the most satisfying thing I know. The closest I come to inner peace.

Fortunately, my greatest pleasure in life isn’t eating dog shit. But there is something special about seeing Maggie eat crap. Because for her it is pure joy. And pure joy, sheer happiness, is not something any of us see, or feel, often in this world.

Since September, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing pure joy every week. My daughter Molly started dance lessons. She loves every second of it. This three-year old girl has thrown herself into the world of First Position, Pirouettes, and Le Grand Jete. It’s her passion. Not one that we have thrust upon her, but one that she clearly and instinctively feels she must do. And on Saturday mornings, Sonja and I stand on the other side of a large pane of glass and watch her and her classmates dance. Two, three and four year-old children, jumping and spinning for no other reason than the sheer joy of it. Watching Molly, watching these kids, has become the highlight of my week. One of the highlights of my life.

Molly might not exist if it wasn’t for Maggie. I met Sonja on an online dating sight. I’d posted a picture of me and Maggie. Sonja messaged me saying that my dog was cute. I responded “That’s Maggie. She eats poo.

Maggie is asleep right now. In the corner, on her dog bed. Molly and Sonja are in the kitchen making pancakes. I’m on the couch. Smiling. Feeling very fortunate to have a sad dog. My Maggie. She and I have a lot in common.

And look … Maggie can smile.

Happy Maggie.JPG