When Inner Storms Swirl

I’m almost fifty years old and I still seek my parents’ advice.  Their wisdom rarely fails me.

Almost fifty.  Decisions matter more than ever.  When I was thirty, thirty-five, even forty I still felt time and life stretched forward far beyond what I could see.  Or imagine.

No longer.  Not when I’m just months away from half a century.  By the numbers I’m closer to the end than the beginning.  Closer to the end of my career.  Closer to the end of my life.  Fifty sneaks up on you.  But 50 is a number that does not lie.

Decisions are supposed to get easier as we age, drawing on maturity and life experience to guide us forward.

Fat chance.

Decisions get harder.  There’s more at stake.  Less time to play with.  Maximizing every moment matters more than ever.

But what does maximizing mean?

For a few days this week it means being by the ocean.  In a hotel with big windows and long views.  A hotel just a few steps from a sandy beach.   

A hotel with one bedroom, one bed, and a four-year-old tossing and turning all night.  Maximizing means me getting out of bed when I’m still tired, escaping to the living room, and reading and writing, well before 5 a.m. when it’s too dark to see the ocean, and too cold to be warmed by the fireplace.

And it’s quiet.  Quiet helps – helps with making decisions, helps with maximizing.

Quiet does not provide answers.  But quiet lets you listen to the inner-voice.  To the collected wisdom of friends and family.  To the doubts that eat your insides when the path forward isn’t clear.

And it rarely is.  Big decisions have big consequences and are rarely straightforward.  Big decisions are not a flashing red 99 on a scale of 1 to 100.  Big decisions are often 50 – 50.  There is no clear right answer.  There is no clear wrong answer.  When we agonize over these choices, we work to tip the scale – to get to 51.  Or higher.

Sometimes we are right.  Sometimes we are wrong.

And sometimes we realize that there is no right, and no wrong.  That 50-50 means that there is good and bad in whatever path we choose.  And those paths often flow from within.  Do we seek comfort and contentment – or strive for challenges where growth requires pain? 

Maybe the closer I get to 50, the more comfortable I am with 51.  With accepting that consequential decisions are made – must be made – when inner storms swirl.

No storms swirled around us this week.  The ocean and sky competed for the prize of bluest and most beautiful.  The sun warmed everything.  Inukshuks lined the shoreline.  Parks reverberated with children’s voices and laughter.  Ice cream sundaes were devoured.  Wine was savoured.  Life was relished.  Family was maximized.

I got a few days closer to 50.  And a lot closer to 51.

The Constants

I saw some pictures recently which jolted me back a decade. Back to where I was – both literally and figuratively. Photos from a fun and important weekend. Photos filled with people who aren’t in my life anymore.

Much has changed in those ten years. Big changes. A new family. A new home. A new life.

Some important things have not changed. Reading and running are constants.

Not just reading – but my favourite authors. Writers I have been reading for many years. Writers whose brilliance and insights add richness to my life. Writers whose words help make me who I am.

Those authors include David Mitchell and James Lee Burke. Each has a new novel out. Buying those books brought me joy comparable to the proverbial kid on Christmas morning. I wanted to dive into them.

Dive slowly. I hate the idea of ‘page-turners.’ The best books should be savoured, not raced through. Every page turned is sad, because it is one page closer to the end of something special. I take my time – underlining and starring my favourite passages – beautifully turned phrases, and insights into life.

David Mitchell creates worlds that remind me that life is mysterious and filled with connections both seen and unseen which bind us all.

James Lee Burke captures the horrors of my profession, the complexity of humanity and our spiritual nature.

I’ve never meet either man, but they are as much a part of my life as my best friends. Constants.

 

Like running. The routes have changed but the runs continue.

A decade-ago I ran along the ocean daily. No more. Now on my daily runs I hit the trails. Roots and rocks. Oceans of trees, streams of water.

I love it all the same. My favourite run now is just a few minutes from home. It’s quiet and calm. A challenging uphill that is neither too steep nor too long and rewards every repetition with beautiful vistas. It is the running place where I find the greatest beauty and the greatest fulfillment. Like my favourite novels, I never want those runs to end.

Today it ended very well. I descended from the hills through our neighbourhood. Coming towards me my wife was in the midst of her own run, pushing our daughter in her stroller. We met up, and switched up – she raced ahead while I ran with our daughter, who, minutes later, asked me to stop at a community book box – one of those ‘take a book – leave a book’ community libraries that make all our lives a little better.

I opened the box and my daughter’s, attention focused on colourful covers – with pinks and purples trumping all else. I pulled out the pinkest and purpliest for her – I Heart Vegas. Needless to say, it is not exactly a children’s book. But a book she wanted nonetheless, as a present for her mom. We hid it underneath the stroller and snuck it into the house where she placed it on my wife’s nightstand, so proud of the gift she was going to give. So proud of what she called, “the fanciest book I ever saw.”

Ten years. It seems like so long ago. It seems like yesterday.

Life changes. None of us knows what’s in store up the next hill or around the next corner.

The constants in our lives help us navigate those changes, enjoy the journey and prepare us for those unexpected moments. I’ll never read I Heart Vegas. But I’ll treasure it forever.

 

Vista

 

RavineLooking overA Private CathedralUtopia AvenueThe Fanciest Book Ever

The Horizon was Upside Down

I’ve been reading a lot about ultrarunners.  They push their bodies into agony and train their minds to overcome their pain.

They volunteer to suffer.  Seek it out.  Embrace it.

Hillary Allen did that.  A world class ultrarunner racing on a mountaintop she lost her footing, crashed to the ground, fractured both wrists, several ribs and sliced her head open.

Doctors told her she might never run again.

But she did.

Reading about Hillary sent me to YouTube, and a video called Redemption.  I was about 30 seconds in, when my daughter Molly scrambled up on the couch, insisting I turn off the “boring” show so she could watch her new favourite cartoon, PJ Masks.

Molly cut her knee earlier this week.  She bled and cried, while mom and dad cringed at the chunk of gravel embedded under the skin.

The gravel is out, the knee is healing, and Molly is back to tearing around the neighbourhood park and scaling the ropes of the jungle gym.

I didn’t turn on PJ Masks.  I told Molly that Hillary had fallen and hurt herself badly.  But she’d healed and was running again.  We watched Redemption together.  Over and over.  Molly kept asking me to go back to the part where Hillary Allen talked about her fall and said, “the ground was pulled out from under me” and “the horizon was upside down.”  As she fell Hillary thought she would die.  As I write this Molly is sprinting back and forth in our living room, holding my headlamp, pretending to be Hillary running in the dark.

This week the horizon turned upside down for some very close friends.  They weren’t running.  No wrists were fractured.  But their son received a life altering diagnosis.  A diagnosis that will affect his life, every minute of every day.  That will affect the lives of his parents every minute of every day.

They don’t deserve it.  As a family they have already sacrificed and struggled, pulling together, working to overcome another diagnosis.  Also life changing.  Also something that is always with them.  It is so unfair.

“The ground was pulled out from under me.”  A regular reader of this blog had the world pulled out from under her a few years ago.  Members of her family were murdered.   She is a writer.  I suspect that sustains her in her darkest hours.

None of these stories are mine to tell.  Not Hillary’s, not my friends, not the regular reader’s.

Not Terry’s either.  I worked with Terry ten years ago.  She was one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known.  She didn’t wear it on her sleeve.  Her profession, her career, her success required strength.  Steel.

But Terry melted around those who had nothing.  Addicts, sex-trade workers, the mentally ill. Those for whom every day was a struggle to survive.  Those who are so easy for us to drive by and ignore without giving a second thought.  I do it, all too often.

Terry used to remind me to treat everyone with respect and kindness.  Everyone.  Because you never know what they are going through.

Soon after she retired Terry was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  She fought hard.  Valiantly.  With dignity.  And passed away less than a year later.

There seems to be a consensus among ultrarunners, that the pain they experience is worth it.  Perhaps not in the moment.  But in the process, the preparation for the race.  And in the aftermath.  Real life lessons learned from voluntary suffering.

Suffering.  Utrarunners seek it out.

Suffering.  It seeks us out, throughout our lives.  Ground crumbles at our feet.  Horizons turn upside down.

I had no idea how to respond to our friends this week.  No words can heal what they’re going through.  I sent them my love.  I think about them.  They are strong and brave and they will need every ounce of that strength and bravery in the days, weeks and years ahead.

Their horizon is upside down.  I pray for healing in their lives.  For love and health and family to prevail.  For their horizon to right itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspired by Mark and a Dose of Doctor Danica

My friend Mark is a writer and photographer. Mark’s compassion, wonder, and wit, combined with a healthy dose of cynicism make each of his blog posts a joy to read. Each photo complements every word. Check out his blog at walkacrossitall.com.

Mark’s pursuit of his passions inspired this blog. Writing is integral to the person I am. Yet I’ve stopped writing. I’m challenging myself to write regularly and asking you to read it if you like it and delete it if you don’t.

Mark re-entered my life recently. Electronically at least. I never wanted him to leave it. But we drifted when life intervened. As it does.

Not many years ago, Mark helped get me through my darkest days. My ex-partner’s cancer diagnosis rattled me like nothing before. Until I rattled again, just a few months later when our decade long relationship ended during her treatment. I retreated to a basement suite. I retreated into myself.

Mark buoyed me at my lowest ebb. We worked together, laughed together and drank beer in the park together. Every Thursday night meant growlers, gossip and Capoeira in Victoria’s Central Park. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art. We didn’t practice it but we certainly enjoyed watching the best combination of beautiful lithe bodies, and not so beautiful not so lithe bodies we’d ever seen contorting in public. “Capoeira” became a codeword for Thursday nights. Capoeira was spiritual gold when I was spiritually bankrupt.

Mark and I became vegans at the same time together too. Not surprising for me. The world is full of scrawny running vegans. But Mark is big and strong and outgoing. Not the stereotypical vegan. His courage to pursue a lifestyle that many still raise their eyes at, helped give me the courage to live my beliefs.

When I began to feel more like a whole person again, I tried online dating. In my profile I described myself as Reader, Writer, Runner.

I met a beautiful and very special woman. Sonja is my wife now. Before we married, we had a daughter. Molly was born on my 45th birthday. A gift beyond comprehension.

Life changed. As it does.

Reading, once a daily ritual, became a rare luxury.

Running never left me. It just changed. Less time to train, fewer miles, and different goals. Goodbye sub-three hour marathon. Instead running became its own essence. The pursuit of physical and mental health.

Goodbye writing. The most difficult and least enjoyable of the three, it was easy to stop making the effort when time came at such a premium.

But then Mark inspired me. With words from France. With his example – taking the time to be true to himself, while still being a wonderful husband and father.

I read Mark’s latest posts while Sonja and I were in Victoria on a mini-vacation. Molly burst with joy everywhere we went: petting goats in Beacon Hill Park, riding a big red bus, sitting beside her dad eating bacon for breakfast. I burst with joy every moment too, with my ladies at my side.

As we were about to leave town, I called my friend Danica. I hadn’t seen her in almost three years. We’d barely communicated. She had never met Molly. Yet I still felt close to her. She was yet another friend I had let slip through my life.

We parked outside Danica’s home and I called her. She wasn’t far away, walking her dog. We drove to her. Embraced. Showed off Molly. Walked. Talked. Laughed.

We ended up in a nearby park. Molly climbed to the top of a slide. Four to six feet off the ground. There was sand on the slide. Molly slipped, fell backwards, and hit the ground. Sonja and I were too far away to catch her. Too far away to see where she hit, or how she hit. We were close enough to see her tumble. Close enough to hear her cry. We both ran to her, not knowing what we were about to find.

It was the most scared I have ever been. I didn’t know if my daughter had been critically hurt. My head went to the worst place imaginable.

Sonja picked her up. Molly sobbed. Danica stood beside us. In all my worry, I had a sliver of consolation. Danica was a doctor. Doctor Danica. We’d met years earlier in a writing class. She is a talented writer, an accomplished doctor, a mom, a wife and a wonderful human being.

Danica examined Molly. Nothing broken. No bleeding. Head good. Pupils good. Ears good. Moving just fine.

It may be the most thankful I have ever been.

When Molly stopped crying I told her she was brave and strong and asked her if she wanted to climb back up the slide. She did. Up she went, and down she went. This time sliding, not falling.

It may be the most proud I have ever been.

We didn’t spend long with Danica. A few minutes before the fall, a few minutes after. But she inspired me. She is pursuing her passions. For teaching children about nature, and the environment and the connectivity of all things.

The next morning my family was back home. Molly could not stop talking about Dr. Danica, asking for “story about Molly fell and Dr. Danica.” So, with a little help from dad, Molly called Dr. Danica. They talked for a few minutes. Molly asked Dr. Danica if she had any toys, and if she liked pink cars. My heart warmed.

There are quite a few Marks and Dr. Danicas in my life. If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you are one of those people. Someone who is important to me. Someone whose friendship I value. Someone who has shared good times with me, and helped me through bad times. Someone I’ve let slip out of my life.

Mark and Dr. Danica reminded me of the importance of keeping the people that matter close.

Mark and Dr. Danica inspired me to write again.

Daryl

Driving

|