Saying thank you for the squeeze of a stranger’s hand

3M 3

The evening after the Dallas Marathon, in which I ran the half portion and my son Charlie the first leg of the relay, we signed up for another 13.1-mile race. We had each had a wonderful race and a wonderful day, and wanted to prolong that feeling of euphoria.

We chose the 3M Half Marathon in Austin, which took place on January 21. Turns out I had to defer my registration because of nagging behind-the-knee issues, but was so excited to be there and to cheer Charlie on. I was tracking him as he ran, so every five kilometers, my phone would beep with an update. The first notice was of his 8:22 per mile pace, which was faster than he’d anticipated.

“C’mon, Charlie!” I whispered as I did my own walk through downtown. “Keep it up!”

He’d slowed down by about 20 seconds by the time he crossed the 10K marker; at 15K he was even slower. i really wasn’t all that concerned; he hadn’t put in all that many miles, but he was confident so what else could I be, too? Besides, his predicted finish time was just at two hours, which I figured would make him feel somewhere between disappointed and comfortable.

When the estimated finish-line crossing time appeared — 9:35 a.m. — I scooted over to the State Capitol to wait for him. That time passed, then 9:40 and 9:45. Finally, I saw him. I waved madly and called out his name. He hobbled over to the wooden barrier separating runners from spectators.

“My foot is killing me,” he said. “I almost didn’t make it the last three miles, but I knew I’d be so mad at myself if I didn’t finish.”

3M 1

 

He couldn’t even hobble to the medical tent, which was maybe 30 feet away. So I found him a wheelchair and a volunteer, who pushed him in so he could get treatment. I wasn’t allowed in, but he texted me a few times with updates. They were icing it, he told me in one; waiting for the doctor, he said in another.

After about an hour, the doctor came out to say he probably pulled a muscle in his foot, and he needed to stay off it. Not that he had a choice; he was in awful pain. A few hours later, when we were finally home, he elaborated on what had happened when he was in the tent being treated.

3M 2

“I’m sitting there with my foot wrapped in ice,” he said, “and a woman comes in with really bad cramps in her leg.” She climbed onto the table right next to where Charlie was sitting. When the medical technician started to massage her legs, “you could tell she was in agony,” Charlie said.

“I asked her, ‘Do you want to squeeze my hand?'” She nodded gratefully, tightly grasping his outstretched hand until her pain eased a bit.

After a few minutes, Charlie’s foot pain suddenly reached a wave of almost unbearable intensity.

“It hurt so badly I thought I was going to cry,” he told me. (This, let me add, from someone whom I’ve seen cry maybe twice since he was about five years old.)

“Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw her holding out her hand and I squeezed it,” he said.

When Charlie left the medical tent, he was able to manage a smile as he held high the medal he’d fought for more than three miles to earn. By the next afternoon, his pain was minimal. Now, a week later,  Charlie has a hard time even imagining the intensity. But he does remember the warmth of empathetic fingers and of an empathetic heart.

So for stubbornness, for smiles, for the squeeze of a stranger’s hand…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

Saying thank you for the most basic of miracles

 

anna-me-3.jpg

My beloved niece Laura gave birth on January 12 to a daughter named Anna Louise, the third of Laura and her husband Eli’s children. Three children! How could this be possible? I remember the day 31 years ago when Laura was born. I even remember what I was wearing, for crying out loud.

Although with Anna’s birth, I am technically a great aunt four times over — Laura’s three, and my second niece Julie’s can’t-get-enough-of-him whirlwind son Fielding — I simply can’t call myself that noun. It brings to mind wrinkles far deeper than mine, skin that smells like pancake makeup, and droopy bosoms underneath loose paisley print dresses.

So instead, I am Lolly, christened by Julie and worn proudly by enough-about-me. Let’s move on to Anna.

When my sister Jeanne, Laura’s mom, sent the first photo from the delivery room, I was mesmerized, my awe of life and of babies and of possibilities especially deep — and it tends to be deep anyway.

Maybe it’s because Anna and I are members of the 12 Club — my birthday is February 12; hers, January 12. Maybe it’s because I just needed a baby fix; after all, it’s been a whopping 16 months since Fielding was born. Or maybe it’s simply because reminders of life and of love come along at precisely the time that, for whatever reason, we need them.

At the hospital, I touched Anna’s softer-than-a-horse’s-nostril (Jeanne’s comparison) hair.. I cradled her longer than I could probably have held a weight her size. I ogled her sleeping face while questions jostled around in my heart: “Who will you be, little girl? What will you sound like? Who will you love? What books will you beg to hear, what songs will make you giggle, what will you do to make us all laugh when we know we shouldn’t be laughing?”

I remembered how, when the sun rose on my walk this morning, I had a wave of wonder to think that this was Anna’s very first sunrise, the dawning of a new day and of her life ahead.

Ah, the world awaits you, sweetheart. And I can’t help but feeling that because of you and your siblings and cousins — those related by blood as well as those merely linked by having 10 tiny fingers and 10 tiny toes — it also awaits anew the rest of us.

So for you, baby girl; for giddy anticipation of what’s lies ahead; for the reminder that for all life’s complications and craziness it is, at its most basic, a miracle…The Grateful Runner (a.k.a. your Lolly) says thank you.

fridge Anna

Saying thank you for what’s over that hopeful horizon

happy new year my leg hurts

I run. That’s what I do. It’s how I start my day, and it’s what I think about — preparing mentally (how far, how fast?) as well as practically (what will I wear?) — before I go to bed.

I run until I can’t. Which is where I am now. For the last year (and to be honest, for off an on a couple of years before) my the back part of my left knee has been giving me trouble. I had an MRI last August, but by the time I returned home from Colorado and had a follow-up appointment, I felt fine.

“Great!” my orthopedist said, adding that he had planned to call in his colleague, who is a surgeon. “We just want to see you if you’re hurting.”

I ran the Turkey Trot and the half portion of the BMW Dallas Marathon. Both races went well; I felt wonderful and happy.  

But the twinges I’d had a week before the half developed into more. Two weeks later, I was really hurting, so went back to the orthopedist. This time, I talked to the surgeon, psyching myself up to hear his pronouncement. He examined me after a physical therapist had done so, and their conclusion was the same: My hips are out of alignment, which is causing all that ruckus behind my knee. True, I have a torn meniscus, but if that were the problem, they said, I’d never have been able to run those races.

They recommended lots of physical therapy, which I’ll start on Tuesday. Surgery wasn’t even mentioned, which made me all but burst with relief and delight, right there on the examining table.

“You can’t even imagine,” I started to say to the surgeon before catching myself. “No wait; I bet you can imagine how excited this makes me.”

He laughed and nodded. “I’ve worked with a lot of runners,” he said.

My leg still hurts; I’m not sure why I expected it to be pain-free just because surgery wasn’t mentioned. But I am ever so thankful as I hold onto the reassurance I heard twofold during that appointment that I will indeed run again.

So for good news, for hope, for a leg that hurts but one day will again carry me far…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for sweetness and stillness on see-your-breath cold mornings

Angie. Brr

This morning was freezing. Well below freezing, to be exact. Single-digit windchill, when you get right down to it. So I, who will run or walk (as leg issues are relegating me to these days) in just about any form of weather, was ever so content to ride my stationary bike.

Not so Angie, my four-legged companion. I let her out in the back yard, hoping a taste of the frigid would make staying inside all she would consider doing. Silly me.

So when the sweetest dog in the world wants to go for a walk…when she stares at you with THOSE EYES…when she looks longingly at the front door…when you can all but hear her promise she will always be there for you…what can you do but dig around for the warmest hat in the house, two pairs each of gloves and socks, and head out?

The air was still and cold and bone-penetrating; the morning, achingly beautiful. Not one soul was on the street. Just us — shivering me holding the leash of, at that very moment, the happiest, most grateful and most delighted girl (to say nothing of the sweetest, which bears repeating) in the entire world.

We weren’t gone long; still, it took me awhile to defrost, and I didn’t take the hat off for another 20 minutes. Maybe I was still cold, or maybe I was just holding onto the moment.

So for stillness, for sweetness, for being beyond smitten with a four-legged gift whose zest for life knows no bounds…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for 2017

thank you

So here we are, teetering between years once again, a big toe still in 2017, a heel and toe box (to use a running shoe vernacular) hovering excitedly above 2018. We’re in the midst of a breathless game of Red Rover: As a new year calls our name, we glance over our shoulder at what seemed a pretty good place to be until right this very second.

For me, it was a pretty good place. Nothing spectacular — no falling in love or publishing a book or discovering what exactly I want to be when I grow up. And that’s AOK. I found beauty and rejuvenation in moments, in the mountains, in time spent with those I love.

A leg ailment combined with laziness kept me from signing up for a race most of the year. But in November, I ran the Turkey Trot; in December, the Dallas Half Marathon — sharing the delight in those miles with my son, who ran them, too. He and I hiked together in Colorado; I had game nights with my mom and wine giggle gatherings with my sisters, who had a surprise birthday party for me in February — coincidentally, the same month I was born (insert wink here).

I moved into a new house. I almost made it to church every Sunday (a few times even before the sermon started), sitting in my favorite pew with my favorite chapel pals. I started taking a barre class. I squeezed my eyes shut and leaped out of my comfort zone, landing in a week-long fellowship with the National Press Foundation, where I met some really smart and nice people who are now my friends.

I laughed and I cried. I crossed paths with more special people. I said goodbye to some I didn’t want to say goodbye to — a beautiful man I wrote about on Easter Sunday; a beloved and courageous colleague. I marveled, five years since his death, that my dad is still at the heart of every moment in which I find joy. 

I was reminded, time and again, what a difference the smallest of gestures, the sparsest of words, the tiniest tweak of a situation can make. And especially how being just a little bit kind can change a moment, a morning, an entire attitude — perhaps even a life.

Before that last sigh of 2017, that final exhale that will push us over the midnight edge to begin our breathing on the other side, I just wanted to remember way more than I can ever write down. Much will come to me when I wake up tomorrow, or when something in the new year reminds me of something in the old.

Meanwhile, for every step, every sunrise, every star, every bit of wonder that leaves us wide-eyed and secretly sneaking a peek for more…The Grateful Runner says thank you.