Saying thank you for 45,000 mountain steps, one healing ER visit, and other vicarious banners of courage.

Post-hike wound

My son Charlie is braver than I’ll ever be which, of course, is the way the universe needs to work. Thus, we’ve formulated kind of a silent pact, which we seem to have mastered quite nicely: He never mocks my cowardice. I, in turn, try not  to let him catch me holding my breath when he heads off on his hiking adventures. Not that I have any reason to worry, of course (OK, I do; click here for why my heart tends towards palpitations).

meeker

 

Early, early, early on a recent Saturday morning, he and three friends set out on a hike called the Mummy Marathon — 20 miles and seven peaks in the Mummy Range of Rocky Mountain National Park. (Charlie somehow neglected to mention the hike’s other name: Mummy Kill.) He rented spikes for ice, took two box lunches, plenty of protein bars and his usual generous supply of water.

“Let me know when you’re finished,” I said in what I hoped was a light tone. “I won’t start worrying till 8 p.m., which will be 7 your time.” (Plan your phone call accordingly, in other words).

He called about 5. He and his friends made it to the summits of five peaks before a hailstorm hit. It showed no signs of letting up, so they descended whatever mountain they were on (I’d have to check my notes, which I took when he first told me about this). He was a little disappointed, but more excited about being able to add more trail tags to his collection and for the 45,000 steps the trek entailed.

 

The group was getting ready to eat dinner, he told me. Then he added, almost as an afterthought, “Oh, and Mom, I may need to go to the ER.”

“Oh, OK, honey. ‘Bye!” I did not say. But I really did stay calm, even when he sent me this photo, which I think is shown plenty big right here:

HEAD WOUND

 

I put into use my anti-fainting technique, took a deep breath and an even deeper gulp of wine (mercifully close by), and agreed that yes, after splitting open one’s head on a protruding rock, a visit to the emergency room was probably a good choice.

He went, accompanied by one of his loyal friends, and the doctor on duty closed the wound with three staples. By morning — let me add here that I never cease to be amazed at the body’s inherent healing power — it looked like this:

staples.jpg

Charlie was given the go-ahead to hike, to shower, to do just about anything except submerge his head in a swimming pool — which he had no plans to do anyway. He also couldn’t shave his head, which drove him crazy until the stitches were removed a week later and he could be his happy, all-but-bald self again.

Charlie’s next hike is coming up in five days. It’s about as long as this one, with its own invigorating dangers and heart-pounding possibilities. He can hardly wait. In a way, I’m kinda tickled to be able to say…neither can I.

So for courage beyond my realm; for friendships honed in the mountains; for 45,000 steps and three staples in the head…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

Saying thank you for over marveling

birthday mom

Over the last couple of months, my mom has spent a Friday night and two Saturday nights with me. By the time my brother picked her up each following day, she had expressed delight in the following. It is a compilation, but some delights were expressed more than once. Way more than once, I might add:

A tree growing out of a crack in the concrete on a Central Expressway overpass: “Oh, honey, can you imagine? Can you even imagine how in the world it gets water?!”

Her glass of chardonnay.

Her pizza that went with the chardonnay: “Oh, honey, I can’t remember the last time I had a meal so delicious!”

Meeting my former and always beloved editor Mike and his I’m-crazy-about-her-too wife Melinda on our way out of the restaurant: “Oh, honey, they are just delightful! Now remind me, who is he again?”

How well she slept.

The coffee.

The individual container of oatmeal (maple and brown sugar, her favorite) I set out for her when I went to yoga.

The daisies we’d bought together that I’d actually planted (and not let die in their original container).

The Rose of Sharon bush: “Oh, honey, I don’t think I’ve ever seen blooms quite this color on these!”

The pillow with a bird on it at Lowe’s.

The lantana at Lowe’s.

My house: “Honey, I just can’t tell you enough how much I love this place!”

A tall tree.

A tall building: “Honey, how in the world — how in the WORLD was something like that built?”

A flower growing out of a sidewalk crack.

My writing: “Oh, honey, I am your biggest fan, your biggest fan!”

The wine and pizza (yes, again) on another night: “I can’t remember the last time I have enjoyed a meal so much!”

The Rummikub and card games we played (most of which, admittedly, she won): “Oh, honey, I just love playing games. Isn’t this fun?”

My sisters and I kid a little (and sometimes a wee bit more) about our precious mom’s, as we call it, over-marveling. But we know full well how lucky we are to be surrounded — not by any grouses by an 86-year-old about ailments or the heat or poor service or tepid coffee. Instead, we are treated to her cheerful, optimistic observances of often-overlooked details that make up this sweet, sweet earth we call home.

So for icy glasses for chardonnay, for life growing out of concrete cracks, and, of course, for over-marveling…the Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

 

 

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Saying thank you for Sally, thank you for Jezebel

When a person we care about loses a loved one — spouse, parent, pet — our own hearts ache for that loss. They tend to feel as if they’re missing a beat or a piece, or that someone with very strong hands is wringing them out. We can’t quite catch our breath, especially if we, too, knew and loved the one who has died.

Such a loss flashes us back to a time we experienced that very same sort, and we feel the pain as fresh as if it happened yesterday, even though the loss may have been years ago.

This past week, two dear friends had to make the decision to put their beautiful greyhound to sleep. Jezebel was 14 and had been part of their family for a decade. She and her adopted sister Delilah (who passed away a year or so ago) were my friends’ first greyhounds. Between the bookends of Jezebel’s life were dozens more precious pooches. Through the years, some were adopted by loving families; others died. All were beloved…but there’s just something about the first.

Jezebel was, I guess, my first, too: the first greyhound I took for a walk, the first I touched, the first I loved. She had a contagious smile, and probably the softest coat of any dog I’ve ever known.

I came home after telling her goodbye, from burrowing my fingers into her fur for that last time, and found myself crying all over again — for Jezebel, and also for our sweet little Sally, my son Charlie’s first dog, who died eight years ago. Sally was one of the litter born to my parents’ dog Annie, a pregnant young lady when Mom and Dad adopted her at a flea market not long after they had moved to the country.

When Annie’s puppies were ready for a new home, we let Charlie choose one. I’m a sucker for a black and white dog, so was leaning toward Annie’s spotted offspring. But Charlie was adamant: He wanted the black one.

He named her Sally, the name of Spot the dog’s mother in one of his favorite childhood book series. Charlie and Sally grew up together. Juan, Charlie’s dad, took them on walks together until Charlie got too big for a stroller. The summer after Charlie finished ninth grade, Sally just wore out.

When Jezebel died last week, I went back and read the blog post I had written when Sally died. Turns out it was almost exactly eight years to that very day. Please click here to read it.

I cried then and, to be quite honest, am crying now. Jezebel’s death hurts, and Sally’s does all over again. Though maybe (tough as it is to say this) to have loved that fiercely and that eternally is a bittersweet blessing in itself.

So for hearts that are battered but still keep beating…for tears of remembrance…for Sally and Jezebel and all those whose loss may shatter us but whose love keeps us whole…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

 

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Saying thank you, on this first day of a new year, for 7 wishes

One, two, three, four, five, six seven: With each jump over a wave, you make a wish. Photo: Class Adventure Travel

One, two, three, four, five, six seven: With each jump over a wave, you make a wish.
Photo: Class Adventure Travel

I had high hopes for my first run of 2017. But a mile or so into it, good intentions swirled with clumsiness and a cluttered mind, and I kind of lost my momentum and ended up walking much more than I’d intended.

Thus, as much as I reminded myself how lucky I am to move at all (which I truly believe with all my heart), I just wasn’t feeling the joy. To be quite honest, that kind of embarrassed me a little, because I take great pride in gleaning snippets (or, quite often, large chunks) of joy — my Moments of Joy, I call them — from every blessed run. And to be six miles in and feeling a ho-hum heart, well, that was not good at all.

Then I heard Philip Reeves, an NPR reporter, talking about New Year’s Eve in Brazil. Millions of people gather on the Copacabana beach, not only to watch fireworks, but to take part in a tradition: They wade as deep as their ankles into the ocean, and when a wave comes, they jump over it.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven times. With each jump, they  make a wish. It’s a secret — much like blowing out candles on a birthday cake, I guess — but one woman opened up when Reeves talked to her.

“You just went in the water there, and I saw you jumping up and down seven times,” he said. “Do you mind if I ask you – I know it’s a secret, but what generally did you wish for?”

She answered this: “Money, peace, love, hope – everything that I think – that is good.”

Now, hours and hours later, when I remember my run, I remember — not my plodding, not my slightest discomfort, not my trepidation about a new year — but those waves hitting the beach, and the jumps of optimism.

So for love, for peace, for giggles; for the constancy of the ocean, and of our breath, and of the sunrise; for the human spirit that believes in the hope and possibility and promise of a new year — for our very own seven, giddy-with-anticipation wishes — the Grateful Runner says thank you.

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Saying thank you for running toward the sun

sunrise

A week or two ago, while running on one of those Sunday mornings that truly felt like autumn and not merely a summer hanger-on, each turn of a corner and upward glance elicited yet another gasp. Not just whispered in my head or heart, mind you, but said with out-loud awe.

When I saw Edward, the man with the two collies I’ve written about here, I stopped briefly at the corner where our routes intersected to say hello and share my sky ogle.

“It is beautiful,” he agreed. He was heading west and the sun, at this point, was over his shoulder. He glanced behind himself for another peek. “I wish you could have seen the sky the moment the sun came up.”

“Oh my gosh,” I said, following his gaze. “It still seems to have more orange and pink stripes every time I look at it.”

I had taken out the lone earbud I wear when I run so I could talk to Edward. As I got ready to start up again, I put it back in, pausing the slightest of moments to decide which direction to head. I still had plenty of miles to run, so turning east, away from home, made the most sense on a practical level. But even if I’d been closer to meeting my set distance,  I’m all but certain I’d have sneaked in at least a few easterly blocks.

Edward said something to me then, which I didn’t quite understand.  I reached my hand to my ear, slightly moving the earbud aside. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t hear you. What did you say?”

“Run toward the sun,” he said again.

Which is exactly what I did.

So for the soft, spectacular stripes of morning…for a sky that belongs to us all…for running toward the sun…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

 

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Saying thank you for Michael Phelps

michael phelps teary-eyed

I took this while watching Michael Phelps listen to the National Anthem being played yet another time for yet another gold medal. He cried; I cried.

As I have mentioned a time or two (or 37), I am enamored with the Olympic swimmers in general, and  with Michael Phelps in particular. Were I to have streaming across my laptop an ongoing film of him moving through the water, in slow motion or in his usual speediness, I would never close the lid.

But I don’t, so I do. Periodically, though, I do sneak yet another peek at this Under Armour video, which made me cry the first time I saw it, again when I watched it while my son was trying on shoes at the Under Armour store, and every time I’ve seen it since.

When the Olympics swimming competition was underway, I marveled at and was mesmerized by the astounding beauty of the (OK, especially his) human body — that elongated leap of faith into the pool, the grace in every stroke, the culmination of exhausting practices I can’t even begin to fathom.

As a result, on days I rarely ever swim, I’ve felt this compulsion to be lured to the pool; to pull my own body through the water; to stop long enough to let my crazy-fast heart slow down before taking off again; to look at my watch at times with pleasant surprise. It is on a much smaller, much slower, much clumsier scale than what I’ve been watching, but that doesn’t matter. This is my workout, and it makes me happy.

The morning before Michael Phelps’s first evening competition, I swam 62 lengths (of a 25-yard pool, not 50 meters like his) this way: 18 lengths to warm up, resting a minute, then swimming two lengths as fast as I could. Then I swam eight slowly and two quickly, repeating that until I had swum 60 lengths, then added on another speedier two, just for good measure. It was a good swim, and I was tickled at the soreness in my arms.

Two days later, after yet another night pacing my living room floor, jumping up and down as each race ended and — I’m not ashamed to say — wiping away tears, I repeated the workout…this time, 15 seconds faster.

So for the beauty of the human body in motion, for being inspired to do better, and for the combination of those two in the form of Michael Phelps… The Grateful Runner says thank you.

Saying thank you for peaks of courage

chuckles laughing

This is my son Charlie. When he’s not working in food service (which he loves) at YMCA of the Rockies this summer, he’s hiking (which he loves even more). He and I hiked when I was up there in July; in retrospect, our 6-miler probably seemed like a lap around the track would seem to a marathon runner.

But that’s OK. I was tickled to be with him, and I’m even more tickled, in awe, and proud of all the hikes he’s taken and the friendships he’s forged while sharing trails and miles and lunches.

A couple of weeks ago, he climbed Longs Peak — one of Colorado’s famed “14ers” and which, at 14,259 feet, is the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a hike on many a bucket list (not mine, but I digress), one which many people tend to do once and are rightfully satisfied with their accomplishment.

On Monday, Longs will be one of five mountains that Charlie and two friends will climb in what is known as the Grand Slam

“Climbing Longs and its four buttress peaks in one day,” I read just now, “is a five-peak project that will stir sturdy souls.”

I confess that when I think of this soul-stirring adventure he will undertake, the however-many miles he will trek, the heights to which he will go, I have fleeting wishes that he would instead be indulging in a Denny’s kind of Grand Slam. But they are fleeting; I’m much more proud of him doing this than I would be him eating his weight in pancakes and sausage.

Charlie and his two friends plan to start out at 2 a.m. Monday morning. When I talk to him, or in the texts I have sent, this is how I want to appear:

Grand Slam Photo 1

But I am glad he cannot see my face when he reads my words, because I confess to feeling a bit (OK, more than a bit) like this:

Grand Slam Photo 2

But of course I truly am hold-my-breath, heart-palpitation excited for him. In his 22 years, he has visited more countries, experienced more adventures, reached outside his comfort zone, found his way, and bettered the world more times than I ever will. And that makes me more proud than I have words to say.

So for challenges taken; for bravery he probably doesn’t even realize; for beautiful, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring peaks of courage…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

Saying thank you for peaks of courage

chuckles laughing

This is my son Charlie. When he’s not working in food service (which he loves) at YMCA of the Rockies this summer, he’s doing something he loves even more: hiking. He and I hiked when I was up there in July; in retrospect, our 6-miler probably seemed like a lap around the track would seem to a marathon runner.

But that’s OK. I was tickled to be with him, and I’m even more tickled, in awe, and proud of all the hikes he’s taken and the friendships he’s forged while sharing trails and miles.

A couple of weeks ago, he climbed Longs Peak — one of Colorado’s famed “14ers” and which, at 14,259 feet, is the highest peak at Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a hike on many a bucket list (not mine, but I digress), one many people tend to do once and are rightfully satisfied with their accomplishment.

On Monday, Longs will be one of five mountains that Charlie and two friends will climb in what is known as the Grand Slam

“Climbing Longs and its four buttress peaks in one day,” I read just now, “is a five-peak project that will stir sturdy souls.”

I confess that when I think of this soul-stirring adventure he will undertake, the however-many miles he will trek, the heights to which he will go, I have fleeting wishes that he would instead be indulging in a Denny’s kind of Grand Slam. But they are fleeting; I’m much more proud of him doing this than I would be him eating his weight in pancakes and sausage.

Charlie and his two friends plan to start out at 2 a.m. Monday morning. When I talk to him, or in the texts I have sent, this is how I want to appear:

Grand Slam Photo 1

But I am glad he cannot see my face when he reads my words, because I confess to feeling a bit (OK, more than a bit) like this:

Grand Slam Photo 2

But of course I truly am hold-my-breath, heart-palpitation excited for him. In his 22 years, he has visited more countries, experienced more adventures, reached outside his comfort zone more times than I ever will. And that makes me more proud than I have words to say.

So for challenges taken; for bravery he probably doesn’t even see as such; for beautiful, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring peaks of courage…The Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

 

 

 

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Saying thank you for promises kept

Izaic

Izaic Yorks runs the mile in 3:53 on February 27. In his book of loyalty, team trumps individual glory. Thanks to npr.org for the photo, which was shot by Stephen Brashear/Red Box Picture

I just heard the neatest story on NPR that I have to share. Ready to take a deep breath and sigh it out? Which is just what I did; otherwise, I would have started to cry, and I really had other things I needed to be doing rather than blowing my nose.

Here goes.

A young man named Izaic Yorks is a senior on the University of Washington track team. At a meet on February 27, he ran the fastest mile ever for an American student. How fast? 3:53:89.

Let me let that sink in: THREE MINUTES, FIFTY-THREE-POINT-EIGHTY-NINE SECONDS.

Do you have any idea how fast that is? I can’t even comprehend it. Were I to run a mile in twice that time, you’d hear about it. Or maybe I’d be too choked up to get the words out.

Click here to watch him do it.  Look at how people are just milling around, not aware in the slightest of what was happening. Crazy, huh?

As might be expected, Izaic’s win qualified him for a chance at the Olympic trials this summer. But first comes the NCAA college championships in Birmingham this weekend, which of course he’ll win. Right?

No, he won’t, because he isn’t running the mile.

What? Why not? He’s running a relay with his teammates instead.

“That’s what I told these guys I would do,” he says. “And I’m gonna stick to that word.”

Kudos to Coach Greg Metcalf, too, who didn’t try to talk Yorks out of his decision. As he said on NPR, “I’m sitting in my office on Sunday, making our declarations. And I hit the ‘scratch’ button next to Izaic’s name, next to 3:53, I think, ‘Am I the biggest idiot of all time?’ ”

Nope. Pretty smart, I’d say. He knows what matters to Izaics, and truly, what coach doesn’t want his team to be one solid, dedicated unit?

So for the fiercest of loyalty, for teamwork, for promises made and promises kept, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

 

Saying thank you for saying yes

Ellis Island ferry

Late last year, or perhaps early this one, my sister Susan told me she was going to visit her son Paul (my beloved and oldest nephew) in New York the first weekend of February.

“Come with me!” she said. “It’ll be fun, plus the flights are really low.”

So I — someone who takes zero pride in admitting that saying no isn’t difficult for me — said yes, surprising both of us. I bought my Southwest ticket (also admittedly, after prompting on more than one occasion by Susan) and we started watching the weather. Five days before we were to leave, our mom, who is from Brooklyn, called Susan saying she just HAD to go; she just HAD to, and did we mind?

Of course we didn’t. We wanted her to go, and we wanted sister Jeanne to be there, too. But her precious father-in-law had just passed away, so only three of the four Barker girls went.

Our first Friday night flight was cancelled, causing us to miss the play that Susan was giving me for my birthday. But we went standby on a later one and made it safely. Our activities included a jaunt to Ellis Island and to the Tenement Museum (which I hadn’t heard of either) but isn’t this a cool mug I bought there?

NY mug

We even went ice skating in Central Park. I say “we,” but connecting the “me” part of that necessitates air-quotes around “ice skating.” Susan and Paul were much braver than I, though I will say in my slight defense that we had to clear the ice after 30 minutes so the ice could be smoothed out. I was just getting my ice legs when that happened. OK, I was maybe 30 minutes from getting my ice legs when that happened. Or perhaps 45. But…I said yes to putting on those skates.

I’m not going to go into any more details of the trip (mainly because I need to call my mother and ask her to check in her diary to refresh my memory, an activity which will take forever because we’ll start Memory Lane-ing). I will merely say that we laughed a lot, ate delicious food and had a wonderful time.

Just as — if not even more — important was agreeing to go in the first place. Because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been submerged in such mirth and delight, and I would have kicked myself forever.

So for this beautiful country of ours, for experiencing it with those I love more than I can quite possibly express, and for surprising myself for saying yes, The Grateful Runner says thank you.

So for