Running.

I had the crappiest Christmas ever. Did that get your attention? Let me back up. Okay, it was far from the crappiest. The fact that phrase is even coming out of my mouth makes me think of some spoiled tween crying in her lipgloss because she didn’t get the High School Musical doll she wanted. It wasn’t *that* bad, just felt that bad.

Believe me, I am truly blessed. With a loving husband, an adoring dog, a warm house. A car that runs. And the ability to run. Which is maybe why the holidays felt so shitty. Because I was running. I never stopped running. I’m the kind of person who likes to BREATHE, to stop and notice things, the chickadee outside my window, the smell of burning wood coming out a chimney.

But the whole month of December I was running. And not in a good way. Not in a way where I felt I was growing stronger with every step. We got an offer on the old Pittsburgh house (FINALLY) and so most of Christmas week was spent trying to find a notary who was still working, in addition to running to the store to buy and make all of the things I thought I should buy and make because the holiday says you’re supposed to. Then run BACK to the store when I remembered more things I thought I needed.

This year my husband and I both ran frantically because we got the offer on the house 12/2, the prospective owners wanted the inspection and all the improvements done by the closing on 12/31, then decided to move it up a week to 12/23. Huh? All month I felt like a kid watching one of those penny machines where you put your money in and turn the wheel – faster and faster to see the guy on the bicycle with the really big front wheel. Circa 1905. Maybe if you turn the crank fast enough he’ll crash. I wasn’t in this life. I was just watching myself going Christmas crazy in a movie. Every time I looked in a mirror I looked like something out of “Baby Jane” only worse.

I ran to work and back too, keeping late hours in order to “Part the Red Sea” before all the faculty left for their holidays. Why is *this* the time when all your bosses want miracles? Just because the Christ child is born we all have to perform virgin births by the Monday before Christmas? All of a sudden they desperately need their reimbursement money when the receipts for these conference trips have been lying crumpled in their pockets for months. Now they need the money, and right away. So they can run too. Run to the store for things nobody needs. Because the holiday deems it so.

The holidays deem that we run. Run to get a tree. Run to put up lights. Curse the whole time when the lights don’t work or the extension cord isn’t long enough. Run to buy another extension cord. Run to decorate that overpriced tree or what’s the point, because you’ll just have to take it all down again. Before January 5th I hear, or it’s bad luck the whole year. Who comes up with this shit anyway?

Run to wrap everything too. As a kid I remember wrapping gifts in the back seat of our family car on the way to Grandma’s. It was a race to see whether we’d arrive with beautifully stacked arrangements of be-ribboned presents, or just a bunch of white boxes with the price tags still on them.

“Who are these gifts for anyway Momma?” I asked once, pulling tape strips off the dispenser as fast as my pudgy little hands could go.

“Why, they’re yours dear.”

Wait a minute. You mean, I’m running, rushing to wrap my own damn gifts before we get to Grandma’s? Huh? Why? What is all this protocol for anyway? Who is it for? What are we trying to prove?

Trust me, I know the only person making me run is myself. I can hear you out there, I really can. As Artie Lange says, “Waaaaaaaah!” You got on offer on your house – “Waaaaaaaah!” You’ve got a job – “Waaaaaaaaah!” You’ve got a house to decorate and money to buy lights and gifts – “Waaaaaaah!” Trust me, I know I’m whining. Because I’m just so tired of running. Of running when there is no POINT. No purpose. No sort of meaning to the run itself. What am I trying to prove and who am I proving it to? It’s almost as if I’ve set myself up in this race to present the perfect Thomas Kinkade Christmas scene and no matter how hard I “run” I still can never win. It won’t ever be good enough. Or perfect enough. And even if it was, what do I win in this race? Nothing.

And you can only run so far in this kind of race before your mind, body, or both give out. For me it happened while decorating the tree. I broke my favorite ornament. Smashed into a gazillion pieces. I broke it and it was like I hit the wall during a marathon. Everything stopped. I was running to get the tree decorated before Christmas Eve. If it’s not done by Christmas Eve, it doesn’t count, you see. Not in perfect Christmasland.

I was tying it to a branch extra tight because I didn’t want it to break. And in my carefulness, I was careless. It slipped through my fingers and was just gone. Shattered in a milisecond. A beautiful sphere created out of hand-blown Czech glass bought at Neiman Marcus when I was young and single and could blow that kind of money on something so extraordinarily beautiful. It was a foolish purchase, extravagant, completely illogical. And I didn’t care. I just loved looking at it. Thin as an eggshell. Big as a grapefruit – so big you had to hold it in two hands. And etched all over with tiny triangles and flowers. I had just gotten my first adult paying job and that year wanted a grownup, fancy tree. This ornament represented what I thought was something really refined, and really classy. Like I had finally arrived. And now it was gone. An hour later I was still brushing its fine powdery shards off my face.

When it happened, I just swept up the pieces. It is, after all, just a thing. Just a piece of glass I used to cherish bringing out each year and feel proud I could have on my tree. And I do still have a picture of it at the top of this entry. And the memory of buying it, feeling proud that I could. But people change. I know things don’t make you who you are. I didn’t know that at 22.

But breaking something I *thought* was so precious made me stop running. And think. It made me realize when you run with no purpose, you lose things. You break things. Not to get too corny, but you forget things too, and they slip through your fingers.

My friend Melissa has been encouraging me to run recently. But with purpose. She has a beautiful daughter named Sara with CHARGE Syndrome and wants to develop a way to raise money through running – for research and to help those families who can’t afford the expensive lifetime care these children need. I’m helping her brainstorm some things. I write a little (sheepish grin) and I used to work in development. It’s exciting, and feels right, but scary too because the form is there, but no image yet. Like connecting dots to a picture you can’t see.

Talking with Melissa made me think of The Harvey Family, and Ruby’s Run. You want to see some running with purpose? Go look at this slideshow from the 2008 Ruby’s Run event, held each November. Look at the earnestness and pride on these children’s faces. The steadfastness and joy in their running. It gave me back something I had broken. It made me wish I had taken all the money I spent on ornaments and lights and god knows what other crap and just given it to these kids. It made me want to bake a huge plate of cookies and wait at the finish line. It made me want to do all that and more for Sara. Now that’s some Christmas running I could get into.

Looking at the images made me feel alive again. The pointlessness was gone. The lack of purpose vanished. The whinyness was gone. Get off your ass Libby. Rather than complaining about how things are, change how you react to them. Do something. Real running *is* work. Purposeless running just feels like it.

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