I hate running. Really hate it. It feels alien to my body and I’m always short of breath. At the same time I love it. I forget how great it makes me feel afterward. Like my husband says it feels so good when you stop. I also forget the realizations you have while running. Your body, your breath is struggling, your mind is focused on the struggle so it frees itself and all these realizations come rushing in.
I love those realizations, but fear them too, because usually they pick me up out of my complacent little slot in the world and throw me somewhere else. Inevitably after a run I’ll have to actually DO some major life-altering thing because while I was chuffing along I realized no, I actually didn’t want to have kids. So what now?
I’ll never forget that cold, foggy morning in Pittsburgh running around the reservoir near the zoo, listening to the lions roar their disapproval in the dawn and realizing that no, I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore. That Vietnam-humid summer morning when I realized I hated my job in fundraising. I wanted to write. That other morning when the first warm breath of Spring was in the air and the first green buds appeared when I realized how very much I loved my husband, my dog, my life. Tears rolled down in gratitude when I also realized I didn’t have to do anything with that realization. I just had to feel it for awhile. Then remember what it felt like when times were bad.
This afternoon as the sun set and the last of the trees hit their fire-red peak while others gently let go of their leaves without a sound, I realized much to my horror that I was living my mother’s life. All my life I’ve fought against it. When she wanted me to be a ballerina I balked. When she wanted me to keep studying violin I yelled. I hated cooking. And I absolutly HATED……….running. She ran marathons. I cheered her on from the sidelines. She urged me to run and I complained. I would NEVER run. I’m fifteen dammit! I know everything!
Now at 43, I’m learning to love running. And I’m a freelance food writer which means I cook a great deal. I bake a great deal. And I love it. The realization, the irony of it all was not lost as I tried in vain to make it up our neighborhood’s giant hill. But as I ran down the other side I also realized, if I was living Momma’s life, did that also mean I had to live all of it?
While I’ve been struggling with my identity the past year, what it means to be a writer, to finally do what I’m supposed to do, what it means to not have kids, what it means to be this person I find myself to be, I’ve also been struggling with an unknown, un-named fear. It lurks off to the side and I find myself preparing for it. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll be ready for it when it gets here. I lift weights, I run. I meditate. I pray. I write. All in an effort to get strong for whatever this fear could be.
My mother, in her 40’s, was violently attacked in her home. They never found the guy and even though we all urged her to get counseling she never did. She insisted she was strong enough. She kept running. But she also started drinking. And at 49 she crashed her car into a tree. Ten years of brain trauma followed, until at 59 she died within 3 months of being diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
Now certainly there were happy memories in those years, and I don’t mean to come off all Anne Sexton-confessional, but this was my realization today. I don’t fear living my mother’s life. But I do fear that part of it. If I’m living my mother’s life, does it mean I have to live it all? Facing that kind of mountain makes me very afraid indeed.
I can hear my mother insisting that I’m silly, this is my life. Not hers. Of course I can make different choices. All I know is this running realization rushing in to my brain today stopped me cold. It made me cry. And I swear to God if I make it to 50 with all my body parts and my mental faculties intact I’ll be very grateful indeed. Hell, I’m grateful right now. For a lot of things. But today mostly for running. Because with every step I’m letting shit go.
Running to me is “selah” meaning I stop. And I listen.