Crunch Time

It’s overcast and drizzly this morning and I am taking a break from organizing my massive to-do list to pause. Justin’s last shift here in Texas is a week from tomorrow and we will drive away from this little temporary home a few days later. Our departure has come upon me suddenly despite our extra month here, and I seem to be in “crunch time” for all sorts of things I’ve meant to figure out and finish over these last weeks. We’ve had plenty of time, really, but here we are, once again scrambling and likely to leave a few loose ends untied.

Maybe this is simply how all things work. Perhaps this is the story of our lives, this putting off because we feel like there will be more time “later.” And when the end arrives, it always takes us by surprise, leaves us with unfinished business we’d intended to get to “one of these days.” I can live with that…to an extent. If we don’t finish sorting through a few items that got randomly tossed into the camper, or nail down our plans to add solar to our camper before next week, or even fail to figure out a route out of Texas before we begin driving, I’m not too worried. 

It’s the putting off of the big things: the dreams we are timidly waiting to begin, the damaged relationships we intend to repair when it’s not quite so complicated, the attention we’ll give to our spouse/child/pet/self-care “just as soon as ____ gets done” that worries me. The big endings that might catch me unaware. They hide around corners and jump out just when we get complacent, you know.

And isn’t this the whole point of why we’re doing this whole live-out-of-a-tiny-camper-and-move-every-three-months thing? Isn’t this putting off of the things that matter the precise habit we are attempting to break? Isn’t this one big ol’ attempt not to delay the dream we share of seeking place and experience and breathtaking beauty while we attend to the minutia of daily life, allowing it to eat our days, weeks, years…lives?

Isn’t life always in “crunch time”? 

I suspect so. The power there is that when we operate in that way, it becomes just a little easier to separate the important from the urgent, doesn’t it? When I only have a week to finish everything, the “it would be nice” items start getting chucked off the end of my to-do list unapologetically and I’m left with only what is most important to me. For me in this moment, it is gleaning every last minute of time with my Mom and brother here in this place they call home. I will let the solar panels and website updates and camper-sorting wait so that I don’t miss these last days with them in a flurry of to-dos that won’t really matter so much in the long run. The power of “crunch time” is that, if we choose to pause in our momentary panic, our “oh shit…how am I going to get it all done?” frenzy, it can be a place for real clarity. 

I’m grateful for that clarity right now. And for the flexibility that I’ve been learning over these last 9 months or so. We don’t know where our next assignment is yet, so we don’t know where exactly we’ll be pointing this little camper of ours in a week or so. But that’s okay. I’m learning that it will be just fine, crunch time and all.

Unknowable

I’m working on a personal project right now that has to do with my family’s history. It revolves around a family incident that happened when my mother was barely out of toddlerhood, a tragedy that changed the trajectory of, well, everything really. 

When I sat down and began writing, I had this image in my mind of who each of the players were. I began to sketch out these people I knew, my grandmother and my grandfather, people whose expressions and voices were so familiar to me. It didn’t take long, however, before I remembered what we all have some basic awareness of: that knowing someone and knowing someone are hardly the same thing.

I was struck by all that I don’t know, all that will forever remain a mystery now that they are gone. The grandmother that I knew was a woman in her 50s and 60s, long-since divorced, forty years after the incident I’m writing about. The grandmother that I’ve heard about through my own mother is someone else entirely. And the woman who married at 17, the one before her husband went off to be damaged in the way only war can damage a person, the one who had yet to lose her children…who was she? Where do I find her? Hidden in the shy smiles in old photographs? In the words of love scribbled on the backs of photos shipped off to her man in uniform gallantly serving overseas? And what of that man? Who was he before the war, before the guilt and the loss and the heartbreak? He’d already known hardship and trauma by the time they married, but isn’t there some kind of inherent hope in the mere act of matrimony? A belief that the two of you can build something new, something strong and fresh together? When did that hope die, exactly? Somewhere in the rubble he photographed in Hiroshima, or did it suffer its final death throes alongside his son?

We live our lives surrounded by our loved ones, parents and grandparents and siblings and sometimes aunts and uncles and cousins and lifelong friends. We spend decades saying goodnight to a beloved partner or our children and we can so easily forget that knowing their voices and precisely how their eyes scrunch up at the corners when they smile, or what their favorite song is or how they take their coffee is different from knowing them. Is it even possible to really know another human? Hell, it feels nearly impossible most days to be truly honest in my knowing of myself. So I suppose not. 

But isn’t that such a beautiful mystery? The slew of tiny memories and hidden corners and buried treasure hidden within each of us? To be able to spend a lifetime next to those we love and discover newness and uncharted depth within their hidden realms? We are all such messy swirls of dark and light, such untidy tapestries full of the pinprick holes made by the small hurtful words and little rejections, of the tears created when our hearts are ripped by pain, of the stitches where kind words landed at just the right moment or our love was reflected in another’s eyes or a forest showed us how to begin to mend ourselves. For every piece of ourselves that we share with the world, there are an infinite number that never see the light of day, that live within us weaving the complex beings that we are. 

To recognize our inability to know or be known is to recognize that each person holds within them a magical mystery, an infinity of possibility. This we have in common, this each of us shares. I do not know where your ragged edges might be frayed, or when my hasty words might add girth to what had been only a pinprick hole, so I will do my best to tread carefully and with compassion. I will do my best to truly see you and treat you as the wondrous enigma, the boundless promise, the unknowable and undoubtedly flawed human that you are, that we all are.

Some small bits can be gleaned from faded sepia photographs and handwritten scrawl. Some bits can be inferred from empathy and attention to what is said between the words. But I will never know who my grandmother was, not the 17 year old and not the 63 year old whose voice I can still hear clearly after all these years without her. I will never know my mother or my sweet husband or my dearest friends. Their innermost selves will remain always out of reach, sparkling starry skies full of infinite galaxies, always a mystery, always a wonder.

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Lately...

...we've been soaking in this springtime sunshine and forcing time to slow down to our pace...

Thoughts From My Run

With each step, more falls away…comparisons, anxieties, old stories that just don’t serve. There is just this next step, and then this one. Air pumps in and air pumps out and breathing becomes part of the work. There is nothing but the trail, the trees, the late evening light, and one foot following the other. This is what freedom looks like. 

As I travel the road, it can be difficult to feel grounded and connected to place, but the trails and the feel of my body in motion bring me home over and over again. Sometimes the trail is lined with magnificent trees and sometimes with feisty cactus, but whether it is snow or sand or stone underfoot, there is always a familiarity, a path I know. 

In this season in Maine, far away from where I stand now, the trees are without their “cover,” without the leaves that so often mark their beauty. As I run,  my own cover disappears, and I am laid bare before myself and there can be no secrets within me. I am free, but freedom comes with truth and truth comes with responsibility. Will I try to once again hide or will I find my courage, will I remain naked and feel the elements as they rake along my exposed self? I dig for that courage. I yearn to be brave. To embrace movement over stasis.

It is so often implied that to run is to run from. But what if I am running toward? It is toward that propels me on, that calls me to continue. It is toward that gives me the space to look back at from and see it as a friend. Hello, friend, it’s so good to see your sweet smile.

If you aren't following Terry Cockburn yet, be sure to check out what she's up to...runner, yogi, teacher, I assure you that she can inspire you in a million ways large and small! I routinely refer to her yin sequences to keep me running injury-free and her Running On Insight posts to keep me motivated. I have the coolest clients EVER.

A Little More Time

The groundhog saw his shadow and we have 6 more weeks of Texas...

So we’ve had a small change of plans (a delay of plans, really) and extended our time here in Texas for a few more weeks. A combination of circumstances led us here- my Mom broke her foot and could use a hand, a lot of next assignments were coming up in dream locations that are still a little too cold for our camper (frozen, cracked water lines and tanks = zero fun, no matter how much I want to be in Whitefish, MT), and an extension offer from the hospital just all seemed to fall into place and we are not inclined to argue with the universe when she pulls things together for us like this!

We are just over three months into this journey (nine if you consider our “start” when we sold our house and moved into the camper last July…which feels more like the real beginning even if it was another six months before we actually left Maine) and if there is one thing that I’ve realized is absolutely key to staying remotely sane, it’s learning to be flexible. Every day includes the unexpected and rolling with it is pretty much non-negotiable. I certainly have my moments of frustration (oh, do I ever), but I’m learning that most of the time, that frustration is simply a waste of energy, energy that could be better spent creating a solution or recognizing the benefits of whatever the unplanned turn of events might be.

So we will be here through the end of April now. That leaves me a little more time with my Mom and my brother. A little more time to continue working my way into better running shape (and climbing shape, and fly-fishing shape, and all-around outdoor-fun shape). A little more time to soak in the Texas spring and the bounty of wildflowers that have so suddenly arrived to call in the season. To investigate the pockets of wild space that the Hill Country has to offer and reconnect with some old friends I haven’t seen in more than a decade. A little more time to work on our backpacking-with-Tessie dilemma and dream over an open atlas. Time to taste the local beers and eat fresh guacamole at the picnic table under string lights and enjoy the breeze as the sun sets in this big ol’ sky. 

So often over the course of our lives, we wish for just a little more time. Time to pause, time to linger, time to slow down just a bit. We weren’t expecting extra time here in Texas, but this is where we’ve been granted it, so we’ll take it with gratitude and say thank you and make the most of its gifts. We’ll bask in this sunshine and feel the spring sun on our faces and take a deep breath, then another, and then another after that. Because we can.

Because we have just a little more time. 

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The Last of Thirtysomething

This week I enter the final year of my thirties. It's oddly surprising to find myself here at the end of my fourth decade of life, to suddenly realize that my next birthday will begin a new decade and that I am firmly in the center of what is commonly referred to as "mid-life."

I am not dismayed by age or aging. Perhaps I would be more saddened by the lines around my eyes or the bits of sag here and there that seem to arrive overnight had cancer not strode so boldly into my life at an age when I still believed myself invincible and that time was something that stretched out luxuriously before me with no end in sight. Perhaps there are survivors out there that lament the grey at their temples or the softness that doesn't disappear with an extra run or two, but I've never met one. I am, inherently, deeply grateful for each trip around the sun I am granted, each year that I am given to work toward the potential I carry within me, to strive to grow and stretch just a little more and perhaps even put some small beauty back into this world that has given me so much.

Like so many others, I was deeply moved by Amy Krause Rosenthal's open letter published recently in the New York Times (if you haven't read it yet, grab some tissues and go read it now, I'll wait right here).  Her writing is that perfect combination of poignant, self-effacing, humorous, and brutally honest that every person who desires to put words on paper aspires to and this letter had me snot-crying by the halfway point. It struck me for the 875 millionth time that cancer is a fucking rat bastard thief and that, in this particular case, it stole not only this woman's future dreams and plans, this husband's partner, these children's mother, but it stole this amazing voice from the world. Fuck cancer.  I don't mean that in cutesy hashtag form, I mean FUCK cancer.  Fuck it.  

But I digress. In addition to being so very moved and in awe of this woman, her letter did what every story of someone stolen by cancer does, especially when it's ovarian cancer. It reminded me that I'm damn lucky to have survived, and that my body carries within it a lurking murderer who may, at any time, choose to steal my future and my husband's partner the way it stole my ability to be a mother. In his book Half Empty, David Rakoff says about remission, "The assurances are momentary, at best half comforting, like being told 'That's not a man in your room. It's just your clothes draped over the back of a chair casting a shadow, see? However, there IS, actually, an insane, knife wielding murderer loose in the neighborhood. G'night.'" Seriously. Did I mention fuck cancer?

So birthdays. Birthdays aren't lamented by me and neither is aging. I am so grateful to have made it nearly four decades and I am not beyond begging the universe for four more in any way that might get the message through. I love being alive and I love the incredible mess that being alive entails. 

I also feel the way I think most people feel as they get older, a bit surprised at how the time has passed, at the disparity between the self in my mind and the one in the mirror, to realize that if I'm lucky enough to get forty more years, I'm somehow already halfway through my precious time. And I find how others perceive my age utterly fascinating.  In a class I took in January, I was patronizingly asked by an early twenty-something if I knew what a smartphone was, and then ten minutes later, I was told by a dismissive sixty-something that I was too young to really "get it" yet. Apparently I am both too old AND too young to know anything worthwhile. Hilarious. 

All of this rambling to say what? To say that, holy crap...I made it to 39, y'all! I am here and I am breathing and I am, in this sweet moment, free from diseases that want to kill me. I will celebrate this gift of time and of years, of life and of lessons, of mistakes and of mess. I will bow my head in humble gratitude knowing that I did not earn them, that I was not more special or more deserving than those who did not make it this far. I will go forth in this final year of this whirlwind decade of my life and I will do everything I can to inch toward the exceptional human I know is inside of me (as is inside of us all). I will do my very best to bring more love and laughter and forgiveness and compassion and courage and beauty into this world that at times can feel broken. I will lift up others so that we might all rise together. I will reach and I will fail and I will get up and reach again.

And I will live. Loudly and without apology, I will live.

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We've been doing a bit of bouldering recently and have been loving Bull Creek Park along Austin's famed Greenbelt...