Spring Ahead

“We say that flowers return every spring, but that is a lie. It is true that the world is renewed.  It is also true that that renewal comes at a price, for even if the flower grows from an ancient vine, the flowers of spring are themselves new to the world, untried and untested.  The flower that wilted last year is gone. Petals once fallen are fallen forever.  Flowers do not return in the spring, rather they are replaced.  It is in this difference between returned and replaced that the price of renewal is paid.  And as it is for spring flowers, so it is for us.”  – Daniel Abraham, The Price of Spring

Wall

We moved the clocks ahead last weekend, a curious modern ritual designed to maximize daylight time and save energy.  We call it “springing ahead”, in the hope and anticpation of spring renewal.  And it has been a long cold winter; I am looking forward to sunshine and warmer temperatures and the reds and yellows and pinks of blooms and birds to chase away the blues of winter.  I am looking for the promise of renewal. 

But we also “lost” and hour, the cost of daylight savings.  For anyone who has experienced loss, it is a reminder that time is our most precious gift.  How much time have I “lost” from living as I grapple with issues of grieving and try to balance all of my new responsibilities?  It seems that life moves at warp speed now, but nothing gets done, and the time for just “being”, for just living, is non-existent…there is always too much to do and not enough hours to do them.  I am overwhelmed and exhausted.

I cannot believe it has been over eight months, and I have not done thank you notes, or designed and ordered a tombstone, or cleaned out the cupboards of pink razors or the cabinets of unnecessary medical supplies, or the refrigerator of bottles of Ensure.  A girls bike still leans against the garage wall, flat tires and rusty chain; what good is a bike without its rider?  And no girls live here anymore…

And the siding still has holes in it, the roof is still missing shingles, the car has still not passed inspection or been replaced, and the taxes have not been started…

I need a small symbol of progress, a distraction from duty, something to focus on and to see through to completion, as an antidote to the slow nibbles at my bigger issues that never seem to get any closer, like the mountains so far off in the distance.  A Groupon email advertises canvas photo prints, 83% off, and it sparks an idea.  Deb was the interior designer, she did a great job, and had the time to put into doing a good job.  But one wall remains sparse, and I want to make it mine.  So in between spreadsheet updates and chores, while running or running the kids to the dentist, I plot my wall…

The pictures are chosen carefully – the two biggest are the 16×20 canvas photos.  The first is my favorite photo from my solo rafting, biking, hiking adventure in the Escalante.  It was taken after I had a scare that I wouldn’t be able to complete the trip; but I made it through the doubts to emerge to a scene of breathtaking beauty and accomplishment.  It is a reminder that I am strong and can handle challenges.  The second canvas photo is of the Light in Zion, breaking through the overcast and setting the canyon walls on fire – a symbol of my promise to live more from the heart.  Next is a smaller picture of an incredible sunset we enjoyed as a family from Joshua Tree National Park, the best family vacation we had, and a reminder of Deb and our good times and the joy of family togetherness.  There is also a picture of the stunning sunrise I enjoyed with the boys from our recent trip to Arizona, and the promise of better days to come for the three of us.  The final  picture is a close up of the scarlet blooms of the claret cup cactus, a reminder that even in the thorny and barren desert there is beauty; it all depends on where you choose to focus.  And in the middle of my medley are candles to light the way when things seem dark.

I am happy when it is complete.  I finish it late one night, after the kids are in bed; they don’t even notice it in the morning.  Nor will most guests notice it, it is not that big of a deal – to them.  But it means a lot to me; it is a symbol, however small, of moving forward, to not look at the top of the mountains that stand in front of me, but to focus on the next small steps.

I would like to just stop right here and enjoy my accomplishment, however small, but normal life collapses in on me.  No hot water for two days, my muffler falls off, boy #1 get suspended (again) and needs braces, the shower is leaking, the gutters are falling off, and my database doesn’t work.  Sigh.   The small accomplishment of my wall quickly seems so long ago and insignificant…
 
And so it is that before “daylight savings time” there was light on the horizon as I pedaled home from the gym or from a run in the mornings, and there was even the first birdsong of the season by the time I had finished my prayers and meditation.  Hope for the renewal of spring was visible!  Then we “lost’ an hour, and it is back to pitch dark again, and the progress towards spring has been set back; it will take another 5 weeks before the sun is on the horizon again.
 
But even in the dark, I can feel spring coming.  When I return to to the house and pass my wall, there is an internal smile and a bit of pride in my accomplishment.  Baby steps, for sure, but at least it is springing ahead…
 
“I realized, it is not the time that heals, but what we do within that time that creates positive change.” – Diane Dettmann, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal
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I Am a Slow Walker

“Perseverance is the act of true role models and heroes.” ― Liza M. Wiemer

 rockysteps

There’s a famous scene in “Scent of a Woman” where Al Pacino bellows in defense of Charlie that he’s “not a snitch!”  While that’s the line that’s remembered, there is much more that the blind and flawed Mr. Slade said that is important.

Pacino’s Slade didn’t defend Charlie’s actions; “I don’t know if Charlie’s silence here today is right or wrong; I’m not a judge or jury.”  But he went on to give an impassioned speech about crossroads; about the integrity with which Charlie chose his actions; about how he chose the right path because of his character; and about how he followed that path, no matter the obstacles or the pain, because of his courage.

In the age of Honey Boo-boo and Jersey Shore, it’s hard to find real integrity, character and courage. Do what feels right, what is easy, what causes the least amount of discomfort and can be done with the least amount of effort, that’s what we’re shown.

But that’s not what we want to teach our children; we want them to stand on principles of integrity, character and courage when they are on their own at their own crossroads.  Where will we find role models to teach us this?

We overlook so often what is right in front of us; we don’t recognize everyday heroes because they don’t get a silver screen platform.  Often times they are hidden in the back, at the end of a race, when the winners and flashy runners have long since passed and most others have already crossed the finish line and are celebrating, and only the clean-up crew remains.

Life is not easy.  There are moments of brilliance and beauty, but mostly life is a struggle.  And it is how we handle these struggles that define us, not how we react when things are good and easy.

So it is that most people did not notice the small framed middle-aged woman with the sparkly blue eyes as she limped across the finish line, four hours after starting and long after most of the 21,200 runners had finished the Disney Half Marathon.  There was no fanfare or dramatic music, no celebration, no congratulations from Mickey, just finally, tears of relief that it was over.

She knew she was injured, though she didn’t know to what extent; but she’d learn later that she suffered a stress fracture in her left tibia, probably early in the race.

The pain started at mile two. It “felt like someone was hitting my shin with a sledgehammer, a sharp, shooting pain. It dulled when it wasn’t weight bearing, but didn’t go away, so the pain was constant.”  Understand that this was a constant pain for eleven miles.

Certainly working hard, working through pain, to achieve a goal, is noble.  We all have our thresholds, and we all have to decide on our own when to stop.  But we are inspired by those who push on through the pain that we know we couldn’t endure.  We cry along with the Olympic sprinter who crosses the finish line with his arms around his dad’s shoulders after tearing a hamstring, and we applaud Rocky raising his fist in victory with his eye bloodied shut, and we are appreciative every night of Edison’s drive to find a filament that worked after thousands of failures.

But we don’t understand what sort of character we need to overcome physical pain.  Perhaps Lance Armstrong can help: “Pain is temporary.  It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place.  If I quit, however, it lasts forever.  That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me.  So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with?”  Certainly this heroic Disney runner can empathize with Lance, wanting to achieve the goal she worked and trained so hard for.

But what keeps you going when you know you can stop, when you know its okay to give up?  What kind of character and mental fortitude can overcome the excoriating pain of 11 miles on a broken leg?  That can only come from the depth of the human spirit and a love of life honed by weathering the worst life can throw at you.

Certainly Lance understood this, his own life threatened by a formidable foe in testicular cancer. You only live once, so grab the bull by the horns, and fight with everything you’ve got.

But you don’t need to have your own life threatened to understand this.  Life is not fair, either, and our injured runner had just competed in the longest and hardest marathon of her life.  Primary caregiver to a terminally ill spouse is an especially cruel sentence, especially when the disease is messy, the lives are young, and other young lives hang in the balance.

There is no amount of training or preparing you can do to negotiate a challenge like that; there is only one way to face it – head on.  Your world is turned upside down, your dreams inside out, everything you know is irrelevant now, and you are forced into the terrifying world of chemotherapy, PET/CAT scans, and cell counts, while trying to come to grips with the horror that you’ll have to navigate this while still trying to be a mother, housecleaner, grocery shopper, full time employee, bill payer, house maintainer, and wife to a husband who is sick.  In the dark of night, sanity seems as distant as sleep, and the nightmares collapse all around you.

But you get up everyday, and you move forward.  Sometimes it is one day at a time, sometimes its one hour at a time, and sometimes you curl up in a ball and cry when no one is looking.  Sometimes the unfairness of it all makes you angry, sometimes you just want to escape, to fly away and forget it all, for just a little while.  But always, you just push on, you just keep going, despite the pain.  You teach yourself to be numb, to just keep going through the pain and disappointment and frustration; just keep going, it is all you can do.

And so maybe running on a broken leg isn’t that bad.  Think about those who were close to you battling cancer, how much harder it was for them. Think of their courage, their inspiration, their desire for just one more day, no matter the challenges and pain, think of their courage in climbing to the top of a lighthouse or accompanying the family on a vacation when the body is deteriorating. Think about those who survive terrible disasters like tsunamis or earthquakes, against all odds; think about those who inspire us, those who overcame more.

And give thanks to those who love us, those who support us, the strangers who offer kind and encouraging words, the trees for their shade and life giving oxygen, the friends who have been there unfailingly, the family there to lean on, and to God, for lifting us up, for carrying us through the darkest days, through the pain, and back to the Light. Just keep moving forward, and don’t think about the pain, one step at a time…

Many will lob criticism that she should have stopped running and gotten medical attention sooner.  Perhaps.  But like Pacino’s Slade, I don’t know if her continuing on was right or wrong, and nor will I judge; she made a decision to press on, to finish, to achieve her goal, pain be damned. Her reasons were true and genuine and noble, her character and integrity whole and intact, and her courage, learned through life’s hardest lessons, was on magnificent full display for the whole world to see.  And that impresses the hell out of me, right or wrong.

And so this tiny woman, all 110 pounds of her, carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, bearing a heart still heavy with loss, the worries of single parenthood and demands of full time employment, crosses the finish line, number 20,823 out of 21, 222.  But she finished.

She said she only cried twice; first, when she realized she wouldn’t cross the finish line with her daughter and friends, with whom she trained for so long and for so hard, through busy schedules and freezing cold.  And then at the end, when it was finally over.

Nobody notices her tears when she finally limps to the bus and lets her guard down. But they should. For heroes aren’t just on the big screen, they just might be sitting right there next to you on the bus or tucking you in to bed at night.

“I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.” ― Abraham Lincoln