Moving Forward by Leaning In
As I crested mile 11.5 of 14 this morning, I crossed through home base- Harvard Yard- and I knew I was almost home free. Just two miles and some change to go. Then, much like many moments along the prior 11.5 miles, I found pause. The Yard was the most populated I have seen it in eighteen months. I stopped to ask three young women if they, the students, had finally begun to move back.
They told me they were new campus ministry affiliates who had just arrived in Cambridge this month. Much like me every time I pass through, they were kind of giddy–awe struck to be spending a Saturday morning camped out in the colorful chairs littering the infamous lawn.
At first glance, they looked as though they might have some local intel. I knew they were not tourists (…who were otherwise gathered around the John Harvard statue or gazing at the buildings as they passed through the student’s front yard). No, the tourists don’t typically sit in those chairs–they seem to inherently know they are not really invited to the party but are certainly welcome to breeze through and snap a few pics along the way.
I run through Harvard Yard multiple times a week. On my watch, the chairs have essentially remained empty these last few months–until today. The students begin to arrive in waves on August 20th, they told me, up through Labor Day weekend. All of Harvard in town again at the same time; I can’t even remember what that feels like.
I hope they are vaccinated, I told them.
That chat lasted, oh I don’t know how long. I paused my tracking watch once we started to talk. And we did, leisurely and joyfully, connect in a conversation about the importance of, well, connecting and how we’ve come face to face with that these last two years. Maybe we will do more of it, we all said, in healthier ways than we did before–you know “before.”
Then we compared notes on the co-ops we all now inhabit and how that way of connected living is meeting us at all these needs-based-places that seem to make space for so much more in our lives. I’m not sure how long we talked. I do know it provided the boost to finish the last two+ miles through home base and back to home free where I was greeted by smiling-faced housemates, in a home I only partially clean, a kitchen full of healthy groceries only 1/5 of which I purchased–and a jetted bathtub waiting for my tired legs! Communal living can have it’s perks, for sure.
This chat was the punctuation on what can only be described as a stop-and-start 14 mile training run. I am preparing for the 2021 Boston Marathon, now slated for October 11th. I got out of the gate strong this morning. My body felt good. I consistently found shade, which coupled with a slight breeze kept me cool, enough. My body felt great, the whole day really. My bones, joints, muscles, core, and the all important running legs stayed strong and generally happy
Around mile five, it started. I became overwhelmed by this old familiar pain that seemed immovably held in my gut. Apparently some amount of hidden agony was resting just below the surface of my psyche because my body just did not have much bandwidth to punch through it this week.
This is not an altogether new trend. Last Saturday, I ended up in a park bench breathing deeply while resting my hands on my chest and stomach, as I have been trained to do when my C-PTSD starts to send my body into panic mode. That day a sweet couple felt compelled to stop and ask if I needed help–and circle back to me a couple of times, unsatisfied with my “I’ll be ok. It’s not my body. It’s just emotional” response. I love it when compassion centered people know how to read between the lines.
This week, as I took rest on someone’s doorstep, again waiting for my connected sense of self to land squarely back in my body, I thought of that couple. Just as quickly, I thought of all my people–the ones who would just love to be passing me at that very moment to extend a helpful heart and hand. Ah, the precious split second moment when we realize we are loved instead of giving into the pain that is trying to commandeer all our energy. That was this moment.
In the absence of their physical presence, I took to social media, posting a tear-stained photo of my running-geared-up self with a request for support. I had eight miles to go and was stuck on a stoop. Then, as if the greater universe heard my call, connection started coming from every angle.
As I rounded the corner in Central Square, someone screamed out “Get it girl! I’m far too lazy.” I raised my arms high in appreciation and we shared a good laugh. Each time I slowed to a walk, I checked my phone, and there they were–my peeps–with a like or a comment or a text. By the time I reached mile nine, I suddenly gravitated towards a park bench seat along the Charles River. I thought I might be done for the day. Suddenly, a running buddy texted, told me of her struggles this week too, and said that next week we would run together.
Together. That was what I needed.
With her spirited phone message tucked in my water bottle pocket, I took off towards home. All along Mass Ave people started to talk to me: “I used to run, my hip gave out. Run this one for me” and “Our daughter keeps needing to take breaks from her bike riding too. It’s a hot one today, take care of yourself.” I ran past my church, my watering holes, and into Harvard Square.
In between that first post and the leisurely collegiate chat, I paused a lot. I walked, took breaths, shed tears, leaned up against trees, bought water, ducked into Whole Foods, and…checked my phone. Every time I started to run, the pain in my gut returned. Every time I connected with another human, it dissipated a bit. And then came that talk in Harvard Yard, where I found the strength to run the rest of the way home.
Part of the stomach pit was eventually connected to an insidious mental cycle–fear that emerged because of the stopping. I was haunted by thoughts that if I needed to keep taking breaks while running 14 miles, how would I ever make it to 26 this time. This is my third Boston Marathon. I’m an amateur, I run for charity (see editor’s note). Every time I have hit pain-body associated stumbling blocks; every time I have finished. I probably will this time too, odd are in my favor anyway.
Try telling my body that this morning as I ran. Nope, wasn’t getting through. As long as I was the only one in my head, too many other thoughts could get into the spinning pain circle. Yep, what I needed was others–outside support from my cheer squad. We all do. Everyday. Particularly when facing great challenges.
At our core, we are communal creatures. Sure, sometimes I just can’t. I hibernate, a lot, by choice (#thanksCOVID). I don’t always have the bandwidth for even one voice. I had to turn off my music while running today because the stimulation and all those positive girl power messages were really stressing me out. I didn’t feel like my positive power-girl self. I felt like a tattered spirit seeking support from somewhere outside of me that would ignite messages I was thinking yet could not entirely connect to my body–messages like:“You are enough. One foot in front of the other. Look how far you have already come, you’ve got this. Remember your purpose is what makes this most amazing. Big dreams, big effort. Impossible is nothing. When you don’t believe know that others believe in you. You are helping so many people by doing this. Thanks for all you do. Keep talking to us and sharing your pure light. We are with you all the way.”
I needed my tribe. I needed my community, my whole community to meet the whole of what’s inside me.
Can you imagine my relief when I saw bodies in the Harvard Yard colored chairs. “They are coming back!” my mind + body + spirit emoted. Full disclosure, I’m not a Harvard grad or student or faculty member or related to any of the above. I don’t know a single student coming to campus this year, not yet anyway (Malia, call me girl). They are my community though, hell, their front yard is my back yard–certainly my passageway yard at the least.
We share a communal space. And isn’t that what we have found these last two years–the importance of recognizing the ways we are, inherently, connected to those with whom we share space–both local and global, physical and virtual. And then realizing the ways we heal when we lean into that reality instead of run from it.
Eighteen long months we’ve walked this path in virtual isolation, with the support coming from afar on social media and through zoom faces. It’s not nothing–in fact the love of my beautiful, far-stretched community got me through this morning. And then, it joined together with the real bodies on the streets of my beloved Cambridge. All of it connected to what’s alive inside of me–all of it part of what keeps our whole selves wholly connected and moving forward.
Editorial Note: I run the Boston Marathon in support of MGH Pediatric Oncology in honor of Gary Letorneau and the children who are fighting for their lives against the cancer in their little bodies. Dr. Weinstein and his team provide psychological services to the children and their families–programs that give the patients a chance to combat the trauma in their bodies and live whole, full lives. Insurance does not cover the psychological services, the funds we raise for the marathon do. These children and this department remind me everyday that we are connected, we do not run life’s race alone. We give our funds to help them save their lives and protect their minds. They give back to the world around them with their inherent gifts, life, and love. MGH Pediatric Oncology, located in the heart of Boston, gives back to the world with research findings that reach deep and wide into the global medical community. Click here to read more about my story + passion for this organization and learn how you can contribute to our campaign.
Photo credit: KathrynLeann Harris. Harvard Yard, as I found it around noon on Saturday August 14th, 2021.