Healing Through Connectivity

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. 

All of Harvard in town again at the same time; I can’t even remember what that feels like. 

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.” 

And we did, leisurely and joyfully, connect in a conversation about the importance of, well, connecting.

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 familiar pain that seemed immovably held in my gut.

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. 

Ah, the precious split second 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. 

Every time I started to run, the pain in my gut returned. Every time I connected with a human, it dissipated.

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. 

At our core, we are communal creatures.

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.

Learning to Live ~ in COVID’s Shadow

Finding Transformation in Tiny Moments

Last night, I spontaneously started sobbing. Hard. 

I was simply sitting down for dinner and a tv show, and for no apparent reason I was suddenly despondent. I scanned my body, my thoughts, and my emotions to find the content. 

Images of my apartment from just over one year ago began to surface. I lived there for two years. It was my first apartment post divorce—post awakening and then divorce rather. It was the space between. For the first time, I had created a home that (began to) reflect my true self, the one that has been buried under piles of pain from a life lived as a false self. 

My awakening unearthed a lifetime’s worth of baggage that I subsequently began to unload one therapy session, support group, and new coping skill at a time. By the time I moved in, I had let go of enough that I could begin to see my colorful glowing self reflected in the apartment I had chosen and the way I had ordained it. At the same time, much of the furnishings and objects were a holdover from the previous life— baggage left to discard, energy that no longer fit me yet I couldn’t seem to shed. 

That space was truly a space between—between the life that was and the life that was coming.

That space was truly a space between—between the life that was and the life that was coming. It was the space that nurtured my grieving, emerging self. It held me in my darkest nights and celebrated soul opening new beginnings. It showed me to me—all the way from the bones of the building, to the light flowing through the windows, to the perched view of nature in the back, to the welcoming space in the front—and everything in between. 

I bought “my kind” of dishes, brightly colored furnishings, and calming symbols to display throughout. I reconciled with my past by learning my mother’s cooking and searching my father’s ancestry. I wrote like I had never written before and loved in ways that aligned my mind, body, and soul. 

One year ago I left. My partner and I decided to move in together. I went through two months of stuff-letting in preparation to move only as much as necessary. I let go of at least half of what I knew no longer belonged to me. I released objects and furnishings in short order. 

It felt like a whole additional part of me was being ripped out of my gut. 

It was another, deeper level of shedding after what had been four years of cutting as deep as I thought I could go—eliminating half of what I owned, realizing I didn’t need half of what was left, waiting until I was ready to let go, and then repeating the process. The letting go was hard, yet somehow easier this time. I was heading towards brighter days, a brighter life. Unlike the divorce, it was less pure loss and more pure gain. 

The week after I moved in with my partner, I went back to my old apartment to perform what has become my moving ritual. I sit in every room of the home and journal my memories of that space. I cry, I clear the room with sage, I deep clean, and then I send it off with a blessing for whoever comes next. 

I left feeling complete and went to my new home with my new love. I left to go to a space I loved way more than the previous one in a town I had dreamt of moving to with a man I deeply adored to begin a life I thoughtfully imagined. 

That was March 1st

March 9th, Harvard closed. That is my demarcation date for when COVID consciousness really began in our world. Once Harvard closed, we knew it was real. We had felt the chaos for months, brewing underneath our feet, inside our hearts and home, and all around us. We didn’t exactly know what to call it or name it. We tried, but couldn’t look directly at it. 

It was a lot of change on top of a lot of change after a lot of change, for both of us.

He knew the virus was real and was coming. No one was listening to him. I was too busy selling things and moving—trying to set up our home—not paying attention to how chaotic everything felt. He was busy working and trying to adjust to a new way of living with his kids. It was a lot of change on top of a lot of change after a lot of change, for both of us. We were moving too quickly, taking on too much, on an unconscious runaway train that just felt like the way life is supposed to go. 

We saw something on the horizon. We didn’t see the tsunami.

By the end of March we broke up. We stayed in the house until September. 

Now it’s March again. And last night, I sobbed spontaneously about my previous apartment, the one I created and simultaneously dismantled the month the world stopped.

Right in the midst of the tears last night, it occurred to me: there was not enough time to grieve the previous loss before the era of COVID handed me a cascade of losses that will take years to process all on their own. 

2016—2019 had already wreaked havoc in ways that disrupted all the ground I thought I knew. Awakening is no joke. Coming out of denial to the ways we humans are not tending to the basic business of BEing human, is no joke. 

And it damn near did me in. 

Just as I thought I was rebuilding, 2020 dealt the deadly blow. What I thought was solid ground proved to be more unearthing, more loss on top of loss on top of loss. And here I sit, spontaneously sobbing about an apartment I thought I was glad to leave, for a life I couldn’t wait to start that ended before it began. 

The grief is for the girl I was in that space between, I know that. 

I am tortured by the seemingly unending process of shedding my previous self while simultaneously embracing the person I am becoming. And for that, truly, I am grateful. 

2020 eroded the life I started in March 2019 expressly because I was not yet manifesting solidity from my central core self, my more healthy and adapted self. Life had planted seeds that needed to germinate and grow—surrounded by some weeds that needed to be pulled. 

And I can accept that. 

I can accept that we, as a humanity, just lived under four years of astrological transits that asked us all to shake ourselves to the core and begin to rebuild. 

I can accept that 2020 was not the rebuilding year, it was the final cutting year, the year we dug deeper than we thought we could, in order to change longstanding patterns that we could hardly stand to see. 

I can accept it as I embrace a new phase of quiet, calm, self-care and daily attentive, tender loving care of the vessel in which my mind, body, and spirit reside. 

I can embrace it in the midst of a year that demanded I get my priorities straight before building anything new. 

The strangest part is that those moments of anguish seem to come the most just after moments of joy and love. 

Still, the unprocessed grief looms large. Now, one year later, as we face the anniversary of COVID consciousness, the spontaneous moments of grief, I imagine, will continue. The strangest part is that those moments of anguish seem to come the most just after moments of joy and love. 

Two weeks ago I began to exercise again for the first time. I am a marathon runner who has barely run since running the virtual Boston Marathon last September (note the implicit loss built into that sentence). Unprocessed grief was building in my body, and I was holding it in. 

I finally found enough calm space to approach movement. I was excited. I was taking care of my body again. I felt loved, love of self. Then, I burst into tears. My body inflamed into anxiety. I could barely move. Suddenly I realized, self love is heartbreaking, particularly when it is long overdue. 

Thank you COVID for showing us how to slow down and take care of ourselves. If you could have done it without so much loss though, that would have been much appreciated. Because here’s the thing—2021 is going to be this kind of year. As we begin to live again, to love again—ourselves and others—we are going to bump right up against the pain of all the unprocessed grief and loss. This time last year I said that we won’t really know the pain of what we aren’t doing until we start to live into it again. Loving and living is going to be heartbreaking—if we let it be. 

… if we let it…. Emotions are tricky like that. We expect them to be one thing and then we get knocked off our rocker when they show up as something else. 

Love can mask itself as grief. 

Grief can mask itself as excitement or, in other words, denial. 

And then we have a choice—in a moment that is often so small and so fleeting that we do not notice it moved through us. 

This year, the year after,

is an opportunity for the unfolding to happen.

This year, the year after, is an opportunity for the unfolding to happen. Incremental moments of love, laughter, living, and joy will no doubt be brutally offset with pain, tears, anguish, and awareness. These sudden shifts in emotional status are the tiny moments of transformational opportunity. 

COVID has given us all a pause—a long extended chance to slow way down, reprioritize, and practice self and others care. A friend recently illuminated that we are only now beginning to emerge from what feels like a 2020 Lenten season that never quite ended. As we approach that process, perhaps we linger a bit longer in the pause. 

Perhaps, we don’t rush right through the pain points that emerge as if from nowhere, only to look the other way and push it back down. 

Perhaps, this time, we let the time that nature has provided be a chance to learn the beautiful practice of simply noticing, feeling, and releasing. 

Perhaps, this time, we allow ourselves the mental and emotional space to be right where we are, exactly how we are, without the need to change or redirect the energy that is alive inside of us. For at the end of the day, with all the death that COVID has brought, the opportunity for learning how to truly BE alive is perhaps its greatest gift. 

Photo credit: Erik Kossakowski