Tuesday, May 23, 2017

So There

I was feeling sorry for myself today, as I often do. I was running on a sunny day along the coast of California and feeling sorry for myself. True, I am fat, slow, injured and have a crappy autoimmune disease. But there were foxy digitalis plants and lilies abloom, the ocean was roaring, the sun was out, it was the perfect temperature and I was running. Not fast, but running. I passed a guy with what I think might have been cerebral palsy, walking awkwardly with his walker. I immediately checked my self pity. Not that he needs me to pity him, because he was just out for a walk on a beautiful day. He would likely not give two fucks about my self image. Slow. Fat. Injured. Sick. Wounded.

I received a letter from my son today, who is at, as he described, the "lovely San Quentin." Now as a Mom I have superpowers and though his letter was all light and airy and "It is all good", I sensed fear between the lines. Good, you say? Well, think what you must, but he is my baby boy. And his little tour through the for profit system of California prisons is costing us all a pretty penny. Ah, if only his parents had been better....

Back to running for a moment, I want the world to know I am going for 4 trail runs this weekend with  Lauren Fleshman. She will, obviously, be toning down her prowess several million notches. But there is this retreat I am headed for that she is helping with, bless her, and it also involves writing. And yoga. And some stand up paddle boarding if I am brave enough to don a swimsuit.

I took some extra work in recent days to help with some bills and found myself in an almost mystical place. No, hear me out. I randomly chose 10 days to be on call and found myself exactly where someone needed me to be at the end of their life. Someone I never met before. But with whom I immediately connected. Someone who needed me to sit and listen and respond and act. In return, I was reminded why I do what I do. Because sometimes it is hard to show up day after day with little accolades, less awards, and no acclaim. I run with the same results. I play piano with the same results. I parent with the same results. But ultimately, it comes down to moments in time that are so perfect that everything else just falls away. A deep instant connection with an ailing fellow person. The smell of the top of your child's head. The feel of your quads pushing against the earth on a perfect northern California afternoon, lupine at the trail side, salt in the air, waves roaring, and a good book playing through your sweat-resistant ear buds.

This past weekend I heard our local symphony play Beethoven's 9th. I admit, I attended with a slight trepidation. It is a very, very enormous piece. They nailed it.  Not perfect, because that would just be creepy, but it rose above all expectations and planted a Beethovenesque kiss square on my brain and heart and musical ear. Carol Jacobson is a marvel.

Humility is growing on me. As a music major, once I left music as a profession I stopped playing it altogether for years, because I was afraid of mediocrity. Now I am thankful I can play at all. As a runner, I am embarrassed by my recent slowness and lack of ability to race, but then again am thankful I am able to be so mobile in such a lovely setting. As a doctor, I sometimes wish I had more credentials, had gone for those fellowships, had stayed in academics, and was considered great at what I do. But today I was just so touched to be at the bedside of a dying person who actually dreamt about me the night before we set his treatment plan, and who is now comfortable and dignified. As a parent, I wish my kids were all on their way to Nobel prizes in terrificness. But wait, I do not. My children are who they are and the one thing I have to offer is unconditional love. And the smell of the top of their head? It makes me swoon, even now.

This weekend, I am going for 4 runs with Lauren Fleshman. So there.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What to Hope For

As I was flying home tonight on my E-bike, listening to The Last Season, I was struck by a statement the author made about the subject of this biography and adventure story. It went something like this: "Randy (the hero of our story) was who he was because of his father."

Now it is true that Randy grew up in the Yosemite Valley with a father who loved the outdoors and had him scaling peaks at age 8 and identifying wildflowers and developing environmental ethics before he was old enough to drive, kiss a girl or accurately aim his piss in the pot. And Randy grew up to be an expert mountain wilderness Ranger.

"Randy is who he was because of his father"--This might be absolutely true, but it could also be the College Logic 101 Course fallacy in reasoning: just because A and B occur together does not mean A caused B. Was Randy a typical 8 year old, lying on his belly marveling at the wildflowers on the top of a 15,000 foot peak that he just struggled to climb?  I do not think so. I have known and raised a few 8 year olds, and a hike up a 15K mountain is not the way to bring out curiosity in wildflowers. That kid was clearly primed from the get go to want to do this, to want to love this, to want to be obsessed with this.

So I would say Randy became who he was because Randy was who he was. And I think his father probably just opened that particular door in his mind, through sheer, dumb luck (as Professor McGonagall would say after Harry Potter et al defeated a "fully grown mountain troll" in the girl's restroom).

It is on my mind as my son was sentenced to 13 years in prison the past week. Now I know for some, this will be "what he deserves." After all, he was addicted to drugs and committed a crime. Thankfully, no one ended up being hurt in the crime. Sadly, our DA sees it fitting to make an example of my boy, still so young, having recently celebrated his 19th birthday while in jail awaiting sentencing.

So as a parent what is it you hope for? Is it that your child will be in a wildly successful profession, making lots of money and providing you with beautiful and even more talented grandchildren? Is it that your child wins the science fair? Or runs faster than everyone? Or scores the most points? Or goes to the most prestigious college?

I have wished for all of these things, to be honest, even if just for a few fleeting moments before I came to my senses. I am, after all, the most type A person in my family and pretty competitive.

We as parents, do we "make our children who they are" like the author of the book I am listening to while risking my life on Highway 101 commuting home from work on my E-bike, which, by the way can do 28 miles per hour in a headwind, suggests?

My son would be the first to say no to this. He has expressed to us his love and sadness about choices. I am not so sure though, I just keep trying to think about the "what-ifs" and the "if-onlys".

A couple of things about at risk boys in American society I have observed:
-I am all for girls' rights and empowerment, but I think our boys are being disempowered.
-Boy are expected, in our town, to be tough, or stoners or thugs. If you are smart, you are not looked up to by your peers.
-I do not think this is unique to our town.
-If you are restless, bright and impulsive as a young boy in elementary school, you are pretty screwed, because schools want you to act like a good "girl"--sit quietly, speak when asked to, do not fight or or do things that make people uncomfortable.
-Not sitting still as a boy does not equal attention deficit disorder.
-We need a more flexible education system to tend to the needs of our boys and young men.

So what do you hope for when your beloved child is heading into the system of the American penitentiary? We have been given advice for him about how he should act, how he should "bulk up" to look tough, how he should avoid stockpiling commissary, how he should not reveal too much of his story to anyone.

I don't know. I am just thinking I should keep telling him the same thing I have been trying to tell him for his whole life. Which is have compassion, know you are loved, and do not give up.

Now about girls, I am one and have 2 daughters. There are, of course, many struggles. You have to look a certain way, be compliant and "good", and perform 10 times better than your male counterparts with the real likelihood of getting paid way less in your professional life. So my treatise on the empowerment of boys is not to discount our girls.

Which comes to my final point. Our very survival depends on holding each other up, not cutting each other down. Will putting my son in jail till age 30 make life better for anyone? What will it be like for him when he comes out? Do people addicted to drugs need to be put out of sight? Do we hate each other that much? Do we think that success in life is about money or fame or academic prowess?

Or do we actually know, deep down, that we want each other to be whole and well? I would say yes, even though so much evidence to the contrary exists in our daily news stream and in the very sad case of my young son. I think we are built for compassion. I think we are built to maintain community.

I just think we have a long way to go in putting this into action.

I hope for healing for my community, for my family and really for our country which seems just a tad off course. I do not actually think my own son is more of a danger to society than our current president.

Agree or not, there it is. I was taught to look at my fellow beings with compassion, by my parents. And so, am I what I am because of my parents or did they just happen to open a door for me in my mind and heart?

Try not to run over me on Highway 101. Hug your kids. Ask them to be compassionate and kind and to treat themselves with respect and love. And everything else? Just icing on the cake.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers wrote Southern Gothic.

She wrote about lonely people. About passion arising in the hearts of those who are not destined for greatness, at least not obviously so.

I sit amidst people who are seeking notice. That is to say, I trained at a university that prides itself on greatness. I work with doctors, who wish for great things in themselves and want to leave a legacy. I run in a town where people are really fast runners and athletes extraordinaire. I play piano among champions. I cook among chefs. I parent among parents of brilliant children who go on to do good in the world.

As a woman, nary a day goes by where a patient does not comment on my looks. Now I would like to say I am sure my male colleagues get the same treatment, but I can pretty assuredly say they are not called by their first name and called cute on a daily basis. Nor has their weight gain, hair loss or choice in clothes likely been commented upon regularly.

Science shows, by the way, that women doctors are generally better for your health. No matter what they look like.

It has been awhile since I commented on running. This is, after all, a blog about running, predominantly. That too has been a source of dis-ease lately. I used to be fast, now I am not. I used to be fast, now I am not. I used to be fast, now I am not.

Still, a few things have conspired against speed lately. For instance, I have been on medicines that suppress my immune system, cause weight gain and generally make me feel terrible. Also, I have a son in jail, soon to go to prison which makes me feel terrible. Also, I work a lot. And though this seemed fine at age 30 and even 40, now it just wears me out.

But the positives still abound. I am currently reading The Book of Joy, which chronicles conversations between the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu. It is hard to synopsize, but if I had to I would say: Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

Another positive is I ran 10 miles on the beach this weekend with my dog. Now, as a marathoner this seems trivial, but I have been injured and sick lately, so it is kind of  big deal. My dog was ecstatic, my body was OK and my soul rejoiced.

Positively good includes my daughters who approach life wth interest and humor. Positively good includes the science march in my community that drew a couple of thousand people. I live in a very small town. We care, and we march.

In The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a young girl loved Beethoven. A black doctor never wavered in his care for the suffering in his southern town. A diner owner, recently widowed, paid attention to everyone he came across. A deaf mute was the person everyone turned to for solace. His ending-maybe not so good, but I will not ruin the ending for those who have not yet had the pleasure of reading her book.

On my 10 mile run, I meditated on the waves crashing at my side. I watched my dog trot by me and chase after gulls. I marveled at the way the beach fog clung to the sand, with a misty, eerie presence. I looked for whales but none were seen. I imagined surfing, oh man it has been too long. I nursed a sore leg and I felt my strong lungs.

I kept thinking about my son, who is lost. If you are a parent, you know how devastating that is. If you are not, just imagine the worst thing you can possibly picture and magnify it by infinity.

The heart never ceases to look for joy, for solace, for love. Today is May Day and my husband of 25 years left me a basket full of fresh picked flowers. In them I bask. In him I heal.

I might be old, slow and a woman, but so help me God, I am not done yet. And my heart is not even a little lonely.