Monday, April 13, 2015

Be at Peace with Spring (even though homelessness sucks)

Class at Miriam's today was not the usual reading and analyzing, jockeying for witticisms, reading our work aloud.  Today we sifted through a stack of poetry books to find poems to write on index cards and share (poem in your pocket day). There was lots of chatting and conversation, and I ended up locked in conversation with someone I've loved sitting next to for a year and a half. Today I watched him spin out -- a narrative of grief and injustice and he contorted into someone I'd never seen.

Driving home I wrestled with despair, with the deeper-than-grief I'd seen on his face and felt in my chest, with my utter helplessness, with how complicated we humans are.  We can face nothing without our interpretation -- so many realities layered like films in any given moment as we all watch from our own set of eyes.

My head spun with questions, all the same questions I'd pelted God with when I went to the park week after week and day after day -- What is the point?  I have nothing to offer!  I'm just as thirsty as everyone here!  What good is it for any of us?  What difference does it make?  What can I do to help?  I can't do ANYthing to help.  These wounds are too deep.  The system is too broken.  I don't know what to do!  What did YOU do??

And as always, almost obnoxiously, happens when I shout these questions, the answer quietly sifted in through my outrage:  I went to people, and I loved them. And though that does not resolve the heinous stories that pour out of the shelters on 2nd and D, nor fix the fact that there's no ready housing for a 75 year old homeless man who can't quite care for himself and has psychological needs, nor so many other bleeding problems, it was enough to quiet me down because it was true.

As I climbed Massachusetts Avenue, I passed a billboard that said be at peace with spring. It was a Claritin ad, but it struck like a good word.  Be at peace.  Be at peace as the huge towering trees wait, still bare to the bone.  Be at peace with buds that show no sign of petal. Be at peace with the wet slick concrete, the puddles, the dripping gutters, tiny crocuses in the old grass.  Be at peace.  

There is so much landscape-wrenching change in spring. The rain pounds.  The air is still cold, shivery and uncomfortable. The mud tracks our steps. Bulbs pierce the ground. Branches are punctuated by buds.  Buds bloom wide enough that every one of their petals fall.  Leaves push in, tiny and tender, waving and exposed. 

Spring.  It is a battle to fend off winter. It is a battle to live life on the other side of barrenness.

Be at peace with spring.
Be at peace with the battle for life, with the hope of another round.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Disappointment: the story of a run

I am signed up to run the Cherry Blossom 10 miler a week from today.

In November I ran my first 10K (6 miles), which was the farthest I'd ever run.

There are moments when we exceed what we think is our capacity, and for me that was one.

I have never been an athlete.  I am not very competitive.  I don't love hard work.  I like nice weather and really only exercising in nice weather (I should have stayed in California).  I never pursued -- or became good at -- any sports, and from an early age, the narrative I created for myself was that I just wasn't an athlete.

There are always complexities in play when we create identities for ourselves -- some protective, some defensive, some image-driven, some hopeful, some fearful -- and for me, this one was no different.  Not being an athlete meant I could never be bad, never fail, and never lose.  It meant I didn't want something I didn't have.

When I got to college, I decided to row my first semester to be like my friend Ben (whom, incidentally, I married several years later).  I'd never run more than one mile in PE class, and suddenly found myself running 5 miles a day, waking up in the dark for starry morning practices, and living the life of a college athlete, complete with a spring break training camp and rock solid biceps.

Still, it felt more like a game I was playing, driven by my friend Ali, who made anything seem possible.  And my rowing years, like all of my college years, were riddled with such a complicated body image and toxic relationship with food that the confidence I could have gained, washed right off.  After a couple of semesters, I chose other things.

Through my 20's and 30's I thought of myself vaguely as a "runner," meaning I sometimes jogged for 30 minutes and usually ran about two and a half miles.  But this fall when I trained for the 10K, something began to shift, and one night this winter when my friend Erin mentioned a 10 miler, I registered.

For the next months, I watched myself layer wicking fabrics, put on ear warmers and gloves, and run into 20 degree weather.  I watched myself climb on a treadmill, turn on a podcast, and run while the kids clamored around me with snow-day-restlessness.  I watched myself lean into hard work and train for something I'd never done.

I held my breath.
I hardly dared say out loud that I was going to do it, that I was going to run 10 miles, that I had already started to do it.

No one was watching, really.  And no one really cared.  To many, this was a small feat, not even half of a marathon.  I had no audience but myself, and something was quietly breaking open.

Yesterday as I was listening to a talk about rejection, about how the root word suggests vacancy, I realized that during those messy years, that's what I'd created in myself: a vacancy.  I'd pulled out a handful of my earthy self with its value and worth, and shoved a limited story about who I am, what I do and can do in its place.

As I ran this winter, that's what was breaking open, the vacant place I'd guarded so well.

The snow fell, and snow days persisted.  The flu rolled through my house in every form.  Sinus infections hit over and over.  My calendar where run was scribbled in pen and circled, four times a week, kept getting rearranged.  My miles were dropping.

Two weeks ago I realized that with all the sickness, I was a few weeks behind where I wished I were in my training.  I knew if I pushed hard, I could still make it, but I'd have to work, so I mapped out the next week of runs.  Then --BAM!-- another round: Silas sick, Maeve up for nights, and a sapping sinus infection again.  I lost a solid week of running again.

As this reality settled, I met it differently each day: I am just going to DO It.  The next day: I'm NOT doing it -- I'm too far behind, it doesn't make sense.  The next day: I'll just run-walk the whole thing to be a part of it.  I cycled through the voices incessantly and woke up thinking them. Finally, last week, I decided not to run.

It was a matter of fact, a logical choice -- and I held it in my head.  So it was, the reality.

Yesterday, walking with Eden, I realized she was the only one in the family who didn't yet know, so I told her I wasn't going to run.  Immediately, almost violently, she burst into tears.
I was flummoxed.
Are you crying for you or for me?
For you.  You were going to run 10 miles.  And I was excited to cheer for you.
I fumbled through my words about how there would be another time, how I'd still do it but later.

She was probably the only person I'd been honest with as I trained -- I'd come in from my runs and tell her glowingly that I'd just run four miles, or three, or five.  And she'd smile and not say much, but apparently stash away my sense of success.

When we got home from our walk, I realized she was the only one wearing my heart: I am sad, as sad as she was.

Today I went for my first run in ten days and prayed through my sadness, through the old achy vacancy, and the want for healing.  As I ran I realized that this race, the one I can't run the full distance of, the one I paid an arm and a leg to register for, the one that will take place without me next weekend, the one that would have marked my 38th birthday, may not just be proof of failure, though there are voices in my head that say so.  Instead, it may be my invitation to reach into that pulpy place and pull out the old wadded up piece of paper, the story I've stuck to for years.   It may be my invitation to empty out and heal.

Friday, April 03, 2015

I Can't Stop Eating These: Sauteed Dates

When I first saw this recipe, I didn't even click on it.  But one afternoon my mom, who had savored every word of the recipe, whipped up a few while I sat at her kitchen counter.

They are amazing.

I have eaten them hot on a plate with my fingers.  I've stabbed them with toothpicks.  I've served them over plain Greek yogurt, drizzled with the olive oil they were cooked in, naan along side.  All great.  This month I've made them for everyone I've eaten with, and I have another box of dates in my kitchen right now to make tomorrow night.

Hurry to your kitchen and make these!

Sauteed Dates
   adapted slightly from Renee Erickson's recipe on Food52
   (read all about them here with serving suggestions)

Olive oil
Dates, pitted and cut in half length-wise
Maldon (or other flaky sea salt)

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a pan over medium/med-high heat.  Sauteed dates, turning frequently until warmed through and just beginning to caramelize (watch them!  they burn quickly!) Sprinkle generously with flaky salt while still hot and eat warm!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Silas Turns Nine

Silas, nine years ago you came, neatly at 11:00 in the morning weighing 8 even pounds.  For months we called you Uncle Silas, and marveled at this new little stranger who'd come to live at our house, all of his tininess, the little boy-self we somehow got to care for.  How we've loved you from that first minute! and the journey of continually discovering you.  I love how tender and silly you are, how curious and loving, how adventurous, adorable, fun and brave you are.  I love leaning against you on the couch and listening to stories unfold.  I love learning from and alongside you.  I love your surprises and your wide-mouthed laugh.  I'm grateful -- overflowingly -- that you are here.   
Happy Birthday!!

(right before this said he wanted to "take a selfie to be like the Mars Rover")