The Patterns of History

Sometimes, history moves in fluid circles.   It affords us an opportunity to use our past to tackle our today and to give us a glimpse of our future.  The circles rippling out, touching each other, intersecting delicately, changing their perfect circumferences until they become something all together different.  The trick is being present to see it unfold, knowing it for what it is and curiously wondering what it can become.

I’ve seen it.  Starting with stepping on the DC metro last Thursday.  As the train moved down the tracks, images of me 20 years younger floated through my brain.  Back in a simpler time when money was tight.  My son, his father and I lived in my in-law’s basement to help us make ends meet.  I’d hustle for work in the theater scene back then.  Shifting from costume sewing with the Folger Shakespeare Theater, to running the sound for Round House Theater, to designing properties with Round House, Olney Theater and a handful of small venues around 14th street.  On those rare days off, I’d gather up Zach and pack a lunch, then we’d walk to the metro for a day trip into the city.  There were so many places to go and things to see and all it cost us was the $3.50 round trip metro fare.  A bargain adventure.  Zach’s first visit there was before he was born.  His father and I were on the mall and I was quite pregnant, waddling along and starving.  I was always starving in those 9 months.  So Jimmy and I stopped at a pretzel stand.  The vendor took one look at me and pronounced that I would have a boy because I was carrying high.  She was right.

So here I was walking around DC all these years later – heading to the Nike Women’s Marathon expo so I could take advantage of all the free stuff I could get my hands on.  My parents are living with me for a while to help me make ends meet.  I’m back to hustling, this time in the pursuit of a new job and photography customers.  My son and I still go on budget adventures.  The metro now cost $7.00 round trip but still worth the money.  I got a free makeover and a free hairdo and picked up a free coffee and was quite pleased with myself.  I got to see the C&O canal as it ran through Georgetown and watched as a construction crew hoisted a large beam into place 8 stories into the air.  I picked up enough free luna bars to stave off having to buy lunch.  Once again, working it like I used to when I was younger, this time with a little more savvy and smarts.

Just before leaving the expo, I was faced with a large blank wall and a sharpie – the attendant and the wall both stated that I was to write “Why I run . . . . ”  The crazy thing about a whirlwind mind like mine is that handing me a tool to write with is like handing me the laser pointer on my thoughts.  It takes the mental tornado and pinpoints it into what is really going on in the madding howling winds.  And this is what I wrote . . .


. . . the epitaph I wrote in my blog the night Keith died.  I took a step back and just stood there in shock.  My eyes started to feel that old familiar burn and I fought the urge to put my sunglasses on.  Just a few hours ago, I was thinking about being pregnant with my son, sharing a pretzel with his father.  Now I was standing there, in silent witness to a memorial in honor of my late husband.  The two strongest circles of my personal history colliding.  The joy of bringing life into the world and the pain of watching someone leave it.

I was back on the metro Saturday night. A young couple sat across from me.  His arm cradling her across an obviously pregnant profile with such tenderness as she laid her head on his shoulder.  Jimmy had done the same thing as we crammed into a full car coming back from an evening on the mall.  We couldn’t find a seat so he wrapped his arms around my 7 months of pregnancy while I held onto the bar.  I got off the train, leaving behind the couple and my memories and headed to the hotel.  Stepping into the lobby, I called my boyfriend to let him know I made it.  We had a conversation about keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior and things I should do to make sure I was safe at all times.  It was the kind of conversation reminiscent of the ones Keith and I would have whenever I traveled.  I found myself in my tornado thoughts again  – thinking about how I’ve managed to always be so protected by the men in my life, including my father.  At the same time, all of them have always given me total freedom to be me and do what I enjoy doing – even if they didn’t agree with my choices.  I can’t imagine any other way to feel love from another human being.

Today at lunch, I was talking about my run on Sunday with a friend.  She reminds me so much of where I was a year ago.  I had been walking a little over a year when my coworker put the thought in my head that I could do a 1/2 marathon.  “Right” I said with a great deal of sarcasm.  But the more I thought about it, the more I believed that it just might be possible.  I had thousands of questions for her.  I was a bundle of nerves when I committed to doing my first one.  I doubted myself at every training session.  I couldn’t see how I could build up to it in time or get enough training in.  But I did it – walking of course.  Then I did it again.  This Sunday, I did it again.  I ran most of it.   I shaved a half hour off my best time.  I can do it again.  When the topic of my friend doing a 1/2 marathon first came up, I could almost hear her say “right”.  Today at lunch, I answered the questions.  We compared her current walk time with the pace necessary to complete a race.  I know there are doubts and I also know that all she has to do is trust in that voice inside that says she can – and she will.  I’ve lived it.  The circles of our histories are moving across each other.

And where does all of this go?  I don’t know.  It will be behind me soon enough.  Archived into my memory to pull back up when deja vu strikes.  I’ve had a great run on my life so far so I don’t mind having parts repeat themselves.  It is that fluid movement of my history, the circles intersecting and merging, and me seeing them as they happen that is the very tool necessary to embrace my today, my tomorrow, and into my unforeseeable future.


A Perspective of Fear

On Sunday, April 28 at 7:00 AM, 15,000 women will start the Run Nike Women Series’ Inaugural half marathon in Washington, DC.  I am one of those 15,000 women.  Just one of many who have grappled with that personal journey that drives us to the finish line 13.1 miles after the start whistle blows.  My own journey has been compounded by recent events in my life that have shifted the focus away from race day – a work schedule that has prevented me from training properly, if at all; concerns over not having the funds to invest in new shoes, shorts that fit right, and replacing a broken race bra; the knowledge that race day is during peak pollen season which this sneezing wheezing girl is highly sensitive to.  I was teetering on the edge of backing out all together.

And then Boston happened.  This Monday I had backed out.  There wasn’t any more teetering – just raw real fear of what could happen.  By Wednesday, I was back in.  Why?  Because we can not let terror attacks scar both our national and personal psyche.  Because we have to maintain a perspective of our fear.  It is time to look at a few real numbers.  The Boston Marathon was witness to 3 deaths and 140 injured.  We can not make light of that.  We need to honor the deaths and send prayers for the injured.  As these events unfold into our history, we can not let this tragedy fade from our memories.  But we also need to put it into context of the average American day-to-day existence.

As part of this upcoming half marathon, Nike partners with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to raise funds for continuing blood cancer patient services and research.  In 2011, there were 66,360 new cases of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  In that same year, there were 19,320 deaths – one of them being my husband.  One of 66,360 diagnosed, one of 19,320 who died, but the one most important number to me.  And this is just for his particular blood cancer.  The total counts for all blood cancers in 2011 were 215,500 cases diagnosed and 73,630 deaths.  (see

Of course, cancer is an act of nature.  We do not have any control over it.  If it chooses us, we must acquiesce, adapt, accept.  Even though the chances of dying from lymphoma is far greater than dying from a cowardly terrorist attack at the finish line of a marathon, it is still dictated by forces beyond us.  Not so true when it comes to driving the humble automobile though.  This is something we choose to do every day.  This is something we have within our control – where we go, how fast we drive, how attentive we are behind the wheel.  There were 32,267 automobile accident deaths in 2011.  The potential of being killed behind my own wheel is far greater than being killed by a terrorist attack as I come around the final stretch of a marathon, yet I do not feel that deep well of fear that I felt Monday whenever I start up my little go-cart and head down the road.  Should I?

We need to never let up on people who attack our country.  We need to be diligent, stand strong and united against our enemies.  We need to pause and honor those innocent lives that were taken by cowards’ hands.  We need to always be aware of our surroundings and to be witness to suspicious behavior, do our part to call it out and protect ourselves.  But equally important is to never let these events expand our fears beyond our capacity to function, to do the things we want to do in our daily lives.  If we do, we hand them exactly what they want – a broken national spirit, citizens scattering for cover driven by their fears.  I have greater odds of getting cancer or getting in a fatal car accident.  I’m probably even at greater risk of injury due to pollen attacking or using old shoes during the Marathon than I am from a terrorist attack.  Yet I fear none of those things.  Its all about perspective and I am choosing to keep it there – in sharp focus – so that I can cross the finish line for myself, for my husband, for Boston.

A Metamorphis

No one can see where life will take them.  No one can know what is in store for them in the minutes and hours and days and years that are yet to reveal themselves.  But we are all faced with that need to make a plan, prepare for what can be, all the while staying engaged in this one second happening right now that we have under our control.  It is the duality of the human condition.

For two years now, from that moment in April of 2011 when Keith collapsed on the bathroom floor to today, my spirit is splintered.  Divided neatly by that very duality that normally coexists in most humans.  I started to live in each moment – not just the beautiful moments but also the heavy, heartbreaking, self-destructive ones.  All the while, planning and over-planning and analyzing and over-analyzing everything – in the here and now, and into the unforeseen future.  I may have managed to rise from the ashes of Keith’s death but I am just now discovering  how the fire scarred me more than I ever knew.

At some point in time, I had stopped living in the moments and let that worrying fretting planning part take over.  I’ve done it to the point of wrapping myself in it, making a cocoon of worries and fears and self doubt.  What if my son can’t make it on his own?  What if my parents don’t get their little cottage in the country?  What if my new friends can’t embrace the madness that is Cherish?  What if my long standing friends tire of who I’ve become in the aftermath of my widowhood?  What if I don’t find the strength to stand by my step son in his journey to an independent life?  What if I frighten off my new love by revealing all my warts, flaws, and eccentricities? What if I lose my job and have to find a new way to financially exist?  All of these thoughts churning inside me, crystallizing the cocoon until they started to spill out into the real world.  With late night chats on facebook with friends forced to talk reason to me.  With my random relationship analysis of sheer stupidity tossed out over lunches with Gary.  With late night calls from Brandon as I made an effort to rationalize his feeling.  None of it sane or rational or sensible and only one of those fearful thoughts coming true – this Tuesday – when I was let go of my job.

And then something amazing happened.  I can feel the worries fade away.  The crazy thoughts clouding my head are lifting.  My fear of being alone is lighter.  I am living in the moments again, the beautiful ones – the joy of bustling around a kitchen fixing breakfast, the silly giggles of my niece as we watch her sister’s concert, the wind moving over me as I ride on the back of the motorcycle, the delight of walking barefoot in the cool damp grass.  All thanks to losing a job.

I’m still in a cocoon but this one feels different from the harsh one I made for myself.  It is not one of my own making.  Fate or destiny or karma or God’s will has given me a way to stay safe and protected until I am strong enough to emerge into a fearless future with a new spirit.  Whether I do so as a simple humble moth or a brilliant vibrant butterfly doesn’t matter to me.  Either way, I’ll have wings.