Once upon a time, a sweaty little boy in orange and black came home from school. Before hanging up his jacket, he pressed his mom to write a letter. The boy knew his ABC’s; he knew how to print his name — but this epistle required the skills of a scribe. His mother sat at the kitchen table — poised to take down his every word. The little boy began: “To all my dear soccer friends: I will never see you again.” His mom put down her pen, looked up and said: “What’s wrong, Sweet Potato? Don’t you like soccer anymore?. You’ve only been to practice a few times. You just played your first game. The coach says you will get better if your try.”
The little boy placed his hands on his hips and decidedly replied: “The coach says I have to try harder. I have to do better. But I can’t. I just can’t. I can keep up with those kids. But I just cannot keep up with that ball.” And so Zach, my five year old son, hung up his soccer cleats once and for all. Never again to chase that ball.
Zach came by his athletic skills quite honestly. His dad was a star at Little League. He won golf tournaments and bowling trophies. But Zach’s mom –namely me – was born with two left feet and virtually no viable eye-hand coordination. Zach’s siblings played baseball and lacrosse and ran cross-country. But on this score — Zach definitely got my DNA. Genetically — as mother and son – we are more than just a little bit — athletically challenged.
Growing up on 24th Avenue — I invariably would be the very last kid picked for kickball. Even when my brother, Tim, was doing the choosing, I would be the last player standing in the grass. “You take Peacock.” “No, you take her.” the captains quarreled. Most of the time I would be the one that had to take her — to take her home.
At Holy Family School I sort of played softball. I wore a navy blue jersey with #10 on the back — along with a bright red matching cap. Slow to round the bases, lousy at bat, and a terrible catch, I was put out to right field. Right field was my very own little “field of dreams” that required very little fielding indeed. At least it was until some little lefty popped a fly ball over the fence. Next thing I knew I was on the bench. A third stringer demoted to score keeper. At least I got to keep the uniform. Chalk one up for Joani.
And so it went. I played basketball at Immaculata Prep. Girl’s rules made no difference — this guard sat on the bench. Field hockey – once again — I excelled at not fielding in right field. The only class this straight A student ever flunked was Phys Ed. And in high school the last place your would ever find this brainiac would be be running laps like a maniac around the track. No — much more likely you would find me with my head buried in a book.
Reading was (and still is) my very best sport. I won the bronze for knocking off novels; the silver for blitzing thorough biographies; the gold for climbing the library stacks. In college I made a brief foray onto the racquetball court and pounded a few balls against the walls. It was cathartic but it didn’t last. Nothing exercises your brain better than a book.
Crack open a book and you can climb Kilimanjaro. Hike all two thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail. Sail all seven of the seven seas. Swim the deep blue ocean. Walk the Great Wall. Run with the bulls. At the top of my game, I’ve gone climbing and riding, and hiking, and sailing, and running – and all while sitting perfectly still. Sitting perfectly still on my living room sofa.
My brain for a very long time got a whole lot of exercise — but not so the rest of me. While my bipolar brain raced round and round — the rest of me barely could conceive of such a thing. The rest of me slowly wound down to pretty much the pace of a snail. And pretty soon thereafter – my brain followed — sluggish as a slug’s. Painfully sluggish indeed.
The Bipolar brain is much like a clock – much like those old fashioned Big Ben alarm clocks – the wind up kind. Wound too tight the bipolar brain ticks way too fast. You tap dance through everything as fast as you can even when you have no earthly idea how to tap dance. But then Big Ben winds down. The spaces between the ticks and the tocks grow bigger and bigger. Until your brain barely ticks or tocks at all.
Stuck on my couch — in suspended animation – I could barely open a book. My head felt like concrete. I read and reread but nothing got though. I was terrified that this time I had really and truly lost my mind — but not quite. Somehow this broken brain still managed to write. Maybe write just a little each day. So began my “morning pages” – an Artist’s Way exercise, an exercise that I cannot recommend highly enough.
Morning after morning on my Mac, I tapped out a bazillion variations on a theme. I composed alpha poems and completed sentence stems. I made lists of one hundred, wrote letters to myself, scribbled down notes and explored a million metaphors. But for weeks each journal entry was about the very same thing: “Get up off the couch. Get up off the f*cking couch. Get up off the f*cking couch NOW. Get up off the f*cking couch and walk out the f*cking door. Get up off the f*cking couch and walk around the block.”
And so I did. I got up and walked the dog. I got up and walked block after block after block after block. I started walking after church on Sundays down in Del Ray. After meeting with Marvelous Mary, every other Wednesday I walked the streets of Old Town. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I’d walk the wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park. On Saturdays I started hitting the trails with the Alexandria Trailblazers. And on Sundays, I now have a regular date with my steady, Teddy Roosevelt – walking his beautiful island.
I have pretty much walked my way out of the wilderness. I have pretty much walked my way all across Egypt. And miracle upon miracle I am now training to walk – not run – walk in my very first race. The Real Girls Run Half Marathon in November.
And St. Paul is my coach.
“Do you know that in a race that all the runners compete but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath but we an imperishable. Well I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air, but I pummel my body, and subdue it, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:24)
I am in this to win this. Twelve weeks out — each seven days — I am now walking half-a-half marathon once, five miles twice, and three miles once. I am cross training Tuesdays and Thursdays with a bit of water aerobics. If need be — I walk with Mini Mii 6000 steps right in my own living room. I have more than just gotten up off the f*cking couch.
I am running to save my life. I am running to save my soul. I am running to recover the best of me and the rest of me – made in the image of a marvelous God. I am running 13 miles for redemption. I am running 13 miles for salvation. To redeem what was lost. To save what is good. To save all that is still holy in me in the sight of my Lord. To be whole — I am walking across Egypt – 13 miles.
ASICS running shoes size 7. “CamelBak” on my back. Real Girls Run Half Marathon – November 23rd – Charlottesville, VA.
The Spirit urging me on, I pray, walking with each and every soul every step of the way.