I’ve been writing a story that involves a lavender thistle, and last week at a café on Broughton St., I sat at a table with numerous lavender thistle centerpieces.I wrote a story that begins with a careful observation about cemeteries, and then two weeks later, a tour guide explained to me how Abercorn St. was built over hundreds of graves, that cemeteries, like Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, shrunk under concrete. I’ve listened to Maroon 5 to motivate most afternoon runs the past 7 weeks, and then last Sunday their latest hit was playing as I approached the finish line of the Hot Chocolate Run in Atlanta.
These didn’t happen for me. Like Emerson says, I recognize that what dresses as happiness today can be mournful tomorrow. But I thank their coincidence. How things interact can heighten a mood or bend a thought. I’m down for that.
What’s not a coincidence is my friend asking me to do 15k with her. I stammered out a yes, willing that I’d try. It would be my first race. In the last few years, my commitment to running has been intermittent. Knowing I was going to run at a distance I’d never run and knowing I’d do it alongside a fit, competitive woman motivated me to commit to training for 7 weeks thereafter.
Every single time I went for a practice run, I’d be at heel of how incapable I was, how I’d probably end up steering to the 5k route instead. For some reason, that talk also pushed me—not in the way you see in movies. This push was thick with sometimes lead feet and down-talking nerves. But it also got me into running stores to get the right shoes or talking to runners around me for advice on shins and cadence and such. In short time, I built a small wardrobe and toolkit for how to make this work. And since I hadn’t run 7.5 miles straight, the suggested mileage to practice before a 15k, I was super nervous about dropping shy of my goal. What I didn’t suspect was that it wasn’t my ability that would bring me to the finish line; it would be my determination not to fail.
The early morning of our race, runners in their race bibs and running gear gathered at Centennial Olympic Park. The quiet energy followed us in the morning dark. We walked to our corrals and waited. We moved forward as waves of runners were released to the run. As our hoard got closer to the start line, I squealed at my running partner and pulled her close for an excited hug.
In that 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 moment, I caught my breath and recognized that when you’re an adult, it’s less common to become sharply excited about something in that way. For instance, when it snowed earlier this month, my kids screamed and charged out the door to play, carried away on that lightning expectation of fun. I think adulating can suck that out of us. Instead of high-heartbeat excitement, we may instead choose to get carried away with the opposite energy—the calm, curled up and sedentary moments of quiet where we can decompress.
But when the MC yelled, “GO!” and our time started, I felt raw, uninhibited excitement even though I knew there was only work ahead. I think it’s because I was about to figure out something about myself.
There’s something to be said about getting to mile 2 when you know there’s so much left to go, and in that instant you’re aware that there is nothing else to do but to move forward, to push beyond what your body is used to doing. The race path yields such truth about life.
What is a coincidence is what happened the day after the race.
In Farsi, when there is irreparable, grimy damage between you and someone else, you may say that there is “shisheh khoordeh,” which means broken glass. Over two years ago I got hit with a really negative situation that I won’t go into too much to respect members in my family. In short I was misunderstood and mistreated, and it has taken me [is still taking me] too long to loosen its grip. I would think about the incidents in the shower, on drives, over too many personal moments. Its memory made my hands feel numb; it created these electric shocks in my stomach. This situation affected my marriage and took a lot of self-control and friendship to endure that first year.
I still have those uncontrollable aftershocks that run through my stomach, or “del” in Farsi. The beauty of it in Farsi is that “del” is, in matters of emotions, interchangeable with heart. Breaking your heart or your stomach carry a similar weight—“delamoh sheekoondy” (you broke my heart). The phrase both represents and captures the core.
Early in the evening after race day, I was forced to face a true catalyst of that time I try so hard to let go. I hated that the old and awful shit once again infected such a triumphant day, but I felt too strong to be passive yet again. I didn’t want to feel hurt; instead, I wanted to take charge of it. In Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Manson talks about taking responsibility for anything that happens in your life—even if you’re a victim, you are responsible for the decisions you make afterward. In his own way, Manson encourages that something good can be done with those aftershocks.
The following day, with that feeling of shattered glass, I took steps to help control part of the dilemma that affects my family the most in the form of uncomfortable but open conversation. I’ve decided to move forward without the ghost of unworthy causes, without the loss of precious energy, but with, instead, the grab and plump of boundaries. And now I feel there is a chance for that.
And where we place our energy is the big life question.
My friend is gearing her year towards a specific word, one that will draw lines that will help her claim and enact her vision. To do the same task, I would say that my pinpoint word is Stronger. I feel a might inside that I want to protect. I think my biggest fear of the year, then, is anything that will make me disappointed in myself, that will diminish that strength, because I know now—for miles and miles—that it is determination matched with coincidence that helps me be more capable than I thought.