All through August I’ve been out the door each day at 6:15, to run two and a half miles to town in time for a 7 a.m. yoga class. It is only for a month, this early class, but I’m hoping that after it ends I’ll continue with my own variation on the new routine. My morning run began as something I was making myself do; with each passing day, though, it’s felt more and more like a privilege, a gift, a blessing.
A few days ago Kristen at Motherese wrote about finding flow in her running this summer, and I understand exactly what she means. There is something about the rhythmic exercise of moving through space at your own speed, on your own two strong legs, that is liberating, exhilarating, and immensely satisfying. I love being out in the world before anyone else is up, love running all alone down the very middle of the road, even love the fact that, after four weeks of practice, I’ve shaved a few minutes off my time.
Three weeks from Saturday, I’ll be walking 26. 2 miles in the Dana Farber Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk, raising money in memory of my dear friend Diane, who died of ovarian cancer last October. Knowing that every mile logged and every training hour put in is preparing me for the challenge has given me a great sense of purpose. I’m not just getting up before dawn for myself, I’m doing it for a cause, and that makes a difference, too. I’ve happily run in the rain and in the dark, walked ten miles all alone, pushed myself up hills I’ve never tackled before and, in the process, worn out one good pair of shoes. I’m also a bit more confident that when the day comes, I’ll be able to go the distance.
As summer draws to a close, I find myself, as usual, regretting all the things I didn’t do. I’m sorry that I didn’t read poetry in the hammock or set up the tent in the back yard. I wish we’d had more dinners on the porch, more swims in the pond, more fires on the hilltop, at least one picnic, or campout, or barbeque. Next week both boys will head back to school; already I feel the sense of loss that arrives with every Labor Day, as predictable as the first cool mornings, the spikes of goldenrod alongside the road, the symphonic thrum of crickets. The change of season is definitely bittersweet for me, the shorter days a reminder that this existence of ours is as transient as a summer cloud.
“The spiritual path,” writes Pema Chodron, “has always been learning how to die. That involves not just death at the end of this particular life, but all the falling apart that happens continually.” At fifty-two, I am constantly butting up against the fact that I can never hold on to anything, that nothing good ever lasts quite as long as I want it to, and that no matter how old I get or how “grown up” I should be by now, the letting go doesn’t get a whole lot easier.
Heading out in the morning, watching the sun come up over the mountains, the dawn light illuminating the mist as it drifts up from the valley, I am stopped in my tracks, simply by the sight of the sky. A sky, as my friend Lindsey says, “whose light comes from beyond the reach of our eyes.” How magnificent it all is: the beauty of another day’s beginnings, this cosmic offering that is ours for the taking, 365 days a year. Not a day goes by when I’m not pierced by some awareness of loss and time passing. But I’m learning to linger, too, in this place of gratitude. I think it really is the answer: we can live all curled up in our dark holes of regret, or we can rise up and stretch our limbs out into the beauty that is all around us. We can claim it as our own.
There all sorts of good reasons to wake up early. For me, the best reason is simply the opportunity to be present for a little longer, to welcome the sun coming up over the mountains, to notice how it appears just a bit later each morning, rises ever so slightly further to the south, alters the quality of the light, turns the season almost imperceptibly toward fall. These changes, these small deaths, are part of a vast choreography of impermanence. Gratitude is the awakened heart’s response to this eternal dance of life and death, this whirling dance of change. And so I’m choosing to focus on what is, and to be grateful for all the things I did manage to do this summer. I’ve walked and run for miles. I’ve grown stronger, healthier, faster. I’m nearly half-way to my fund-raising goal and determined to raise nearly three thousand more dollars before September 18. Meanwhile, I’ll keep running. I run for the exercise, for the joy of it, for the cause my friend believed in and, most of all, because I know how lucky I am that I still can.
If you wish to contribute to my Jimmy Fund walk in Diane’s memory, or in honor of a loved one, you may give in one of two ways:
• Visit my fundraising page at the Walk web site and follow the instructions to make a gift online.
• Write a check payable to “Jimmy Fund Walk.” On the memo line, write: “Dana Farber Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.” Send it directly to me at: Katrina Kenison Lewers, 101 Middle Hancock Rd, Peterborough, NH 03458.
Thank you, my friends. I couldn’t do it without you!