In my inner world, I fight dragons. I take on armies and villains, triumphing over any challenge with wit and courage. Did I mention this was a fantasy?
In the real world, I've wrapped myself in the notion that my dreams are the result of an active imagination. Lately, though, as I look at my life and the things I haven't achieved or the real demons I've been afraid to fight, I've come to an uncomfortable admission. It's not just the inner triumphs that are fictional. Everything in that world is imaginary – especially the courage.
Before thirteen-year-old Thing1 was born, I never thought of myself as especially kind or patient or even steadfast. When he came into our world, however, right away he needed me to learn all of those things and, for him, I did. My kindness or patience still wouldn't win me any awards, but because of him I learned to keep trying when the breast milk wasn't flowing right away. I learned to stick by someone who was screaming in my face and to put someone else's needs before my own.
Right now we're navigating the first year of adolescence with all the pitfalls I'd expect and some I didn't. And even though he's getting stubble on his chin, I still look at him and feel the same powerful push to be better. He needs me to be brave now. So, not just for him but because of him, I will be.
I’ve been getting pretty good at getting up at 6 or 6:30 on Sundays to have enough time to get in a longer-than-a-weekday run and still get back to the cave before the kids or the Big Guy are ready to hit the all-you-can-eat buffet in Cambridge, NY. Sunday wasn’t much different. It was raining, but I’d tackled the rain issue, and decided to go anyway.
I planned to go to the park since my usual route was about to be the scene of a 5k and 12k to support our local community day care center. But as I got to the turn for the park, I pulled the steering wheel the opposite direction and headed toward the covered bridge in West Arlington – a stone’s throw from Norman Rockwell’s studio. When I drove through the covered bridge, I saw several cars parked at the grange building on the other side.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to support the day care center – both my kids went there for preschool. But I have my first 10k coming up at the end of October, and I knew I needed both Sundays to get the longer routes in. I was also keenly aware that this race would be longer than anything I’d planned or done. I wasn’t thinking clearly because somehow I ended up getting out of the car and squishing through the muddy field to register for the 12k part of the race.
My boys were still at home with their aunt, and the Big Guy had gone in to work to cover a shift for a friend, so I was feeling a little lonely, but it had been a spur of the moment decision. I’d be busy for an hour and a half, but I knew six-year-old Thing2 wouldn’t tolerate an hour in the damp.
The rain stopped by the time the kids’ 1k fun run began. By the time the 5k and 12k participants began assembling, I’d waved to moms and dads I hadn’t seen since the beginning of the school year.
Fiddling with my music player and zipping it into its Ziploc baggie in my belt, I started dead last. I was to be happier for it.
I started slowly, determined to run the entire thing one way or another. The only person I passed on the entire race was another runner with a music player malfunction.
As I got close to the first turn around, other runners began passing me the other direction. I started yelling “Good Job” and “Way to Go”, and they did the same. I began passing friends. Sometimes we waved, other times we slowed to high five each other. Everyone – walking or running – was smiling.
The 12k continued past the starting gate for another lap out and back the other direction, and for a while, I was very alone. I settled into my Sunday pace, meditating and enjoying the saturated fall colors against the grey sky and dirt road. Then the front runners began to pass me on their way back to the finish line. Again we cheered each other.
Typically (for me) I got close to the turn around point, and promptly got confused. After running back and forth few times until my app said I’d gone 6.25 miles, I decided I was far enough out to get back and get all 7.45 miles in. Except for a car making sure the last runner hadn’t collapsed, I finished the rest of the route alone.
At the end, there were a few people still waiting to cheer the slow pokes. I got my 3rd place souvenir (out of 3 in my 40-something age group). I gave pats on the back to a few people and got a few myself and then went home to get cereal on the table for my boys.
I was soaked. I was sore. I was freezing. And I couldn’t stop smiling, even when I snuggled on the recliner for a nap. Some Sundays, the best plans are the ones that get rained out.
I know not to compare my writing to anyone else’s writing. I have my voice. They have theirs, and when a writer finds her voice it’s all good. But when a writer is finding her voice or adding a new dimension to their craft, it’s hard not to make comparisons, and it’s even harder not to feel like you’re coming up short.
Trying to make the jump from blog posts to short fiction prompted me to go back to my library of short stories. I spent the summer reading old favorites and discovering new ones. Reading feeds my inspirations and aspirations. Some of my favorite writers started with short stories, and more than a few have defined their careers as short story artists.
Now, after a summer of reading and journaling and drafting and scrapping ideas, the aspiration to make a life writing a lot of short somethings is still strong. But there has also been a nagging knowledge that my short somethings will never be the same caliber as the ones that inspire me.
I know not to make comparisons, but I still do. Now, as the end of another year approaches, I am at a crossroads. There is the option to use my voice – even if it means singing off key. Or there is the option to let fear keep it silent another year and then another.
Six-year-old Thing2 will be seven this month. He’s at the age when the world begins imposing it’s hangups, and his fearless refusal to accept the imposition inspires in a different way. He found his voice the minute he first felt a drum beat move through his body, and he will not be silenced.
We’re having a haunted birthday party very soon, but I’ll be celebrating his life and his inspiration again at the end of the month. I’ve been working on a few stories for the last few months. I’ll be putting five of them into an ebook on my site by the end of the month. It more than a deadline. It’s a moratorium on fear.
Everyday is a beginning, and in the beginning, it’s always murky – sometimes even dark. Beginnings still take determination and fight – whether it’s a new run or another day toward a new life. It’s not until the first bead of sweat breaks that the rhythm of the trail or the day takes over. It’s self-sustaining until the exhaustion that must come does, but when it passes, what is left behind is the fight and determination to begin again tomorrow.
I hadn’t been on a bike in 20 years and was more than a little nervous about the prospect of spending 3 hours riding on mountain trails – however flat they were. The last time I was on a bike a motorist had literally run me off the road into a ditch, and, after limping my bike home, I stuck to walking. But this has been a summer of redemption for me, and it would continue to be from the first 10 minutes of our journey.
Fortunately, you really don’t forget how to ride a bike, and my summer fitness plan – intended to make sitting in a standard-size train seat more comfortable – paid off once again. The mechanics were in place, and we would be riding in a converted railroad bed, ensuring there would be no maniacal motorists. Faking the absence of fear was getting easier as we got closer to the starting gate, and then the trail guide began giving us the rundown of the road we were about to travel.
We were to start with a 1 1/2 mile ride through a tunnel with no light save for our headlights. There would be several tunnels throughout the ride, and several of them had trenches running alongside them. I listened and smiled, taking courage from the relaxed faces of my family, but my stomach was already beginning to churn.
The safety warnings noted, we mounted our bikes and headed for the first tunnel. Thirteen-year-old Jack and his eighteen-year-old cousin, already thick as thieves despite having only met a few days earlier, charged ahead. Fearless but not reckless, Jack sped towards the tunnel. I was still getting my bike lets and was happy to pedal more slowly. The Big Guy was trailing our youngest son, and went between us.
The darkness closed in around us quickly. Behind me I heard one of my nieces struggling with her own fears, and the mom in me slowed to try and comfort her. Her father, however, was just behind us and, falling back on his twenty years of military-instilled discipline, barked at her to get moving. It worked for both of us. I began peddling and calling back encouragement to my niece.
Jack and his cousin got to the end of the tunnel first and were waiting for the adults. One by one, we emerged, blinking at the summer sun. I was shaking a bit, but when I looked at my oldest son, there was only excitement and happiness with the day and the mountains around him. There was no fear, and I could see there hadn’t been any. Part of me pondered how he got so brave with a mother who constantly lets fear govern her life – and his sometimes. The other part of me was absorbing his excitement.
We snapped a few shots of cousins and then pedaled further. Every mile featured breathtaking views and, often, equally breathtaking drops that seemed incredibly close to the road. The further we traveled, however, the less I even felt the fears that would normally have me thinking about the size of the drops and what it would be like to fall from them.
The sun in the cloudless sky that framed the majestic peaks that surrounded us drenched the day’s palette in intense blues and greens. It also brought everything into sharp focus.
Jack and his cousin remained in the lead the rest of the ride. And, while he was busy growing the part of me that had absorbed his excitement and joy realized that I was busy being reborn.