The busy month of August is upon me. It is a season of excitement and stress as I prepare for another academic year while also working to stretch time to fit in as much summer as possible.
John Delony @johndelony shared on Instagram, “One of the best ways to get stress out of your body is to be active.” When Josh was born, Courtney had recently started running half marathons. Two years later, Courtney and his sister Tiffany completed thirteen half marathons (technically twelve half marathons and one full) in Josh’s memory. That same year, my friend Amy, who weathered many of our storms with us, convinced me I too could run a half marathon. She and my friend Sarah B. helped push me to complete my first half marathon in Seeley Lake after driving through a February whiteout to get there. I remember being so proud of myself for doing something I didn’t ever think I could do.
This summer Amy again encouraged me to check something off my bucket list. Together with Courtney and three other running friends (Melissa, Sarah, & Erin), Amy and I hiked 29 miles in a little over 12 hours to successfully complete the Beaten Path. It was not only challenging, exhausting, and a bit crazy, but also breathtaking and rewarding.
Runners refer to something called “the wall.” I was the first to hit it after soaking both of my shoes & hurting my pride on a creek crossing. I cried all the way up the next hill, knowing we still had hours left to hike. Melissa, who politely offered to be our caboose, told me, “You are ok. We all do it at one point or another. Someone else will do it too.” Her empathetic words carried weight both for our hike and for my search for grace. When I stepped in the creek for the second time, everyone simply shook their heads and Melissa said “Well, I didn’t think it would be you twice.”
It is important to acknowledge that part of my strength comes from the people who have chosen to walk the path with me. Over the course of our time on the trail, this group of strong, caring women helped to encourage and push me to keep going. Courtney was my guide. As he always does, he found the balance to both tell me to push the pace when my legs were under me as well as to slow down when my ankles couldn’t navigate the shale field.
As I reflect on our hike, I again am filled with pride for having accomplished something I never would have thought possible.
Delony finishes his post with “Do anything you can to be active. Exercise will clear your mind and heal your body unlike anything else.” For the past nine years, running is where I process grief and both the mess and beauty that is life.
In a little over a weeks time, I have ran at both 10,000 feet and at sea level as this week my sister and I gathered with three of my female cousins from my mom’s side in Orange Beach, Alabama.
As I worked to convince my ankles and bare feet to keep moving in spite of wet sand and waves, I considered how much running and family relationships parallel each other. We have grown up together even though we have been geographically thousands of miles apart. My cousins and I share a fierce friendship and an uncanny connection as a result of the way our mother’s raised us as well as the paths we have traveled.
When I think about the walls of grief each of us endures, it is like the beaten path. As we are on it, we forget there are others who have survived it before us. We are so focused on our own loss, it is easy to forget that others also know hurt. Yet, with the love and support of others, we can continue up the mountain or down the beach even if it is with tears in our eyes.