Path to the Half

I agreed to run the Music City Half Marathon with, realistically, less than a month to train for it. About a month ago, I bought a pair of brand-new Brooks with the goal in mind that I would start hitting the pavement more often, and the opportunity to run this half came without a price tag (thanks, BarTaco), so, here I am. In it to… finish it.

In the past two weeks, I have experienced some really good, and some really tragic distance runs. I completed 5.5 miles at the beautiful Percy Warner Park, only walking when I got to the steepest of hills, and then there was yesterday. Yesterday I ran from my house to Music Row (about to 2.5 miles) and had to slow it down right before I got to Tin Roof. Before I knew it, I was lost in a rough area of town.. and proceeded to walk/jog/call my mom…the entire 3 miles back to my apartment.

I used to get really frustrated with myself when I had a bad run, and even on my best days I knew I could do better, but I have tried my best to change my mentality this time around. First of all, I know I will not be the best runner on that street on April 29th. I will not be the most prepared, the most fit, or the most well-trained. With these facts in mind, I have allowed myself to see this race as less of a challenge, and more of a journey.

When I run at beautiful parks, sometimes I stop at the top of a hill to take in the scenery. The other day when I was jogging down 8th avenue, I caught a glimpse of Nashville architecture I had never noticed before; the houses looking more like they belonged in Seattle or Portland than the South. I’ve tried my best to truly enjoy my runs, and honestly when I stop worrying about how fast my miles are, or how many miles I’ve completed so far, I truly do enjoy the journey — the pace, the freeing of my mind and the movement forward.

I’ve been so blessed these past few months, there is no other word but blessed to describe it. I’m tutoring four days a week now; a steady routine in my every day that brings light to my life. I’ve found a patience with waiting tables that I’ve never had before. Even though I don’t see it as the end goal, I have thoroughly learned to appreciate the job that I have, that affords me so many advantages and opportunities (like the Half Marathon, for example). Although people are never perfect, including me, I’ve shared within the past few months, some incredibly good times with a few. I’ve caught up with old friends, and spent quality time with new ones. I only hope that my friendships grow and change with me and with time. I’ve tried to allow myself to dream, and to push myself toward the goals that I feel in my heart to be true — letting life gradually steer me in the right direction. Diligently, but gracefully following the path.

I’m going to end this post with a story of an event that happened on a busy Saturday night while I was waiting tables. Although I’m not sure that it coincides with the theme of this post, I’m hoping that the more I write.. the better it will fit; Because its been on my heart since it happened, and I need to type it out.

There are three kids, spanning from ages 5-15 who have been frequenting BarTaco the past few weeks, scanning the patio and asking people for money. They are constantly run off by managers who threaten to call the cops if they don’t leave the premises. On Saturday night, the 13 year old boy and his 5 year old sister had the guts to walk into the restaurant on a night so chaotic, they probably assumed they would get lost in the crowd. When I first saw the little girl at my table, I thought she was a “joiner” and began to fill her a kids cup with water. As the water began to fill, I glanced across the room and spotted her brother, arms crossed, eyes darting. I dropped the cup and bolted; “You guys have to leave,” I half begged/half asserted myself towards the brother. He refused to acknowledge me, the unwillingness to make eye contact a sure measure of tried and true practice. I spotted my manager across the room who was already on the way, “I’m calling the cops,” she told the boy, as his sister was crossing the room with a wadded up 20 in her tiny fist that she had just claimed from my table. They left hastily, but without a trace of fear or shame in their eyes. I stood paralyzed for a few minutes and then continued with my night; the situation not ever leaving my mind. Later I learned that these children’s parents drive them to 12 south, drop them off on the side of the road, and wait as they pan-handle in and out of different restaurants. When they get kicked out, they pick them up and speed away to the next location.

When I learned this truth, I filled with rage. How dare they make their children pander for money. How dare they steal from them their innocence. When I looked into the eyes of that boy, I saw nothing. His stare was blank. Even if he wouldn’t meet my eyes, I could clearly see into his. He seemed void of feeling, of hope, of anything but the task at hand.

When I run lately, its less about keeping my “eye on the prize” and more about enjoying every step, keeping an even pace, experiencing the journey full force. At certain points in my runs, I have been filled with overwhelming gratitude, which could be partially a runner’s high, but I think its more a state of mind — a place I go to physically and mentally.

I guess you could say the boy in the restaurant was doing the same thing, going somewhere in his mind, transporting himself to another place. I catch myself doing that sometimes. I feel like we all have our own mental destinations — mine is Mexico; the middle of summer. Tanned skin, eating local food with local people, running barefoot through the streets. I wonder where the boy goes in his mind when he’s in the middle of a restaurant, or a Walmart, or the gas station, watching over his baby sister as she begs people for money. I wonder if he’s ever seen the ocean, or dreams of going anywhere past his visions of being far away from his problems. I think of the kids I tutor every day, how they don’t come from the best, but less is always more to them. I wonder what they dream about at night. I wonder where their journeys will take them.

Radnor Lake

I love to hear it. Smell it, taste it, see it — Nature in all of its profound glory.

It takes me away from me.

Gold and forest green, the smell of pine in the trees, the wind gently breathing. Everything a slow rhythm. Life at its very best.
This is where it all began — how we make it so complicated, when I can step outside for a minute and be instantly reminded where I come from.
The sounds. The smells. The life.

Earth and warmth and the breeze
It takes me back to me.

True love has always been the ultimate goal; if you think about it.

Rolls Royces and career milestones and sculpted bodies — incomparable to finding the soul that matches yours.

And to find out it’s a hoax, a plot to destroy the compass of our minds; it stings. Like needles and bites and punches all in one.

I dream about you in fading sunlight; glittering eyes, a soft smile, warm skin. Momentary perfection. If I believed in souls colliding, it would only be a farce– for I created yours with mine. A tangled weave that I built out of nothing, into something.

I can feel it in my dreams — the realness of you. But I wake up, and reality is the only real thing, and my dreams that felt so real are the fakest of things.

Like a puppet on a string, I made you tell the story I wrote in my mind, and when I realized you were but a hollow, empty, lifeless (loveless) thing — I dropped the ties that bound you, the curtains closed, the story faded to black.

Mount Washington

It’s cold and beautiful tonight in Pittsburgh and I have a case of tunnel vision. I realize this as I’m holding my breath, forgetting to make a wish underneath the Main Street bridge. It’s 20 below on a Tuesday around 8pm, and Mount Washington is silent; the city glowing in all of its twilight glory. Sitting here in my car, contemplating my next move, I can at least be grateful that the quietness of this bridge has allowed my heart to slow its pace, emulating the still winter night that lies outside.

But then I catch my breath; the frustration rolls back in me like a tidal wave. Crashing into my heart, the ocean burning in the corners of my eyes. I’m so angry at myself I feel it looming inside and outside of me. Like a storm cloud, God himself preparing to rain down his disapproval over me. I look up from the light of my phone to see the Red Cross glaring from the church across the street. And the tiny white crosses that hang on the spindles a few feet further…I instantly feel god everywhere. Angry, and glaring, and distant…yet if I get out of my car, and walkdown the street, and enter into those massive cathedral doors, I would be right inside his home. I would get on my knees behind one of the dark mahogany pews, and I would cry. No talking, no praying, no thinking.

It’s been so long since I’ve been in the presence of the lord, that I imagine my soul would take on a physical reaction. Throwing my mortality into the hands of my maker; showing my pity, my ragged emptiness. And if God happened to be home on this particular Tuesday night at 8pm in frigid Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania…what would he say to me?
‘My child, you’ve tried, albeit poorly, to find your own way in this world. Although you had the best of intentions, how long did you think you would make it without me on your side? I have seen your pain and your loneliness, and most importantly I have seen with each passing day just how increasingly lost you have become.’
At this point, I imagine the tears would stop. The tide would recede, the storm cloud would drift away, and my hands would, most likely, fall to my knees.
‘I was just trying to do what was best for me. I was trying to follow my heart.’
After this admission of utter truth, my chin would slope down to my neck, my eyes would fall to the hands at my knees, and I would wait.
…and wait. And the cathedral would fall under an eery silence. And eventually I would look up, thinking god was still there.
But it seems as though he had left. And after much thought and meditation on my knees behind the pew in the house of the Lord, I could only come to the conclusion that he left because he had nothing left to say.

Risks and life are synonymous. Like waves, like the wind; they roll through us as if one minute they did not exist, and the next they were as high and as deep and as swift as if they had been in front of us all along. People live their lives clinging to other people, afraid of what might happen if they blow away with the wind. I want to live in a world where people float by easy, like a breeze. Like a risk that I want to take.

I want a comfortable house in a city that I love, with a fenced in backyard and a dog named Sam, or Duke, or Buddy. I want a husband and a cute little girl with blonde hair and a perfect mix of mine and his’ faces. I want her to always be laughing. I want a career that gives me purpose, a job that fills me everyday. I want to be settled in this life. I want a Subaru…you know, the sporty looking station wagon kind; forest green with a simple beige interior, and a bike rack. Everybody needs a bike rack.

I want.

I want stability, a clear path, a known future.

I want the house to be white, somewhere on the North-Eastern coast. I want to learn how to sail. I want to go on runs with my golden retriever in the morning, swim in the ocean in the late afternoon, sit on my porch and watch the stars at night.

Every once in a while, I want to go somewhere and see something new. Scuba diving in Thailand or Bali, work with orphans in India, spend a week exploring Glaciers in Chile. Every once in a while, I want to be shaken. And then I want to come back home.

I want.

I want to believe in my own future. I want to believe that my goals are real, that my dreams aren’t just dreams. I’ve dreamt of a lot of things… but these things I’ve just mentioned, petty things like cars and homes, real things like family and purpose, they are all things that I want.

But, what do I need?


A Prayer

I usually stop listening when I hear the name of God. It’s an instantaneous physical reaction, like kicking out when a doctor taps your knee with a reflex hammer or closing your eyes during a gruesome scene in Grey’s. I have conditioned myself to a life without faith. Maybe because I felt I didn’t need it anymore, maybe because I didn’t agree with worn out stories and rules and their implications on good people, maybe because I believed, like I always have, that I could take care of myself. 

What I’ve found lately though, is that without some type of prayer, without someone else to look up to, I keep falling short. I am a person who is consumed with jealousy, filled with fear and doubt, fueled by anger  of wrongs I cannot seem to right, envious of those who are winning in the arenas of life that I am losing in. And at my very, very worst — I am hateful. Rageful and vindictive. My words are like venom spewed out against the friends and family that I love. 

Without faith in my life, I am hopeless. I am nothing but a walking, breathing, talking version of all the worst parts of our humanity. I am less than human. 

Mother Teresa prayed this prayer (commonly known as the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi) at the beginning of her acceptance speech for winning the Nobel Prize. I heard it while watching a movie documenting her life and works, and it struck me hard in its simplicity. It’s counteraction of everything I feel that I have become (doubtful, hateful, and despairing). The first few lines:

Lord, Make me a channel of Thy Peace. 

Why is that so hard to be? Peaceful. When I am caught up in myself and envy and anger and fear — of course, it is impossible to be at peace. And sometimes even harder to be that channel of peace to the people around you. When fear takes over, I wear my anger like armor. The world is no match for the walls that I can build and the ammo that my words can fire. 

What would I give to be an instrument of Peace? Mother Teresa sacrificed comfortability, and a relationship, and fame, and fortune, and even her good name all in the pursuit of bringing light to the people who were most deeply in the dark. She restored faith to those who had all but lost it. 

Where must I go, what must I do, who must I love, to find that faith again? 

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted. To understand than to be understood. To love than to be loved; For it is by forgetting self that one finds; it is by forgiving that one is forgiven;

It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.