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Over the past year or so, I’ve gone through the five stages of grief for the part of me that was once a runner. After a bad injury in the end of 2008, I was already running a lot less by the time we left for Portugal, but once we were there, the hills and the lack of non-asphalt running venues more or less did me in. I’ve struggled to come to terms with this reality, which has run the gamut (pun intended) from grief to anger to denial. At last, I think I am entering acceptance. Kind of.

Yesterday, a girlfriend and I attempted to go for a quick run in my favorite local state park up the coast. There is a short, flat coastal loop that makes for about a  half-hour run, which is about where both of us are in our running careers at the moment.

However, we soon realized that it was not to be, as it turned out there was a triathlon taking up most of the roads between my house and the park. After crossing the bike course once, we then encountered it again on the highway heading north along the coast, which was where we were intending to go. “Right,” I said, “how about a walk by the ocean instead?”

Just after our turning point, we saw the first triathlete, who was nearing his own turning point. If he hadn’t been wearing a number, I wouldn’t have believed he was in the race, as he was all alone, ahead of the rest of the pack by a good ten or fifteen minutes. That meant he was phenomenally good at all three tri events. Yes, we hate him.

Pretty soon the rest of the elite competitors started to appear, including one poor guy who was running so fast that he got knocked over by someone who couldn’t get out of his way quickly enough. When he got up and kept running, swearing under his breath as he brushed himself off, I got the distinct feeling that it wasn’t the fall he cared about, it was the effect on his time. This impression was confirmed when a while later we saw a guy running with a massive hole torn in the seat of his shorts, revealing an equally massive raspberry on his cheek. Ouch. That must have hurt.

Not so long ago, witnessing this display of physical prowess would have made me jealous, guilty about letting my own training slide, and motivated to get back into it with renewed vigor. This time though, I discovered I was perfectly content to sit back and watch the other people do all the work. My friend agreed, and we judged that in general, it is far more fun to watch (and judge!) a triathlon than compete in one. I know what you’re thinking — well, duh! — but hey, I’m a slow learner sometimes.

Turned out we were just as good at what we were doing, as one of the runners coming up behind us said, “Nice work, ladies,” as he passed us by. Gotta admire someone who can still have a sense of humor in the final leg of a grueling, hot race.

As I thought about it throughout the day that followed, I realized: I was doing nice work. I was taking care of myself without demolishing my body or devoting my entire waking life to training. In other words, I was being healthy, without being obsessive. It’s taken me a long time to get to that point, and I’m still struggling with it, always feeling like I could/should be doing more than I am. But I think I’m nearing the acceptance stage, and I for one could not be more glad. In fact, I think I can hear my knees cheering now.

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For the first time since getting back from Israel, I actually spent most of yesterday out of the house, which came as a welcome change. In the morning, I went in to the university to watch Gabe playing with his airplane, which is getting really close to operational (see pics below.) Despite the fact that it looked like it was diving straight for me more than once, it was fun to watch.

We then went on to have a lovely lunch with his colleagues, all of whom I have grown fond of and am going to miss when we leave. During lunch, our Italian friend told me a funny story about coming home on the tube Sunday night during the Benfica soccer celebrations. He said every time the doors opened at the metro stop, a huge wall of noise would come in, and then stop just as suddenly when they closed. This happened at every stop all the way down the line: train stops, doors open, sound of massive crowds yelling. Doors close, silence. Repeat. Hilarious.

Also hilarious was having to explain to him the distinction between “passed out” and “passed away,” which arose when I said that I hadn’t heard the fireworks because I was “passed out.” He was quite alarmed by this, and even more so by my description of how Gabe could see the fireworks in the reflection of the building opposite. That behavior would have seemed very callous indeed if I had in fact “passed away!” Oh, the tricks of our language. They are endlessly entertaining.

After lunch, I walked up to my hairdresser’s, as it wasn’t raining and I was glad for the chance to get outside. Now that I know where that damn railroad bridge is, it’s not as hard to get up there from this side of the tracks! Crossing the bridge, I was reminded of the first time I went to see her back in February, when it was raining and I got thoroughly lost and soaked through. That was already 3 months ago now… which is more time than remains to us here. It really doesn’t seem like it’s been that long.

Hair newly coiffed, I walked back down to meet Gabe at the cinema via a stroll through the gardens of the Gulbenkian Museum. The sound of rushing water drew me to the artificial stream flowing through the middle of the park, which I soon realized reminded me of one of my favorite places at home. In the state park that I like to run in, there’s a spot just a little way off the trail where you can sit on the bank of the river and watch it rush by, totally removed from other people on the trail and the rest of the world.

I visited that spot often when my dad was sick, as it always brought me a sense of peace and perspective. I think my feet led me to that stream in the Gulbenkian for a reason yesterday, and I felt much more centered and relaxed after sitting by it for a while — never mind the people walking by and the two streets with roaring traffic on either side of the park.

The movie we saw was mindless, terrible fun, perfect brain candy, and we came home to make dinner and chill out before bed. And so goes our year, one day of normal everyday life after another, until suddenly, you look up and it’s almost gone. Amazing how that happens.

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… I learned from jumping rope.

In the final few weeks of my kick ass pilates class, we were subjected to… er… privileged enough to have regular intervals of jumprope. Turned out I was not the only person in that small class who hadn’t picked up a jumprope in fifteen years, because there were a couple of us who could not keep it turning for longer than a few seconds.

The biggest problem was that we were doing it barefoot. Let me tell you, a thick plastic jumprope (or even a thin one, for that matter) smacking against your bare toes at high speeds is really unpleasant. Even worse is when it smacks you on the head on the way back up, which the shorter jumpropes did for me. Between the two, my reacquaintance with this diabolically simple (yet so very difficult!) piece of exercise equipment had a steep and very painful learning curve.

My biggest downfall on the jumprope, however, was not my bare feet. It was my brain. As usual, the anticipation of hitting my toes was far worse than the actuality of it, and tended to hasten the very event I was dreading. Just as I’d get up a good pace, I would start thinking about messing up, then thinking I shouldn’t think about it, then thinking that thinking about it would definitely bring it about, only now I was really thinking about it, and… OUCH! There goes the toes. Or the head. Or both, if I was feeling particularly talented.

The only way I could get around this trap was if I just went for it, without fearing the jumprope as it whizzed past my ears or anticipating the smack of it entangling itself in my feet. I couldn’t think about those things, I just had to do it, no thought involved. By the end of class, I was getting up towards thirty seconds at a time without flinching, and even then, I had finally learned how to lift my toes enough to deflect the punishing slap down towards the soles of my feet.

Since then, I’ve started to see how the jumprope principle applies to the rest of my life. If I let myself fear the stinging repercussions of an action, they will most likely come to pass. Witness my recent bout of insomnia — the more I anticipated not sleeping, the more likely it was that I would not be able to sleep. The brain is certainly a marvelous and insidious thing.

I thought about all this a lot yesterday, primarily while on a trail run with my brother. On the flatter portions of the trail, I could keep pace with him fairly easily. But when it came to traversing the downhills, I balked every time. I know how badly it hurts to roll my ankle, and I know that it puts me out of commission for at least a couple days afterwards. So I tend to slow way down on the descents, allowing my brother to pull far ahead of me. (I also slow down on the ascents, but that’s more to do with the fact that I can’t breathe.)

As I was picking my way down a particularly long stretch of downhill slope, it occurred to me that it was like jumping rope — the more I thought about rolling my ankle, the more likely I was to bring it about. Witness my brother, far ahead, who just throws his body down the hill and trusts his feet to find the proper footholds. Sometimes he rolls his ankle, yes, and in fact he has even been known to sprawl face down on the trail, then pick himself up and continue running. He doesn’t let the fear of falling stop him, he just barges right ahead. Why can’t I be more like that, in my running and in my life? Why do I have to be such a scaredy cat?

This issue is even more relevant than usual these days. I recently got a new job, one that scares the crap out of me with how perfect it seems to be for my life, both immediately and in the long-term. I am so excited to have this job, and yet so scared to mess it up and squander this opportunity. For a long time, I preferred to make the safer, less challenging options in my career because I knew that I had less to lose if I didn’t do the job right. But this time, the stakes are much higher. And this time, I know that I can’t let my fear of falling carry me on down the hill. My feet led me here in the first place, so I need to trust them to carry me further without incident.

So what’s the takeaway here, be it in jumping rope, sleeping, running, or working? Don’t let your head get in the way of your feet. It’ll only trip you up.

I bought new running shoes today, which was very exciting. I have needed them for a long time now, and these ones happened to be on super sale at a Labor Day sidewalk sale chez my favorite local running store.

While new sneaks feel great, I am suspect of runners with brand new shiny shoes, so I’m always keen to take the sheen off shoes as fast as possible. This time, I took them out right away. Within less than an hour of owning them, my new sneaks were already covered with a thick coating of trail dust. Now that is my kind of breaking-in time!

With the return of my insomnia last night, I decided perhaps the problem is that I haven’t been running enough. (Or maybe I’m just turning into a night owl in my old age?)

The last month of my pilates class has been more “high-intensity,” aka “kick-your-butt/crossfit/OH MY GOD I’m sore/you want me to do WHAT???” Most of the time, I’m either afraid to run (the day before class), exhausted (the day of), or way too sore (the day after). So running has become a thing of the weekend, when I’ve had a day or two to recover from class and at least one more to prepare for the next.

You would think this much exercise would knock me out. If I was normal, I’m sure it would. But I’m not normal, I’m a runner. No matter what other exercise I do, nothing is quite the same. Yes, my body is exhausted after each class, and I spend most of the day trying my best not to pass out on any flat surface available. But when night rolls around, it’s still not enough to make my brain shut up long enough for me to fall asleep.

The crucial difference here is that for me, running is not just a physical exercise. Running has always been a form of moving mediation, less a way of escaping my thoughts than working through them at a faster pace. I put my body on autopilot, synchronize the pace of my mind to that of my feet, and I go. I run, I think, I dodge branches, logs, strollers, and bikers, until I’ve worked my way through at least a few of the things on my mind. In the end, a good run is one that achieves complete unity between head and body, leaving me at peace both mentally and physically.

While I love my kick-your-butt, I mean pilates, class, it just doesn’t have the same effect. When you’re working that hard, you don’t have time to think. You just do, and do again, praying all the while that your muscles will have enough strength left to do the next set, and the one after that, and then oh wait, don’t forget the mat work too! It’s great to find something that will actually shut my mind up for an hour, but it really doesn’t give me a chance to work through very many knotty issues.

Conscious and unconscious exercise — it’s almost like the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise. They are both valuable in terms of building strength, endurance, and flexibility, but you can’t neglect one at the expense of the other.

So this morning, I told my body, “Look, I realize you’re sore, but you’re just going to have to deal with it. I need to run.” And run I did, on my favorite trail, stopping in the middle to catch my breath and gaze at the (slightly low) creek. I didn’t make record time, that’s for damn sure, and I struggled with a couple of the hills. But I did a lot of thinking, and felt my mental muscles loosening up even as my physical ones protested at the abuse. Again, too bad. It felt great.

The best part of the whole run came at the end, as I was cooling down and stretching by my car. A hiker was just starting out along the trail, equipped with two walking poles, a pack, and a suitably determined look on his face. He greeted me, and said, “Funny thing about this shirt — they told me it wouldn’t smell. I’ve been wearing it for five days straight, and it doesn’t smell.” With that, he kept walking.

See what I would’ve missed out on if I hadn’t convinced my legs to take me running today? That made it all worth it. That, and my old friend the runner’s high. Oh, how I’ve missed it. Nothing else is quite the same.

This summer, I am rediscovering what it is like to push my body to its outer limits. Call me crazy, but damn — it feels good.

The last time I felt this way was two summers ago, when I trained for a half-marathon. As I’ve mentioned before, I “only” got up to eleven miles in my training runs before my dad’s illness cut my concentration to shreds. But the memory of that achievement stayed with me long after the routine was gone: walking the tightrope of my body’s limits, constantly pushing them upwards and outwards, every week achieving something I didn’t think I was capable of doing.

I am currently becoming reacquainted with that feeling, along with the sweet, excruciating ache that stays with you for days afterwards, reminding you that yes, you are alive and strong and whole. This time it’s not running that I’m focusing on, as I don’t think my knees, hips, etc, could stand it right now. This time, it’s that artful form of torture begun many years ago by Joseph Pilates.

I started taking classes at my gym a little under a year ago, seeing it as a good preparation both mentally and physically for my wedding in October. At first, I was truly humbled. After running and doing yoga for years, I had no idea that I could still be so uncoordinated… or so sore. But as time went on, the subtle movements became more familiar, and after about six months I found that the class I was taking at my gym was no longer as challenging. So I started taking a ball class with the same teacher, which was indeed harder, but it was still only once a week. I was quickly developing a new addiction, and I needed a better fix. Stat.

Then, at the end of May, my teacher announced that she would be doing a summer-long progressive workshop at a small martial arts gym in town. Oh, music to my ears. Now, instead of doing just one hour of pilates a week in a large class of varied abilities, I am doing two and a half hours a week, often with only three or four other people, all of whom have been there more or less since the workshop started six weeks ago. As a cohort, we go faster, push harder, and practice better. I love it.

Even as my body becomes ever more capable, however, I am once again humbled by how much I don’t know. Unlike with yoga, I am finding my lack of muscular strength to be a liability, simply because I lack the power it takes to maintain such tight control over my body. I am also remembering just how uncoordinated I am, which is a big reason I started running in the first place — I was too big of a klutz to do anything other than just put one foot in front of the other. So as everyone else is doing eight, ten, even twelve reps of each exercise on the ball, I struggle just to keep my balance in the starting position. Alas.

Here lies a crucial difference: for once in my life, every time I fall off, I get right back on, more determined than ever that this will be the time I nail this exercise, dammit. I am generally far too much of a perfectionist to bother doing anything I’m not automatically good at — “trying” doesn’t enter into my vocabulary, because it implies that “failing” might be a possibility. I hate skiing, because I started learning as an adolescent and didn’t like the number of times it required falling on my ass. As a kid, I couldn’t stand being laughed at in team sports, so instead I buried my nose in a book until college and then took up running, where failure is always a relative term. No matter how bad of a runner you are, there’s always someone slower or more goofy looking out there. Cruel, yes, but true.

My husband, who at forty still possesses more than his fair share of the daredevil gene, absolutely hates this part of my personality. It frustrates him to no end. I myself have learned to live around it, but it still feels great to find something that I don’t give up on as soon as I fall short of perfection. At least once a class, the teacher will demonstrate an exercise that makes me raise my eyebrows and go, “Yeah, right.” Even so, I roll up my sleeves (or more often my pant legs), pull in my belly button, and attempt to breathe through it all. In other words, I try, which for me is a huge accomplishment in itself. And you know what? To my utter amazement, at least 75% of the time, I can actually do it. Turns out my eyes and my brain are holding me back more than anything right now. Go figure.

And so I spend my 2.5 hours a week trying to balance my too-willowy, still ungainly body on a deceptively solid plastic ball, red-faced and puffing, loving every minute of it. I have missed the feeling that comes with pushing the limits of my endurance and strength, tip-toeing around the line of muscular exhaustion, walking up to it and then backing off just enough to be able to complete the exercise. Yesterday, for the first time, I thought to myself, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to finish this set.” But I did, I pushed through that block in my mind, because all along my body knew that yes, it could finish, and yes, it could even continue to the next one. (It helped that we were three minutes away from the end of class, so my body also knew that there was a Luna bar and water waiting at the finish line.)

At this point in my life, I spend every other hour of my week in uncertainty and self-doubt. But for those two and a half hours, I am strong, determined, and forgiving of my own limitations. Every week, I accomplish things that I didn’t think myself capable of doing the week before. I can already feel the roots of that realization starting to reach down throughout the rest of my life, taking hold on things I once felt were completely out of my control, relaxing my need to achieve perfection at any cost. It will take a while, but eventually, I hope these lessons will permeate my life much more thoroughly.

Until then, I will continue to let myself look like an idiot, falling off the ball, picking myself up, and getting right back on again. I have a feeling that this process has many lessons to teach me, ones that I should have learned long ago.

I’ve been a runner now for over ten years. That’s a lot of dirt pounded — and way too much pavement, exclaim my knees! I’ve never been very serious about it, but I have been fairly consistent, especially in the past five years or so. Running has been my one constant companion, the lowest common denominator during all my moving, traveling, schooling, and working. No matter where I am, what I’m doing, or how I feel about myself, I can always strap on my shoes and hit the road, and I’m right back where I was the last time I did so.

I’ve learned that this is a great way to get to know a place. As a runner, you see things you might otherwise miss, largely because other people see you more as a moving object than an actual observing person. In London, I would leave my apartment building and set out through the small, winding side roads down to the river, which was the nearest approximation to the ocean that my homesick heart could find. I saw all sorts of people on those side roads, but mainly the kind who are rich, young, and in love, as a lot of diamond dealers had their home near mine. (I’m pretty sure this had more to do with zoning laws than with the affluence of my neighborhood.)

I also quickly learned to judge the difference between a running city and a non-running city. London was a relatively easy place in which to run around in spandex, because it didn’t stand out amongst the hordes of other (much faster and trendier) runners around me. Croatia, on the other hand, was not really a running kind of place. In fact, I felt like nothing screamed “American tourist!” louder than my white running shoes and spandex shorts. But since it was the most reliable form of exercise available — and not exercising is for me the quickest way to ensure insanity — I set out nonetheless.

At first I would see mostly tourists and the people who cater to them, even early in the morning. As I got further into the side streets though, I would begin to see more of the city’s true nature: the laundry lines and broken-down cars, the graffiti on the walls, the concrete remnants of Soviet architecture. I did get some strange looks, yes, and occasionally ran slightly faster as a result, but I’d like to think that as a runner, I saw a side of these towns that I would’ve otherwise missed.

Even though I’ve lived here all my life, Santa Cruz itself is no exception. At least once a week, I run the same street that I’ve been running on since college, hugging the ocean cliffs, breathing the spray kicked up by the waves. Even though I’ve run that course more times than I can count, I still never fail to see something new, or at least weird. There are dogs, there are kids, there are hippie drummers, and there are always tourists, hoping to find respite from the furnace-like heat sitting just over the mountains. Recently, there’s even been a crew of hula-hoopers who congregate near the lighthouse at sunset to conduct their circular aerobics, which I always pause to admire.

Yesterday, I saw all this from a brand new perspective: a bike. That’s right, I decided it was time to give my poor knees a rest, so I took a 4- or 5-mile bike ride up the coast. Every time I bike somewhere, the first thing that occurs to me is how much easier it is than running — look, I can go so much farther and faster! Then I reach a hill, and I realize, oh wait, it’s actually way, way harder than running. Gasp, pant, heave!

Once I’ve readjusted to the different physical sensations involved in biking, I find that I can be much more in touch with my surroundings than when I’m running. Running involves choosing between watching your feet and the road ahead of you, so that any observation is conducted in surreptitious side glances. My bike also has much smoother suspension than my legs, meaning I can actually see the world without having it jolt up and down every few seconds. You can’t really smell that much while you’re running, either, since your nose is far more preoccupied with simply getting air in and out. Savoring the ocean breeze isn’t usually a luxury you can afford.

While biking, I got to do all of these things, plus I was able to go much farther up the coast than I ever do on a run. I was rewarded with things that I never see while running, including a young redtail hawk swooping down onto some (ultimately elusive) prey in a field not fifty feet to my left. I looked around myself and marveled at this place I live in, as though seeing it through new eyes.

So perhaps next time I travel in a non-running country, I will try renting a bike instead. The world won’t jump up and down as much, and I can make a much quicker getaway when I reach the point of getting funny looks. Best of all — spandex will be entirely optional.

Yesterday morning, I went for the longest run I’ve done since I injured myself over three weeks ago. Before the run, I was irritable, grouchy, unable to settle down and do anything. By now, my husband is well acquainted with all the signs of runner’s low, and told me, “Get out there. Go for your run.”

On the way to the national park where I like to do my longer runs, I called up my brother to see if he could join. “Sure,” he said, “I’m downtown [at least twenty minutes away] and have no running clothes with me, but I’ll be there.”

Now, running with my 6’4″ former Army Ranger brother is no walk in the park. Even his slowest pace makes me ratchet mine up slightly, and that’s when I’ve been running regularly. This time, I was amazed at how much three weeks with minimum cardiovascular workouts set me back — I was breathing as heavily as I did back in my pre-running high school days, when I was diagnosed with sports-induced asthma.

Needless to say, he kicked my butt: I did my usual longer run, which usually takes me nearly an hour, in about 45 minutes. Ouch! The hip injury felt fine, thankfully, but right after we finished, my head felt like it was imminently about to explode.

Pretty soon though, after I realized that my head was in fact going to stay on my shoulders, the high I’d been waiting for set in. And God, I missed it. Feeling those endorphins coursing their way back through my body was like being reborn — gone was the old, cranky, pessimistic me, and here again was the happy, goofy me, ready to take on the world. Or at least have a quick lunch with my mom. When I returned home shortly afterwards, my husband took one look at me and said, “OK, endorphin junkie. Glad you had a good run.”

The best part is, I read this morning that researchers have finally proven runner’s high DOES exist! (I didn’t know it could possibly be in dispute, but OK. Perhaps none of the researchers have ever been runners.) The New York Times tells me that scientists in Germany have made a positive link between running and an increase in endorphins. Um… duh? In my eyes, you have only to observe the stupid grin on people’s faces after a good run (or conversely the irritable a-holes they become without running!) to see that it’s an addiction, pure and simple. But hey, if you need official proof, I’m all for it.

So that’s it folks — I am officially an addict. And damn, it feels good.

Once again, all signposts in my life are pointing in the same direction. They are telling me that now is not the time for action, but rather for stillness, for waiting, for watching and learning.

I injured my hip flexor a few weeks ago now, and the recovery has been agonizingly slow. Somehow, in almost ten years of running and practicing yoga, I have managed to avoid many serious injuries. I’ve fallen a couple times while running, which put me out of commission for a week or two each time, and then there was the Rodney Yee back injury incident last year. (My friend and I were laughing so hard during the video — “OMG he said buttock flesh!” — that I wasn’t paying attention to the pose and threw my back out so badly I could barely walk. Watch out for that buttock flesh!)

Other than that, this is by far the worst injury I’ve ever sustained. Quite simply, it is making me insane. Most people welcome any excuse to be inactive, and so do I, for about oh, five minutes or so. But soon I start to get antsy, then jumpy, and pretty soon I am crawling out of my skin. I am like a shark — I need perpetual motion to survive. So sitting still and resting for long enough to heal an injury is not really an option.

In fact, pretty much the only time I know I need to stop or slow down is when my body forcibly requires me to do so. When my grandmother was in the hospital last year, my husband took me out for a walk around the grounds every half hour or so to work out my nerves. It wasn’t until two weeks later, when a terrible cold kept me in bed for almost a full week, that I was finally able to fully surrender to the grief and shock of her sudden departure.

So OK, I get it already: this is another one of those times when I need to slow down and look at life through a different, less frenetic lens. And if I’m not going to do it voluntarily, then my body will do it for me, thank you very much.

But it’s more than just my body yelling at me right now, it’s my whole life. Suddenly, everything is making it very obvious that this is the time to slow the hell down and recover a bit before the next crisis comes along. So after two months, I have finally stopped spending all my energy beating myself up for not working and accepted that this is the best thing I could be doing (or rather, not doing) right now. At last, I am able to relax into the rhythm of having my own life once again, undefined by someone else’s hours or priorities.

I know, I know — rough life, right? But really, at first it made me very nervous that I didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything. There’s a lot of safety in knowing exactly where and what you need to be for forty hours a week. It significantly cuts down on the number of decisions you need to make in life, because most of them are made for you. And trust me, for a long time, that was a very good thing for me.

Now that I have managed to accept this newfound stillness in my life, I have discovered that it holds great promise — if only I can stop fidgeting long enough to actually pay attention. That is the true challenge. It’s so easy to fill all my “free” time with other trivialities and make them into absolutely essential items of business: the garden, exercise, studying for class, etc.

But really, when it comes down to it, none of those things matter right now. The question of where to plant my new hellebore is definitely not an issue of life and death (except perhaps for the poor hellebore itself). No, there are plenty of the latter in my life right now, which does have the added benefit of teaching me how to tell the difference.

So I can say with total confidence that right now, what matters is simply the stillness in my life, letting it be and breathe in the space between crises. This is where the growth comes from, the strength that will get me through the next set of difficulties, and on into the rest of my life. Now if only I could actually learn from my injury is trying to tell me, and sit still long enough to really listen — that would be a real triumph.

I realized today that my “little” (aka 6’4″ and 200-odd pounds) brother has now been out of the military for three months. Since then we have spent a lot of time together, starting with walking me down the aisle at my wedding, cracking fart jokes all the way. Hey, at least I was laughing too hard to be nervous.

Next month, that same brother of mine officially enters his mid-20s. Despite his youth, he has seen far more of the ugly, violent side of this world than anyone should have to experience in their lifetime. Come to think of it, we have both been through a lot in the past few years. While he was off fighting battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was at home helping fight for our dad’s life. While the battles we fought were vastly different, in the end we each did what we had to do, and it has changed us both in myriad ways.

Now that we are getting to know each other as adults, it strikes me how much we are still the kids we have always been. We have always been pretty close, simply because we are the only people who can truly understand what it was like to grow up on the planet we came from. We spent our childhood traveling with our parents, and when we were at home in our isolated farmhouse in California, we didn’t have a TV. What’s more, our dad has always strongly resembled Santa Claus, which brought no end of attention and embarrassment to us in our school years. Our family, our travels, and our plain geekiness always set us apart from others, and as a result we grew closer to each other out of sheer necessity.

As adults, the bond we formed on Planet Primrose Lane is just as strong. To this day, we are equally as likely to make a crass joke or recount a line from the Simpsons as we are to discuss more serious matters like our dad, school, relationships, etc. No matter what the topic, our conversations tend to devolve into helpless laughter within a matter of minutes, with no one the wiser as to what exactly we’re talking about — least of all ourselves.

This morning, my brother and I went for a trail run in the woods. Both of our lives are in complete turmoil at the moment, as he transitions out of the military and back into school, and I transition out of work and into taking care of my family full-time. But for just that brief period of time, it was like he had never been gone at all, and everything was fine with our family and the world. It all just dropped away. For that short time, the only sounds to be heard were our feet splashing through the mud and the occasional echo of our loogies ringing out across the silence.

Sometimes, with the right person, the best therapy can be had by not talking at all.

“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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