To The Lady In The Hot-Pink Running Ensemble

To The Lady In The Hot-Pink Running Ensemble

I glance over at the woman next to me. She’s tall, blonde, and in full makeup. She’s wearing a ruffled running skort, a spotless neon-pink tank top and matching hot-pink and orange running shoes. Her body is that perfect uniform shade of light golden brown that either indicates an entire summer of pool days or unlimited tanning bed sessions.

I’m wearing a faded black pair of running shorts, a relatively new bright green tee with socks that nearly match and my hair is fixed, rather sticking out from under my ancient, sweat-stained running cap. I’m lucky that my sleeves hide my farmer’s tan.

In other words, for me, I’m looking pretty good.

We’re at a cross-country practice on a local trail, and as we wait for the kids to do their “striders” down the path, we begin to talk. I find out one important thing about this woman next to me over the next 15 minutes or so: She’s a lifelong runner, and she wants me to know she’s good — really good.

She also wants me to know three other things, which she keeps saying repeatedly — as I struggle to find common ground talking with her about something I love {running} and failing spectacularly:

  1. She’s “over it.”
  2. If I’ve done it, she’s done it about 100x better.
  3. She doesn’t have to prove herself.

So, while everything about this woman rubs me as wrong as a cat combed tail to head, I decide to take my irritation and see what it teaches me. After I coat the grit that’s caught under my skin, after I turn it and work it over and over, after I layer it smooth, I find I’ve learned three things:

     1.  I’m not “over it.” In fact, I’m under it, I’m in it. And, frankly, I’m having a ball. Life is not some dull, been-there-done-that checklist.

Life is a gift straight from God, varied and new every single day, brimming with fresh opportunities to live and love and touch others. I’ve no interest in hiding behind the mask of the jaded; may my eyes remain ever open, shining in joy and wonder at what the world holds.

    2.  I never want to make myself feel good by making others feel small. Bragging is funny: While it might make you stand a bit taller, it makes your heart shrink smaller.

It’s almost like self-cannibalism; you consume a chunk of your humanity in a desperate bid to quiet the “never-enough” voice in your head. I think I’ve been feeling a bit too prideful about my recent races, and this exposure to shameless swagger serves as a healthy wake-up call to my ego.

   3.  Proving myself makes me feel alive; I’m amazed and thrilled and grateful when I can push my body or my mind to do things I never thought I could. I’m not done learning, or running, or doing. Not today, not tomorrow — hopefully, not ever.

In “Bread and Wine,Shauna Niequist says it’s good not to peak too soon. She describes her mother — how at 60-something she’s so much more than she was at 20-something — she’s still trying new things, acquiring skills, and challenging herself in novel and exciting ways.

As a Christian, it’s true that I don’t have to prove myself (I’m saved by grace, not works), but I also know life is not something I can write off simply because I’ve already accomplished much — I know I always have ample room to grow.

And, so, lady in the hot-pink running outfit, might I thank you for our conversation? Might I express my appreciation {rather than my exasperation}? Might I suggest that you’ve inspired me?

You’ve awoken in me a renewed vigor. You’ve helped me form a new motto.

May I run swifter at 60 than 40.
May I learn something new every day.
May I build others up, rather than tear them down.
May I always remain as naive and starry-eyed and easily wowed as a child.

Drawing

Drawing

I’m beginning to recall it’s better to say one thing to mean another — or, rather, show one thing to mean another.

I’m learning to lean hard on the power of a warm earthenware mug filled with fresh coffee, fragrant with coconut cream. I’m finding I can rely upon the particular feeling of a damp wooden chair, moisture seeping into jean shorts.

I’m realizing I can press scattered shoes and dust-slatted blinds, dried leaves and sodden grass, crunchy washcloths molded round the faucet spout and piles of last night’s clean dishes into service.

And, while I might be tempted to say I am tired or joyous, lonely or pensive, peaceable or a wreck, I find my life can show it far better, if only I take the time to sketch the picture.

And, so, like my daughters — whose skills with a charcoal astound me — I will learn to draw.

I’ll sketch my story with chipped white trim paint, sea-salt crystals heaped in an antique teacup. I’ll outline with green sunlight spilling through summer maples and shade with the red-brown cherrywood of my coffee-table-chest.

And, in the drawing, I won’t have told you what to do or feel, but rather, invited you into a moment, sketched you a little story.

I won’t have given you a tidbit to Tweet or a maxim to Pin. You won’t share this on Facebook.

But, maybe, if I’ve succeeded, I will give you pause.

Tourists For A Day

Tourists For A Day

We begin our Pittsburgh tourist day just off Butler Street in Lawrenceville, driving into a lush, 300-acre green space tucked smack in the middle of urban sprawl.

We enter near this castle-like structure. As I frame the photo through majestic oaks, I think surely I must be in Europe {not post-industrial Southwestern Pennsylvania}.

alleg cem castle

We’ve brought a picnic lunch, and I see from the picnic tables and benches near the fountain, we’re not alone. In fact, a hip-looking young couple finishes up as we settle in.

fountain flowers fountain

Before exploring our tranquil setting — complete with winding roads, stately trees, art, and monuments both elaborate and simple — we decide to visit family. We can’t quite remember where Grandpap Bob and Grandma Dolores are, and nearly give up. Finally I find them.

Here, here! I say, and the kids come running. I head to the van for one of the purple coneflowers I snipped from my garden this morning. We place it reverently.

We spend some time exploring, looking for the oldest monuments, the most interesting engravings, calling out when we find an old, old date on a tombstone. I see 1865!

lady cross

grave detail

As we drive up the hill to find my husband’s uncle and other grandpa, we startle her. She peeks around the urn, her impossibly large, tawny ears cupped toward us, eyes dewy.

deer peeking

On the open hillside, we place more flowers. I look across the green to Children’s — brick and bright intermingled. It’s the opposite of my usual view, and so I snap it. It’s nice to be on this side, no monitor beeps, wires, IVs … just a hot, free summer day with nothing to do but play.

family grave

children's view

When we see the ice cream cone in bronze, we know what’s next. We’ll head to Klavon’s ice cream parlor in the Strip District. It only seems right. I think Raymond would have wanted it.

A chalkboard sign there informs us that “stressed” is “desserts” spelled backward, so we plan on plenty of ice cream to relieve our worries — and our sundaes succeed deliciously, with whipped cream that even comes flavored {marshmallow, please!}.

We’ve planned to take our transportation-loving little man on the Duquesne Incline next, telling him how the painted red car is pulled slowly up the mountain on steel cables. We can’t believe we have never taken the girls (9 and 11) on this ride. Our window frames the perfect view of the Point, huge fountain spurting up to 150 feet high, three rivers converging to make what we ‘Burgers know as the Golden Triangle.

city view

On top of Mt. Washington, we walk to the wedding photo spot. It’s just us and a few other tourists here, so I torture my family into a few smiles. You’ll be glad later! I tell them.

***

And we are glad later.

Well, maybe not about the photo op, but about something else: We’re glad we took time to be tourists in our own city.

fam mt wash

Sure, we head to the occasional show, Pirates game, or a special date night at one of our city’s excellent restaurants, but we rarely wander around like tourists. We don’t often take time to look, really look, around us. And I’m not sure why.

Being a tourist in your own city has lots going for it:
It’s inexpensive {no flights or hotels}.
It’s easy {you already know where everything is}.
It’s fun.

What’s more:
It helps you appreciate what you have.
It helps you see old things with new eyes.
It makes your heart swell with pride for your town, because, hey, you just remembered how awesome it is.

Our Pittsburgh tourist day makes me want to stop blindly passing by the things I should notice, and keep seeking ways to live … more.

adam hillside

  • It makes me want to drive through the Fort Pitt tunnel and be awed by the city opening up like a concrete blossom, all bridge and skyscrapers, fountain, river, and sky at once.
  • It makes me want to kayak in the river and bike past the stadiums and eat salads with french fries on them.
  • It makes me want to laugh out loud with glee when I hear the swoop of rickety old wood and know our Red Racer just beat the blue at Kennywood.
  • It makes me want to take a trip around the world within a Gothic architectural masterpiece – the second tallest academic building in the world — sitting at the desks where an 18th-century Swedish student might have figured sums, reading dead-sea scroll replicas, and visiting a haunted attic in the Early American Room.
  • It makes me want to ice skate next to a plate-glass castle, ogle the model trains and gingerbread-house works of art inside, and walk over, all bundled, to the glowing lights of the Benedum, and the brash splash of New Year’s fireworks ‘cross the downtown sky.
  • It makes me want to pound 13.1 hard, hilly miles through six city neighborhoods just to see the little funky bands, the choir on the North Side, the spectators with witty signs and random llamas {don’t ask!}, and the cheering crowds that make me feel like a rockstar because today, I am.

It makes me want to be live like a tourist every day.

On Triathlons & Life Lessons, Part Two

On Triathlons & Life Lessons, Part Two

Check out yesterday’s post for the beginning of the story.

I blow through the bike-to-run transition, only pausing to trade my helmet for a running hat and racking my bike. I don’t even take off my bike gloves; I just go.

Though I am tired and most likely dehydrated from barely taking time to drink, I know I will power through; if there is one part of this tri-sport race I have experience in, it’s running.

I begin passing people, but I feel slow. I’m hot; my breathing is labored; I imagine my face is frozen into a grimace {determination mixed with exhaustion}. I pass my neighbor Dan, as he’s headed back toward the finish line. Longest three miles of my life, he pants. I can’t say that I disagree.

I cross the finish line in an hour and 45 minutes {plus some spare change}, grinning big at my family — all three kids and my hubby — waiting for me as I dig deep and stride out long for the finish.

***

When I think of what I learned from this race, I come up with a few trite-but-true sound bites. It makes me think of one of my family’s favorite funny quotes from The Lego Movie. It’s the part where wise Vitruvius gives struggling hero Emmet advice, while apologizing: “It sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true.”

The Adventure Race taught me several Cat-Poster Truths:

  • The race isn’t won or lost at the first encounter. I had written myself off after my dismal start, but learned that even if you start poorly, you can make up ground later. In life, this means I can fall down, fail, and generally screw up, but still rock the race if I keep going and finish strong.
    • It’s about the journey, not the destination. Preparing for this race was an adventure in itself:
      Gathering equipment. I am grateful to both my neighbor for letting me borrow her road bike and my church friend for lending me her kayak. I learned how to get more comfortable toting around and training on both a kayak and bike, which is pretty far outside my comfort zone; I typically just lace up shoes and run.
      Gleaning advice. My neighbors Dan and Candy, triathlon/adventure race veterans, listened to my never-ending questions, offered advice, drug me around some killer hills on a bike {Candy}, and escorted me downtown in the dark at 5:00 a.m. Saturday and hung out with me {Dan}.
      Logging training hours. Getting outside, pushing myself to learn new things, spending time in solitude and sweat — yes, my training time was perhaps the best gift the race gave me. I usually spend the summer is a structure-less blur, promising that I’m going to work out tomorrow.
  • Equipment matters. Ever realized you just aren’t equipped for a challenge? Maybe you’re lacking something mentally, physically, or spiritually, and you find yourself totally tapped out. Or, maybe you literally have the wrong piece of equipment, like a fat, whitewater kayak, while everyone else flies by you in aerodynamic, long, skinny ones? Or, maybe you {ahem} might have had your paddle backwards …

After the race, I’m supposed to meet my neighbor Dan at the results tent and compare notes. I say a brief goodbye to the kids and grab my water bottle. I join the group huddling around the bright yellow tent looking up at the monitor. I quickly see I’m 51st overall {of the 119 total adventure racers}. Not too shabby.

I walk away and then come right back. Maybe I could see how many women racers in my division came in ahead of me? I find Elizabeth May again. There’s a box to the right.

It says: Age group: 1.

race podium