10.24.2019

let's go.

I was a sports crazed kid.

Even without the Internet, SportsCenter, or cable TV, the last 4-5 minutes of local news broadcasts, weekend telecasts, and magazines kept 1970's/early 80's-me up-to-date (ish) on my heroes and their athletic feats in the NFL (my first love), college and professional basketball (my second and truest sport love), and major league baseball.  ABC's Wide World of Sports clued me in on some of the "lesser" sports and every other year one of the seasonal Olympics would bring a parade of competition that seemed to go otherwise unmentioned during the off years and in-betweens.

You'd have been hard pressed, perhaps incapable, of convincing me that these exploits weren't of life and death importance or that the outcome of any given contest simply didn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.  My not-the-least-bit-interested in sports parents didn't bother trying.  I would figure it out on my own in time and, for the most part, I've done just that.

Much of the pomp and fanfare of professional sports has diminished my enthusiasm over the years. That and just getting older, I'd guess. As much as I continue to enjoy watching people strive and compete and am enthused by any game played at a high level between people or teams of similar ability and degrees of competitiveness, the peripherals often keep me from tuning in or contribute to me soon tuning out.

Still, I do find myself fascinated by compelling tales of athletes, teams, and obstacles overcome. It's the humanity beneath the surface, the not-so-glossy below the gloss that pulls me in, and that I find to be the most beautiful and worthy of celebrating.

Ultimately, I love a good story and, having grown up on sports, a good athletic story remains as likely as any to grab and hold my attention.

Not surprisingly, ESPN's award-winning 30 for 30 series of sports documentaries were made to my order.  Originally launched as an anniversary celebration of films by 30 different directors profiling some of the top moments or stories in sports history that occurred during the television network's first 30 years, the series was eventually expanded after audiences responded enthusiastically and several episodes garnered commercial and artistic praise.

I watched enthralled as the series ran a wide gamut from explorations of the rise and eventual demise of the USFL, a much-larger-than-life profile of Bo Jackson, a behind-the-scenes look at the 2004 Red Sox and their improbable rally against the Yankees in that year's American League Championship Series on their way to a world championship the franchise seemed doomed to never claim, and an innovative recreation of the drowning out of the full slate of sports that occurred on the day that the pursuit of OJ Simpson and AC Cowlings on the LA freeway took over television sets everywhere.

There were other stories of events and athletes I hadn't known and sports that rarely or barely hit my radar. The 16th Man broached the social and political implications of Nelson Mandela supporting the national rugby team in post-apartheid South Africa and Into the Wind chronicled Terry Fox's attempt in 1980 to run the entire length of Canada to raise awareness and money for cancer research after having had one of his leg's amputated above the knee because of osteogenic sarcoma.

Watching Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau, I learned of the humble native surfer who served as the first lifeguard in the famed Waimea Bay, was responsible for saving literally hundreds of lives on his watch, and sacrificed his own life trying to paddle back on his surfboard some 12 miles to the closest island of Lanai for help after the Hōkūleʻa, a traditional boat on which he was a crew member and that was attempting to retrace the ancient route believed to have first brought Tahitians to Hawaii, capsized in a storm and was drifting farther and farther off of its course and growing less likely to be rescued.

Eddie Aikau's body was never recovered.

Photo courtesy of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs
But perhaps I too am getting way off course.

The point I intended to get to is that real life matters a whole lot more than the current collegiate sports rankings, which athlete hoisted what trophy, and the batting average of the latest baseball wunderkind.

Another part of the point I also mean to make is that within organized sports and certainly from individuals engaged in athletic endeavors do dwell valid moments of inspiration and, ultimately, drawing strength and motivation wherever you find it shouldn't be dismissed as being banal or cliche.  Hype aside, applicable metaphor does exist.

Sometimes sports really can inform real life and real life most certainly informs sports or at least the persons engaged in them can offer glimpses into how determination and persistence pay off.

When the humanity of sport and life collide or overlap, I'm again the same wide-eyed fan I was at 6 years old.

Midway through the Bear 100 a few weeks ago, after a long night of cold and wet and lightning and hail, after falling repeatedly in the beyond slippery clay-on-a-potters-wheel terrain, the protective cover of a canvas tent, the relative comfort of a folding chair, and the warmth of a campfire made me question getting back on my feet for hours and hours and miles and miles of more punishment.


Pondering that question whisked me away to a more tropical locale.

In April of 2017, Piper, Lily, Lindsay, and I found ourselves boarding a plane for a week of vacation gifted to us by the amazing people at Make-a-Wish.  Lily had undergone brain surgery to combat a cancerous tumor the November prior and the trip had been something she and her family could focus on and look forward to instead of just worrying over how surgery would go and what recovery might entail.  When Lily had been asked to name her wish, she unhesitatingly said she wanted to swim with dolphins and Make-a-Wish set everything in motion.

We were informed that there were two potential places in the US where the wish could come true. We'd already been to Florida, so we chose location number two.

In addition to swimming with dolphins, in Hawaii we'd have the chance to visit Pearl Harbor, snorkel in Hanauma Bay, and take part in several other special activities.  On our first full day on the island, we were able to attend a luau.  It was only upon arrival that we were informed that there were a number of other children there because of Make-a-Wish and at a certain point in the evening all of the kids would be brought on stage and honored.

My Lily is very much a creature of habit and so long as she's given fair warning and has time to process, even if what she's up against is daunting, she's quite adept at steeling her will and seeing things through.  Blindside her or catch her unawares, she struggles. Like many of us.

She'd just turned 10 at the time and was still finding her way in terms of "owning" her cancer and accepting having attention thrust upon her for that reason.  She'd get there in time and has become an active ambassador for childhood cancer awareness, but she was very much in the infancy of that journey then.

Frankly, she didn't want to stand in front of the "room" and be recognized as a sick kid. Had we forewarned her, she would likely have been fine, but the news being broken to her just minutes beforehand and without an opportunity to refuse or consider had her on her heels.

We did what we could to calm her nerves and did our best to enjoy the festivities together as a family. The food was exotic and delicious and the dancing and storytelling were mesmerizing.  Still, I squirmed throughout the meal and performances knowing what was coming and realizing that I didn't even have an idea how the logistics were supposed to work.

Before I understood what was even happening, a large man in a mix of modern and traditional garb appeared at our table and gestured at Lily to come with him to the stage.  She looked uncertain and nervously glanced first her mother's direction and then mine.  As I began to get to my feet to intercede, Lily motioned at the man to lean down and as he did he turned his ear toward her.  She said something to him that caused him to pull back with a surprised but bemused look on his face.  As Lil rose to her feet, the man extended his arm and took her hand.  Together, they made their way toward the stage. Lily didn't even look back our way.

Though her nervousness was quite obvious to her parents, Lily stood bravely alongside the other children, smiled, and politely accepted the kind gifts extended to her by the chief who led the ceremony and bestowed health and safekeeping to all the children on stage.  Minutes later, Lil returned to our table with a shrug of shy relief but without a word.

Soon after, I was approached by the man who'd escorted Lily to the stage. He gave me the shaka sign, grinned broadly, and then shared with me what my daughter had said to him.

"Eddie would go", she'd told him.

You see, after Eddie Aikau made that legendary attempt to swim back to Hawaii for help, his astounding courage wove its way into popular culture on the islands. When the waves and conditions at a surf contest named in his honor were dangerous enough to make organizers question whether or not to hold the event, legendary-in-his-own-right surfer Mark Foo simply stated "Eddie would go" and the phrase became synonymous with mustering courage and doing what needed to be done.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Weeks or perhaps even months before, I'd told Eddie's story to Lily and Piper without ever expecting it to stick.

It stuck.

And the legacy of that waterman's selfless effort in the face of adversity and truly against all realistic odds inspired strength in a little girl more than 40 years later.

"Eddie would go."

Lily went.

And, buttressed with the perspective that in relative terms that dark and stormy night in the Bear River Range of Utah wasn't really all that dark and stormy, her father did too.

7.28.2019

lost or found.

Hi, Jim:

It's been too long and now is a shameful time to realize that; now that you've up and vanished, without a word as to where you've gone or whether you intend to return.  Sounds like you've had your legs kicked out from under you as of late and your spirits and resolve have fallen down too.

I feel you there.

You don't need me to tell you that life is hard.  You don't need me to tell you that sometimes it's too much.  Or seems so.

Man, do I ever feel you there.

I remember you joking on a run that "the struggle is real" and is....it...ever.  I am not immune to the darkness.  It's crept in, terrifyingly so, on two separate occasions in the last 9 months alone, and, as you and I both know, that despair is all too real.

So, it sounds like you and I both "get it" in terms of being out on that ledge and having to come to some conclusion as to what to do about it.  To stare into that darkness and wallow in it or take some action, some step back towards the light.  And it seems to me that this is something we probably would have benefited from commiserating over.  You know, like together, not separately and alone.  That's how commiseration works.

Because now I'm floundering blindly in the woods, day after day, calling out your name, calling out my own name so you know who is calling yours, and listening to both names dissolve into the canopy without a reply.

Which really, really, really sucks.

I don't mean to judge you, but I'm worried you made the wrong call on this one.  We all crave, no, we all need some time away.  Some solitude.  Some just-please-no-more-noise-just-this-one-time time to ourselves.  We deserve it.  We're entitled to it.  But the people we love, the people who love us, the people we've committed to and who have committed to us, they also deserve to be told, in some fashion, that we're taking some of that time away even if we can't say how much time that's going to be.

My heart breaks that your heart may have broken, that it may have been breaking or broken for quite some time. My heart breaks to think of how many other hearts are now breaking even as those...hearts...don't...know...exactly why they're breaking or if and how to move on.

You are loved, Jim.  By people that I know you love.  By people you might not even know love you.  And where there is love there is forgiveness even if it's a forgiveness hard won.

But not knowing is intolerable and unacceptable.

Which is why I'm pretty pissed at you.  And pissed at myself too.

In being stubbornly determined to be so damned strong, we men are preposterously weak.  Sorry, Jim, but you are weak.  Weak like me and weak like every other "him" out there trying to go it alone, muscle through, man up, only to crumble beneath the unrealistic weight.  Alone, only because we choose to go it that way or because we've bought into the myth that we need to be able to handle it without any cracks in the exterior, help from anyone else, or any show of vulnerability.

And that bullshit myth is all too often bolstered and braced by an utter lack of vulnerable hands or reassuring words being extended our way until it's too late and we've already cracked, already crumbled.  Sure, we're first in line for rescues and search parties, but there'll be no crying on these broad shoulders until then.

You've been radio silent on social media for weeks.  Truant from the trail.  I didn't call or text.  Honestly and embarrassingly, I didn't even notice.  But how could I, being so busy manning up myself?  Going it alone.  And failing.  Not calling, not texting, not picking up on a friend's cracking and crumbling.

Not calling until now.

Here.

In the middle of a seemingly endless sea of ferns, blowdowns, sunstreams, and birdsong.  And an absence of you.

I hope with every fiber of my being that you're ok, Jim.

I hope with every fiber of my being that if you're not ok, and you're out there, and you're needing to be found, that we find you.

I hope with every fiber of my being that if you've fallen and perished, that we find your body, and bring it and closure home to your distraught family.  I do.

And I also hope with every fiber of my being that if you are out there NOT wanting to be found and NOT needing to be found, that you formulate some way to convey that to the people who love you who can then help convey that to the multitude of acquaintances and well-wishers that want you found even if they barely know you or don't know you at all.

So we can all stop crying out in vain, stop leaning plaintively into the hollow sound of our own grieving voices, and can begin broken hearts healing and start learning from this day forward to be more open, vulnerable, perceptive, and proactive in reaching out to offer help and to ask for help when we need it.

I love you, Jimmy.

Leon

10.27.2016

thanksliving, part ii.

"I am thankful, immensely, for my wife and hopeful that she and I will both still be drawing breath together decades from now and hopeful too that every now and again her hand will reach out to me or squeeze back when I reach out to take her hand in mine.

I am thankful, boundlessly, for my daughters and hopeful that they will never let what they know (or think they know) or all that they've experienced get in the way of striving for what they don't know and have yet to experience.  I am hopeful that they are never unaware of the love and faith in their abilities that their parents have for them.

I am thankful for my immediate, extended, and adopted families for shaping me, accepting me, and reshaping me anew when necessary (often) into a “me” that I too am able to accept.  I am hopeful that together we grow, flourish and continue to celebrate the myriad of ways in which we are different and the same.

I am joyfully thankful for this planet for both possessing natural, untrammeled wonders and for hosting the triumphs of civilization.  I remain cautiously hopeful that distinction and balance can be made between the two and that the failures of civilization aren't mistaken for triumphs and allowed to render nature extinct, not in my lifetime nor the lifetime of any creature that comes after.

I am thankful for hope.  Real hope.  Not sloganeering, not wouldn't-that-be-nice daydreaming, not wishful thinking without effort made toward realization.  Real hope with real effort.

I am thankful for dreams and hopeful for dreams, realized or simply sought after.

Dream on."

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Apparently, I wrote those words three years ago (thanksliving.), so this is more a recitation than a creative post.

They've never wrung truer than now.

We received confirmation today that Lily's surgery will take place on November 28, so you'd better believe that hope and gratitude are very much on my mind.

The anticipation of that procedure is going to put a whole new spin on Thanksgiving this year.  All of the nearly unthinkable unknowns drive home the need to be grateful for time shared with the people we care for most deeply.  The potential to drive out the demon that is cancer and free Lil from its possession is wonderful basis for hope.

It's all almost too much.

Almost.

It's a lot, but it's not too much.

Hope sustains and we thank you for the hope you have for Lily.

------------------------------

Pull your loved ones close and make sure they know they're loved.

No assumptions.

Assumptions of that sort are recipe for regret should time slip away.

Don't wait on Hallmark for your cues.  Hallmark doesn't care if you miss any given occasion because they've got a "so sorry" card at the ready for that situation too.

Don't wait.

Give thanks today.  Give thanks every single day. 

Love.

Hope.

Dream.

10.22.2016

love thy neighbor.


"As the years go by and I watch my children already being better versions of me, as I continue to add names to the list of people I wish lived closer, led lives that managed to overlap now and again with my own or, worse yet, were simply still living, I get better and better at being mindful of all there is to appreciate. Focus drifts for periods of time, moods darken and the weight of day-to-day existence shrouds the holding up of all the good things now and again, but few days pass without my remembering my blessings."

I wrote those words more than five years ago, as Lil and then Pipe emerged from infancy and began to show the innate kindness and sensitivity inherited from their mother as well as unveiling their own unique traits. Each new day I see more to celebrate in their emotional and intellectual growth.

I wrote those words in reflection of lost loved ones and dispersed friends. Migration from this world and across the planet has continued.

Blessings still abound and my appreciation of them has only deepened.

I cannot effectively express, at least not fully, how loved and worried-over we've felt the last few days and how much it has meant. If circumstance is equitable enough to find us in the same place again, I hope to have the chance to pull many of you close in shared embrace, look you in the eye, and tell you directly of what your gestures have meant. Depth of emotion even then will probably make me bumble and fall short on the words, but I'll get the hug right.

Thank you.

Know that your kindness is noticed and cherished. Know that we anxiously await the opportunity to pay it back and pay it forward.

Know that the love we feel is love we hope that each of you feel from us in return and from others around you.

The news in all its forms points to our differences of politics, of religion, of heritage, of social or economic status, of interests, of lifestyle, of opinion and would have us "know" that all is lost. I look to my broad circle of friends, diverse in politics, religion, heritage, social and economic status, interests, lifestyle, and opinion and choose to see not "sides" but individuals trying their best to make sense of their short existence. I KNOW all is not lost.

Doubt, anger, and frustration are human inevitabilities but they need not steer entirely our perspectives.

"Love thy neighbor as thyself." It is a biblical imperative, but, you need not espouse Christianity or any other religion to understand that in the broadest sense, this is basically a natural inclination.

A child is faced with a life-altering (at least) medical diagnosis, a family sags beneath the burden, and instinctually you want to know how you can help. You don't run through some checklist to make certain that the girl and her family are on your side. You act. In those moments, we know there are no sides. Too often we feel otherwise.

From one neighbor to another, thank you. I love you and I thank you for loving me, loving Lily, loving all of us.

We've received an abundance of support of every kind, but, if we can, we ask one more favor. We ask that you remember the rest of your literal and figurative neighbors over the likely contentious weeks ahead.

Disagree.

Debate.

But please don't let differences of opinion stand in the way of the need to care for one another. Don't let fictitious divisions become absolutes.

It's hard, but it's not as hard as we make it if we put love and human decency first.

Do glad.

10.07.2016

let it be true.

(Note: If you’ve come here looking for my usual reflection on running, you need not read past the end of the next two sentences. So long as running brings you joy, I urge you to keep at it. Life being precious and short, if running is a chore or little more than a way to measure yourself against others, I plead with you to seek out new avenues for spending the days you’re given.)

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Eight years ago, my firstborn daughter, Lily, slipped from my grasp and fell flat on her back in the grass at my feet. Instinct kicked in the moment she hit the ground and I swooped her up, rushed her inside, and then shuttled her off to the hospital before whatever emotions I might have felt had time to record as memory.

I cannot recall now how I felt then though the memories of the fear and trepidation of the hours and days that followed are vivid.

I cannot recall now how I felt then, but I will never forget how I felt last evening, eight years after, when Lily, having listened to a retelling of that story at her bedtime, assured me that I hadn’t dropped her, but had “saved her life.”

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Preliminary results of a CT Scan at the time of Lil’s fall suggested a brain bleed, but careful scrutiny in the days immediately after and follow-up testing weeks later confirmed that the smudge in the films wasn’t bruising, but my initial relief at not being to blame quickly gave way to the understanding that the abnormality was far more disconcerting than a temporary wound.

That abnormality, situated in Lil’s left temporal lobe, an area of the brain employed in the comprehension of language and vision, has been the subject of monitoring ever since.

That abnormality has never stopped being disconcerting.

Mostly, though, it just was. It didn’t grow. It didn’t diminish. It didn’t cause any ill effects. It just was and its menace consisted solely of being there.

In time, twice annual scans were relaxed to annual scans and, as the results of those sessions remained consistently unchanged, time between scans was eventually stretched to two years.  And, with assurance from the surgeons that more time could pass between scans, that abnormality quietly, almost imperceptibly relinquished its menace. We never fully forgot it was there, but it ceased to be the sole cloud carrying potential for rain in an otherwise blue sky.



Those sunny skies encouraged us to close our eyes and bask in the warmth and we did, but when we opened our eyes the forecast had changed.

This past winter, in the midst of her 3rd grade school year, Lily began to complain about her eyesight and, just like that, we had a symptom for which we’d been cautioned to remain vigilant. Lindsay and I immediately realized that another two years had passed and Lil was again due for an MRI.

Lily had been seen at Johns Hopkins since she was two, but circumstance merited a move to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and she immediately felt more comfortable in this youth-centric facility.



By the time we visited for Lil’s initial MRI, she had already seen an optometrist and had been prescribed corrective lenses.  Her need for glasses wasn’t proof alone that there was great reason for concern, but we looked forward to verification that the old familiar abnormality still simply was.

It wasn’t.

There were signs indicating both structural changes and growth. A visit with an ophthalmologist corroborated the likelihood that the tumor was cause of the rapid deterioration of Lil's vision. Allowing for the fact that orientation from machine to machine can differ and it had been some time since the last scan, a follow-up MRI was slated for 30 days later. If it showed additional growth, we would need to consider what immediate action could and should be taken.  If it showed additional growth.

It didn’t.

We returned to watch-and-wait mode, heartened for the moment, but the wake-up call of that first sign of growth coupled with additional input from Lily suggesting that she was also having some cognitive issues, failing from time to time to be able to formulate the words that she had at the ready in her mind, kept us on edge. She told us she knew that it was growing, knew that something needed to be done. She asked, earnestly, if she would die. As parents, we’d been asked that question before and it’s a painful question to answer even when it’s brought on by the death of a pet, the passing of an elderly relative, or simply the developing youthful mind. It’s exponentially more difficult a question to answer when it stems from your child facing that very real possibility.

Lindsay and I were forced to discuss surgery and its implications, something we really hadn’t had to do since the first discovery of the tumor all those years prior.

This time there was a third voice in that discussion and, as it belonged to the person carrying the reason for the conversation, the voice was the most important of the three. Lily didn’t want to wait, she wanted to take action. She wanted to take IT out. She desperately wanted the surgery and didn’t understand why we didn’t just do it.



The surgeon we had first seen all the way back in 2008 recommended at that time that we move forward with surgery, remove as much of the tumor as possible, and biopsy it. Second and third opinions advised caution and ultimately convinced us to wait, primarily because of a lack of symptoms on Lily’s part and the imminent threat, based on the location and structure of the tumor, that healthy brain tissue could be compromised and survival was not guaranteed.

That threat remained imminent and was the very reason why we didn’t just schedule surgery.

September arrived and with it yet another appointment with CHOP’s Radiology department.


This time the results were unambiguous, the need to take action inarguable, and, in a cruel twist, at least for her parents, Lily would have her wish.

----------

Our oncologist and surgeon have made it clear that while we should take steps to address the situation with surgery, the immediate risk is not so great that we can’t schedule the procedure at a time over the next 6-9 months that would be least disruptive for Lily and for our family, including her doting, adoring little sister, Piper Bea.



My daughter loves to dance. She loves to swim. Both of these activities are her most direct connection to life as it is and how she wants it to continue to be.  She does not want this…this thing in her body or its ominous shadow hanging over her any longer than it must. She wants it out and the sooner the better. The sooner it is out, the sooner she can dance, the sooner she can swim.

Yes, there are risks and, yes, there is potential that the procedure will not be effective, will not fully alleviate the issue, or could even cause other issues.  There is that potential.  That potential is not nearly so great as the absolute guarantee that doing nothing will ensure issues that neither Lily or her parents care to sit idly by and watch manifest.

Better to think of dancing, to dream of swimming. Best to dance and swim now, in the meantime, and as soon as possible after.

Endless have been the conversations that Lindsay and I have had over the years about that foreign castaway inside of our daughter. We’ve cursed its constant, silent presence and the way in which it so often made us second guess every odd gesture or peculiar mannerism that Lily had at any given moment, little happenings that other parents would have paid little mind, likely no mind whatsoever. Knowing that it was there was a strange chronic punishment but for what we weren’t sure.

It was a constant guilt I was resigned to shouldering for the remainder of my lifetime.

A nine year old knew better.

Without knowledge of its being there, that foreign body would have grown unwatched and by the time it made its presence fully known, we would likely be looking not at a tricky surgical procedure but faced with an inoperable tumor with a grip on Lily’s central nervous system that could not be loosened, a grip that would have put her very existence in jeopardy.



Eight years ago, I dropped my daughter and couldn’t possibly have imagined that, in doing so, I might have saved her life.

Please, please let it be true.

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If everything falls into place, Lily will undergo laser interstitial thermal therapy in mid-to-late November. This neurosurgical technique will create a dime-sized hole in the top of her skull and allow a laser probe, steered by real-time computer guidance and informed by MRI-monitoring, to reach the tumor and then destroy the foreign cells by super-heating them. By employing this technique, we hope to minimize the damage to healthy tissue and lessen the potential for infection that comes with a traditional and more invasive craniotomy. It will not immediately remove the tumor or what portions of it would have been possible to cut away without too great a risk to healthy portions of the brain, but it is expected that the destroyed tissue will diminish with time and perhaps be eliminated entirely, something that subsequent MRI scans will need to confirm.

The greatest risks are the likelihood of visual deficits (think blindspots, not blindness) and potential for language deficits.  The fact that the tumor is surrounded by healthy tissue and in relatively close proximity to the brain stem brings graver concerns, but we have every confidence in CHOP and the precision of our surgical team.

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We know our friends and family will have numerous questions and, as much as we’d love to answer all of them, Lindsay and I ask for your patience and understanding as we need to focus our energies on supporting Lily, reassuring Piper, leaning on each other, and attending to all of the logistics necessary to balance life alongside the preparations ahead of surgery and whatever our situation proves to be afterwards.

You can help us best by simply loving Lily as we know many of you do and sending her positivity by whatever means you believe most effective. The means of transmission isn’t important. She’s a sensitive child, always has been, and she’ll feel it, I can assure you.

If you feel compelled to pass word directly to Lily or should happen to run into her in the days ahead, all I ask is that you respect the gravity of what she’s facing and the immensity of processing that at any age much less at nine. She has been privy to every conversation with the oncologist and the surgeon and has been given the opportunity to raise concerns directly. No punches have been pulled by anyone in speaking to those concerns. Tears and heartfelt apologies, genuine as they surely would be, are not helpful and Lily will not respond well to them.

Trust me.

My daughter does not aspire to be extraordinary, even if her mother and father already believe her to be. Lily loves being "just a regular kid" and cherishes the moments that make her feel like she is just that. In that, she mirrors her father. She is sufficiently frightened about what lies ahead, healthily so, and doesn’t need the well-wishing but too-evident worries of others to make her that much more scared. She remains just a kid and when this is in the rearview, she still will be. Treat her that way and I promise that you’ll have helped. Remember that our Piper Bea could use a little love and attention too and I promise that you'll have helped.


Thanks, in advance, to all of you from all of us. Thank you for caring about us and for sending us positive energy.

It means much to us, as do all of you.

8.11.2016

time to pretend.


My social media circle is crackling with excitement and fraught with anxiety.

Long hours of training, strategizing, and preparing have led up to race day and now it's time to see what the shaping, reshaping, and honing has wrought.

Friends are excited.  Friends are worried.  Friends are brimming with confidence or drowning in doubt, in some cases brimming with confidence AND drowning in doubt.

I am not brimming, nor am I drowning.  I am strangely calm and nearly numb.

Not because I am supremely confident (I am not) and not because I am particularly sure that I will fail (I don't believe I will).

As my race has approached, I have told myself that I am excited and asked myself if I'm ready to go or worried about the outcome and, honestly, I haven’t gotten much confirmation that I am excited or, frankly, much of a response at all.

Calmness.  Numbness.

With all that has transpired over the last year and all the real life challenges that I've experienced, witnessed, or have learned of others facing, to suggest that voluntarily running a race, even one of great length, extreme obstacle, and (apparently) less than ideal weather conditions...to suggest that it matters all that much would just be pretending and pretending unconvincingly.

Not to say that I am NOT looking forward to the Eastern States 100.

I am.

It doesn't mean that I am NOT super enthused to gather with the tribe again, share our individual stories, and write new ones together.

I absolutely am.

And NOT to say that the prospect of being out and on-the-move for 30+ hours in high temperatures, soaring humidity, and predicted powerful storms isn't daunting.

It is.

But....

At this moment of my limited time on the planet, the “larger than life” narrative of running ultra distances is, well, nowhere near as large as life much less larger.  The ability to engage in aerobic activity that includes or transforms fully into physical discomfort or even pain is the privilege of those who are not weak, are not terminally ill, are in possession of the true luxury of leisure time, are among the living.  That realization lets a lot of air out of the ultra running balloon, but not nearly as much air as being weak, being terminally ill, not having leisure time, or not drawing breath takes out of life itself.

At no point during a race is my life at risk.  Even if failing to take proper care of myself nudges me in that direction, simply stopping alleviates the threat.  I have direct say in how at risk my life is when many do not.

Failing to reach the finish line won't bring life screeching to a halt any more than triumphantly crossing that same finish line will much improve my post-race existence.

It's amazing the trivial things that we elevate to such great heights and equally amazing the not-so-trivial things that we disregard or take for granted.

My legs will be tired and my feet will hurt.  Sounds nice to have legs that are tired and feet that hurt must think those that have neither.

My stomach will likely rebel and empty itself or refuse to be filled.  And then when the race is over, I'll eat as much as I want of whatever I want and my stomach will cooperate.  I will not go hungry and I will not be sick.  Others will go hungry, will be sick, as they have for as long as they can remember and as far into the future as they are able to imagine.

My distance to travel will diminish and in the end will be reached and should I fail to cover the desired distance on foot, I will get a ride to some other vehicle that waits to whisk me away to the comfort and safety of my home.  Guaranteed and never, ever in doubt.  Unlike those without a home or a means to get to where they wish to go or away from where they desperately need to be no more.

My mind will falter, will bend, and perhaps even break momentarily, but rest and sleep will return its faculties.  My brain will not cease to function, will not be damaged, or require parts of it to be removed.

No, I have not lost my want to physically challenge myself nor have I lost my admiration and respect for anyone who willingly takes on an endeavor that asks her or him to strive, to progress, to move, move, move!  I will forever cheer on friends and strangers alike and will laugh, tearfully, as they attain their goals and overcome those things that appeared to stand in the way of their progression.  I will continue to attempt the same and will shed tears and roar with laughter for my own efforts.

But...

I have known true sadness and had some that lay dormant dredged back to the surface.  I've known anxiety and worry over matters that really matter.  Seen others’ health deteriorate, their finances vanish, even entire foundations of life crumble beneath them.  I've whispered goodbyes, wailed goodbyes, sometimes too late to have them heard.  I have felt truly powerless, BEEN truly powerless to right wrongs and save others from pain and sorrow.

All of which makes me human, none of which makes me unique.

Running and finishing (or not finishing) a race is full of symbolism and the before, during, and after are rich with life lessons.  Rich with lessons about life. But it isn’t life and shouldn't be mistaken or misrepresented as such.

It is play.  It is joyful, privileged play, but it is still pretend.

And so I am calm and nearly numb.

And for the better part of two days this weekend, I will embrace the absence from reality and the privilege of not worrying about anything that really matters for a short while.

I will play and I will smile, and laugh, and likely cry.

Time to pretend.

5.21.2016

amos.

I'd been out all night.

Starting from the parking lot just off of Route 322 below the Clark's Ferry Bridge that crosses the Susquehanna at Duncannon, I had headed north on the Appalachian Trail right around dusk, climbing up Peters Mountain, continuing past the crossing of Route 325, making an abbreviated loop up Stony Mountain on a portion of the unofficial Buzzards Marathon course, before returning along the AT.

Pace be damned, I had clambered up any boulder that looked interesting, stopped as often and for as long as liked to snap photographs, chatted with the many deer crouching silently in the illumination of my headlamp with seeming conviction that so long as they didn't flinch I couldn't really see them, and even sleepily serenaded a porcupine with an infamous Sir Mix-a-Lot song when it would turn and offer only views of its rear end.  I had paused frequently to listen to the night sounds; the whoo-whooing of owls, the downward, downward, always downward rushing of water, the soft, nearly imperceptible sound of caterpillar droppings drizzling from the forest canopy (yes, that's a thing), and, in the deepest hours of the night, the elusive, mesmerizing sound of silence.



Just before daybreak, the rain had begun to fall and over the next several hours it showed no signs of letting up.  As much as I had enjoyed myself, the piling up of miles, the early stage of sleep deprivation, the relentless rocks of Peters Mountain, and hours of being wet and chilled had caught up with me and found me picking my way along one of the last rocky outcrops with tired, sloppy feet, beginning to dread the final few miles of steep descent back to the trail head.

The clicking of trekking pole tips on rock announced that a hiker was approaching from just below my perch and immediately reminded me that I hadn't seen a single person actually hiking since I'd started.  During the night, I had passed the tents of many slumbering backpackers and in the morning I had waved and nodded at many of them as they peeked out of their sodden tents, huddled around smoky campfires, or went through the motions of breaking camp and packing for the day, but at no point had I truly come upon anyone hiking.

I stepped to one side of the trail to allow the ascending hiker clear passage.  He lifted his head, squinted his eyes slightly, and declared, "I know you" in an unmistakable Pennsylvania Dutch accent that was familiar and welcoming despite my never having met the man before.

"Backcountry Edge," he said, proudly gesturing at his pack and adding that it was the one I had "advertised on the Internet."

I formally introduced myself and asked him his name and where he was from, learning that Amos hailed from a small town located 4 miles west of the even smaller town that I had grown up in as a small child.

Amos in turn asked how long I'd been out and I shared my overnight adventure and admitted that I was feeling pretty done in.  I posed to him the same question and he told me that his "speed hike" had begun a short time earlier from the same parking lot I was headed toward and would end, he hoped, around midnight where the Appalachian Trail crosses over Route 645 just south of Pine Grove.

That's a 42 mile done-in-a-day hike.  I would finish my night/day at 37.

Noting how little gear he was carrying, I wondered aloud, "Will you camp when you get there? Will someone be meeting you?"

He grinned, shrugged, and replied almost sheepishly, "I have one of those push scooters, you know that the Amish people have."  It was stashed near the trail head and once he was done hiking, he would scoot himself the 15 road miles back home.

Smiling broadly, I said, "Amos, you've got a big day ahead of you. Don't let me hold you up."

"This is unbelievable, meeting you out here on the trail like this," Amos replied with a warm smile of his own and a "gee whiz" shaking of his head.

"It's been a pleasure," I agreed as Amos turned to go.

I watched him deftly navigate the ledge, slightly stunned that I had made his day.

He'd certainly made mine.

Those last few miles back to the car?

They weren't so bad after all.