The Space Between Thoughts

Life is Good


I read a story today on Narratively, a story called “Losing the Language of Love”. It’s not nearly as grim or as cheesy as it sounds. Go ahead, read it. I’ll wait.

 *  *  *

Neither of us can remember who said it first, but within a couple of weeks of meeting each other, my sweetheart and I had OUR own language, our own dialect and the beginning of our very own archive of inside jokes. It all started with one of us blurting out, “You LIKE it!” and laughing out loud when some unfortunate turn of events happened to the other of us. It stuck.

Espresso spilled down the front of your pajamas first thing in the morning? (You LIKE it!)

House ransacked by nine children? (Yeah, you LIKE it!)

That little phrase just never gets old. Because, somehow, yeah… we do like it. All of it. The wild, precious, messy, chaotic, complex, simple, beautiful life we share together is a tapestry woven of the sacred and the inelegant, the ridiculous and the profound, the sunlight and the shadows that make it all worthwhile.

I flew home this weekend from the east coast; my job took me to Boston for a week and most of two weekends. Arriving at the airport late on a Saturday afternoon, I was surrounded by my Family. The tears that followed were buried under the arms of little ones holding me tight. Looking up at Michael, I could see his eyes were full of tears as well.

“I’m so happy, I’m crying…” I whispered to him, over the heads of the Little Ones.

“Yeah, but you LIKE it.”

His smile said it all.

Unbroken Circle

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I sat by a campfire this weekend and watched the physical properties of the firewood change as the heat and flames did their work. Impermanence. Change. It’s in the air as this season shifts and the autumn equinox waits just around the corner.

I was there at that campfire to join a circle of friends in a celebration of change. A threshold. A new beginning. Longtime friends of mine are moving out of state, starting a new life in a new place.

Sitting beside my daughter and her boyfriend, my Sweetheart, his oldest daughter… I was deeply cognizant of Change and all its many, many gifts. To introduce his eleven year old daughter to my friends, to have her be able to share in marking the passage of time, was exquisite. As we drove away, she remarked on the quality of the friends that I have. Impressed by both their contribution to this community in their law enforcement/firefighting careers and by their gentle wisdom and humor, she commented on the fact that we can sometimes know a lot about a person by the friends they have.

She’s right. To have friends, one must first BE a friend. Bonds are forged during difficult experiences and those who stand beside us through these painful times are those with whom we choose to celebrate the good and bright and beautiful events.

I explained to her that the way I see it, we have to begin by being a friend to ourselves. When we show compassion to the places in us that we fear, when we learn to accept things exactly as they are and respect the fact that we ARE enough (exactly as we are)… we practice love. When we don’t accept ourselves and have no compassion for our own soft and vulnerable places, we often become hardened to the suffering of others. Judgmental and critical, even.

Be the sort of friend you would want to have. Practice the kind of love you need. Choose vulnerability, openness, communication, light, compassion, trust. Then surround yourself with the kind of people who do the same. Sometimes, it means being a little bit alone for as long as it takes. Sometimes it means opting out of friendships that don’t add value. Sometimes it means saying “no” (to situations and people that aren’t right for you) so that you can say “yes” to living out loud, to becoming a friend to yourself.

The love we give, the light we share, the compassion we choose… these things carry forward. They do not end when a chapter ends. The book, the legacy of life fully lived, remains.

The smile on her face told me everything I needed to know: when we choose love instead of fear, the ripple effect of our choice is profound. Love wins. Love is an unbroken circle.

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Living out Loud

Des and Me

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
– Mary Oliver

 

*  *  *

I watch the sky unfold into sunrise each morning as I drive to the gym- the seasons are changing and the air is crisp and cool. I savor this drive, soaking up the colors lacing the clouds and just exhaling all the worries that crowd the corners of my mind.

Having this time to train at the gym first thing in the morning is no simple matter: our entire household works together to make it happen. Synchronizing morning routines and adjusting his work schedule, my partner drives my daughter to her school bus stop so I can leave early.

Our household tapestry is woven in a particularly gentle and caring way- we all work together to make the house a home every single day. Sharing the cooking and baking and cleaning and laundry… family breakfasts and dinners seasoned with laughter and deep conversation- we gather strength from time spent together.

The beauty of having endured great difficulty in this lifetime is that each of us has chosen to be more present, more empathetic, more generous with our hearts and time, more compassionate and more open and vulnerable. The result? A peaceful household. Contentment that resonates. Open communication that softens the sharp edges of life’s challenges. Calm in spite of the storm raging all around.

We banter, joke, tease, laugh, disagree, resolve conflicting expectations, share ideas and hopes and dreams and ways to make them a reality. This is Family. This is life lived out loud.

We know when to simply load up the backpacks and gear and head into the outdoors. The solace offered in the simplicity of hiking, camping and trekking is unparalleled. It occurred to me this morning as I watched the sun come up that this winding path that has brought each of us to this one precious day, this journey that we share- this trail is open to any human. Any person can choose to live out loud, to build bridges, to communicate openly, to love wildly, to adventure often, to create a beautiful life with the ones they love.

Blowing Kisses

 

Forward

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“To stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.”   -Pema Chödrön

 

I return to her writings again and again, just as I return to the barbell and the plates and the training that provides the underlying foundation of my health and wellbeing. The reminder that “this very moment is the perfect teacher” is so simple, so profound, that it grounds me solidly in the most difficult of circumstances.

I’ll be honest: standing by my partner as he navigates the horror show that is a custody battle for eight children… has been and will continue to be a traumatic and painful experience, possibly for a decade or more. As a result of their mother’s sudden break with reality and her evident paranoia (which included filing nine restraining orders under false pretenses), the children have experienced being isolated and secluded in a women’s shelter for five months, now. They’ve been sick with every imaginable cold, sinus infection and bronchial infection on a rotating basis for the duration of these months. As of last week, she abruptly sent the oldest boy (who is only twelve years old) 360 miles away and committed him to a mental health facility without even consulting his father (my partner) or notifying him.

She has committed every known form of abuse against my partner, for a duration of thirteen years. When he finally had the courage to make a change (including giving her the family home, his entire salary, complete financial and physical support of her and the children), she repaid his kindness and decency with violent rage, cold and calculating lies and the subsequent kidnapping of all eight children.

As it stands now, she’s abandoned the family home (which he is still paying for- and which will likely go into foreclosure as a result of her suing him for back child support and sticking him with a $10,000 bill in addition to his monthly support obligations), abandoned the family van (which he was paying for and which was capable of providing transportation for all the children), retained the biggest law firm in town to harass, demean, disparage and threaten him on a weekly basis. In order to support his children, he was unable to maintain an attorney and is now representing himself as best he can.

Staying with a broken heart, a rumbling stomach… yep. That’s me. That’s my partner. In spite of the horrific allegations, the continued manipulation and abuse heaped on him- in spite of the loss of his children and the seemingly unending cesspool of madness directed at him- he is holding steady. His love for his children is so profound, so complete, that his only goal is to do what is truly best for them regardless of the cost.

 

This is a messy chapter in a beautiful, fascinating and amazing life book. I’ve had few messy, ugly chapters before. Probably a few too many. The thing is, it’s all temporary. The beautiful and the ugly, the sorrow and grief and loss, the simple joy and contentment… we are what we choose to do in each situation. We are more than the sum of our fears. We are more than the degradation, shame, lies, manipulation- and we are more than the false promises of security and safety that are offered if only we would surrender (admit fault that is not ours to admit, accept blame that is not our burden to carry).

It was truly sad to watch her pump her fist in the air, walking out of the courtroom after perjuring herself on the stand, lying about the father of her children. It has been horrifying to watch a human mind descend into madness, beginning to believe her own distorted view of reality. It was also a dark gift. The sheer magnitude and scope of her wild allegations contradicted themselves, time and again. It was crystal clear that there was no merit to a single statement; there was not a single untarnished ‘truth’ in her words.

The truth is this: children need a relationship with both parents; they have the right to love both parents. To use children as a weapon to inflict pain on a father, to threaten to take them away and then to do so repeatedly (denying visitation, threatening to cancel visitation, continually interfering with the small window of time allotted to him to be with his children)- these things are detrimental and deeply harmful to children. They deserve to know safety and security, to have consistency and sanity evident in their adult care providers.

A year from now, all of this will be different. Some things will be good, some will be difficult. These things come to pass, they don’t come to stay (unless we set up basecamp with resentment, bitterness, hatred and a desire for revenge).

We are family. We have built a strong foundation based on gentle honesty, trust, respect, confidence, compassion, connection and shared values. We will be a family long after the dust has settled and the last motion has been filed in this ridiculous court case.

Together, we have chosen life. We have chosen to move forward. We have chosen to love in the face of great loss, we have chosen compassion over revenge.

In the end, we are not defined by the things that happen to us. We are defined by how we respond. I choose compassion. I choose to be present each day and bring 100% of my time, energy, attention, love and care to be a part of the solution.

Long before this current chapter in life, my partner was a preacher. A teacher. A gardener. A farmer. A compassionate, caring, involved and loving human with a determination to care for others, to connect with them, to help in any way that he could. Today, his life is his “sermon”. The mountains are his “church”. He quietly and simply lives what he truly believes. In the face of great loss, enormous pain, financial ruin, soul-crushing false allegations and unending harassment, he has not wavered. If only each of us could say the same.

It’s easy to champion a cause (at no personal cost). It’s easy to wave a flag and offer “support” (until you’re standing alone against the rising tide). You know what’s not easy? Taking an unpopular stand for truth. Investigating a matter to a supportable conclusion and choosing to stand by innocent persons who are suffering (through no fault of their own). It takes courage and confidence and logic and reasoning and investigation and time and heart.

For me, this not a cause. This is my family. This is my life. Through this difficulty, I’ve gained a beautiful extended family- my partner’s parents and brothers and sisters and in-laws and nieces and nephews have rallied in an unprecedented way to stand by him and by me. Together, we are More.

 

Together, we choose “Forward”.

 

“Things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” -Pema Chödrön

 

Begin, again.

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“Didn’t you used to be involved in martial arts or teaching self defense?” My coworker’s words caught me off guard and tired, hauling workout gear bags up two flights of stairs.

“Yeah.” (I’m not a great conversationalist before second breakfast.)

“Didn’t you have a black belt or something?” He just wouldn’t quit.

“Uh-huh.”

“They pretty much just hand those out to little kids, even, these days. Saw a commercial on that the other day- some place with little kids jumping around and they all had black belts. Everybody’s a winner, now, I guess.”

*  *  *

I shrugged, continued up the stairs. Rope climbs, tire flips, 400 meter runs, linear progression on the bench press… the missing skin on my fingers tells a different kind of story about winning, this morning. It tells the story of starting over, repeatedly. Of falling down and getting back up. Of finding myself so over-extended that I couldn’t find my comfort zone with a GPS and a headlamp.

I didn’t learn self defense in a dojang, but I did rehearse patience. I apprenticed to practice, I earned my results. I carried that forward into training in Krav Maga and then instructing.

I had the privilege of training with Bill “Superfoot” Wallace several times, when I was a 1st degree black belt candidate. I would arrive an hour early, just to sit in silence on the mats of the dojang and observe as he went through his own warm-up routine. The same consistency in training and absolute tenacity that allowed him to retire as an undefeated kickboxing champion was clearly evident in the simplicity and consistency of his everyday routine. There aren’t any shortcuts to greatness. There aren’t any easy roads to winning. There is pain, there are life-altering injuries, there is the everyday grind and there is greatness found in apprenticing to the process.

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“Superfoot” Wallace   – August 2013

These days, I’m working my process from the ground, up. Coaching myself. Not loving it very much. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes in to planning and executing solid training. I know, I coached and trained clients for years (while letting my own training fall to the sidelines). There’s great advantages and disadvantages to building your own training plan: you know all your own weaknesses. Nobody can hurt me like I can hurt me, no one can heal me like I can heal me. Somewhere, in the mix of those two things, there is progress. There is a winged creature emerging from a cocoon, slowly and painfully.

In all of this, why do we endeavor? Why is it necessary to exert ourselves? I’d contend that it’s for the same reason that a butterfly has to exert itself in order to crawl from the bug-soup environment of the cocoon into the sunlight. The wings and legs of the soggy creature can’t and won’t function on their own if the cocoon is split open prematurely or if “help” is given. The butterfly is compelled to endeavor, to struggle, to work its own way out. Only then will the legs and wings be strong enough to stand, to fly.

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Ready to spar. 2013

 

The mental discipline that is forged through hours and days and weeks and months and years of practice and training becomes a solid platform, bulletproofing the mind. Consistency yields results that live deep under the skin. Practice becomes routine, then creates an environment for the extraordinary.

* * *

I climbed the last flight of stairs, tuning out the stream of commentary from my coworker. Remembering the thousands of turning kicks, side kicks… the sound of multiple boards breaking when I’d make contact with fists or feet. The way it felt to connect a solid back fist with a target. But none of that was winning.

I remember how it felt at the end of my black belt test, standing there soaked in sweat, glycogen depleted, broken bones in my feet grating against each other. There’s no forgetting pain like that. It didn’t feel like winning, it felt like a beginning.

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Like this morning. And yesterday. And tomorrow. And all the tomorrows.

 

Start where you are. Do what you can. Use what you have. Be who you are.

Begin, again. And again.

* * *

An Everyday Kind of Love

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splashes of sunlight whispered through chokecherry trees

chairs for two on the slim grass divide

between parking lot and road

triple-shot Americanos and conversations continued

from the night before

 

the way he catches the bedroom door

shutting it softly so I can sleep for five more minutes

waking up to espresso and “good morning, beautiful!”

cradling my mug (like my heart)

once-fragmented and now, repaired

 

it’s in the way we slow dance,

tiptoeing in the tiny kitchen of our tiny house

the way he sings to me

with a voice that could melt a glacier

and light a campfire in the rain, all at once.

 

he asks the difficult questions and listens

beyond the answers, long after we’ve lost our words

we sit in companionable silence

strangely comfortable with uncertainty

like ancient trees, or old souls- calm in a storm.

 

it’s in the way my dog barks her happiest voice

at the sound of his diesel truck rumbling home

dulling her toenails on the front door, impatient

for his return, for his silliest voice

at the end of a long day

 

he brings sunlight with him wherever he goes,

a life set to music and laughter and mischievous grins-

strength derived from vulnerability, authenticity

perspective gained from choosing to live, to love

in spite of all the odds.

 

ours is an Everyday kind of love

an epoxy of compassion, honesty and gentleness

repairing our broken bits

together, we are more…

in this velveteen rabbit of relationships.

 

*

 

 

We are Family

This is not a neat and tidy story- and it’s only a fraction of the whole. It’s complex, dynamic, incredible and living proof that truth IS stranger than fiction. It’s the story of how two became eleven.

I always figured I’d end up working in my current job until my daughter graduated high school and headed to college. I planned to wrap things up in Alaska, pay off the last of my debts that same year, and head across the ocean and the mountains to Nepal for a couple of years. As a medic and an English teacher, as someone who has lived off-grid for much of her life, as a person who has always been a gypsy in search of a homeland… it seemed like a reasonable fit. To work and to live and to learn in an environment where my skills could be utilized and I could actually make a difference- that seemed like an excellent antidote to too many years of government work.

I’d been divorced for a couple of years, had no interest in casual dating and a lot of interest and passion for meaningful conversation, shared experiences and life well-lived. That left me with a lot of alone time.

I answered an ad on Craigslist, one dark winter night at about 10:00 PM. On a whim. The individual posting the ad had beautiful sentence structure, excellent grammar, an interest in meaningful conversation and connection AND seemed like he was probably a professor in his sixties (based on writing sample analysis). Yeah, I do that. Seemed safe enough.

The Universe laughs at our safe-words, as I quickly discovered. We emailed back and forth a few times over a couple weeks and BAM. There it was. Before we had even exchanged our real names, it turned out that we knew each other in real life. We attended the same fellowship. We had sat across the aisle from each other for months and had no idea.

He has eight children.

(I’m just gonna leave that there for a hot minute and let it soak in.)

Eight.

Children.

Between the ages of nearly-two and nearly-thirteen.

I know, right? All this time, I was looking to make a difference in a mountain village in Nepal and there was a family right in my own backyard with eight kids that needed an Auntie Ti. It’s not quite that simple or that straightforward. Life never is. It’s beautifully nuanced, tragically destructive, incredibly conflicting, magnificently mind blowing… but never really quite simple.

In getting to know each of the children in their own timeframe, on their terms, I was (and still am) amazed at their tenacious love of learning, their inquisitive minds, the audacity of the hope and trust in their eyes, their individuality, their resilience.

Little did I know (little did any of the eleven of us know), the volcano of life-upheaval was about to blow a family sky-high. And it did. The aftermath of the eruption and the subsequent fallout have been enormous. Chaotic. Heartbreaking. Life-altering.

This morning, as I began my day, I was warming my heart over the virtual fire of a friend and the recent adoption of her son. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “chosen family” and the micro-choices we make to live and love for the benefit of others.

This morning, I read these words (written by a woman who recently adopted a child):

“I just know that no one gets to mug for the camera with a flash of pearly whites and their newly adopted family without stepping into a story of trauma. The only way a family is made through adoption — is for someone to lose a family first. The only way anyone gets to adoption is through a door of loss and unless you fully feel the depth of that loss, the door you’re walking through leads to nowhere honest.

I just know there’s a whole lot I don’t know at all and no one ever brings home any new child, born or adopted, without pain. Children only come to us through pain — like love only comes to us with pain.”

 

It brought me to tears, again and again, reading these words.

 

“There are scars you can’t erase —- all you can do is write more love into them.”

 I have my own scars. Loss of community, loss of family, loss of ideals and hopes and dreams for life and love… I spent many years trying to erase my own scars. My own past. My own loss. In choosing to expand my heart and my life, in choosing to share what little I have with others who need it more- in choosing to be relentlessly PRESENT- I have come Home.

“This is the part that feels like a morning star grazing you, marking you — the way love can be made anywhere. The way adoption can make more love, and risk can make more hope, and giving dangerously can make a heart miraculously fuller.

The way — fractured breaks in hearts can become doors. The way home happens wherever there is a willingness to let someone in. We can do this for each other in a thousand ways — we can welcome abandoned parts of each other in.

Home happens wherever there’s a willingness to pay attention.

 And being relentlessly present to each other — is a tonic for each other’s relentless homesickness.”

This is for all of us, for all of us and the parts of us that feel forgotten and abandoned and want to come Home to being wanted.” 

 

These eight children and my own child… they have all come to me through pain. Theirs and mine. They have known great loss, all nine of them. We are no less a family because of our broken places, than a mountain is less a mountain because of deep crevasses. We are all the sum of our wins and losses, our broken pieces and our wholeness.

So, here I am. A medic, English teacher, investigator, climber, photographer, writer, adventurer, explorer, athlete, mother, auntie… restless, wild, imperfect, relentlessly present, tenaciously compassionate, fiercely protective… and standing at the threshold of the next chapter in life and love.

Not all adoptions happen in a courtroom or on paper; every chosen family is custom-made, one little decision at a time. This family (and their beautiful extended family) has adopted me and my daughter.

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We are Family.

We will continue to build a good life, even in great difficulty. We will continue to choose love over fear. We will choose communication and connection over the need to ‘be right’. When life buries us under a mountain of hardship, we will allow ourselves to open. To be vulnerable. To sprout. To grow. We are seeds. This is the springtime of our adventure in life together- and it is rife with change and possibility.

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Home happens when we choose connection, when we choose someone (or some eleven) and we open our hearts, our doors, our lives, our minds and we grow together. I didn’t ‘fall’ into this kind of love; there was nothing accidental about it. This love chose me, and I answered. I choose this love every day, in all the ways.

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Welcome, Home.

Perspective

Above Camp

Pika Glacier, Alaska Range – Italy’s Boot Icefall

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
― René Daumal

Ice Fall

Italy’s Boot icefall

 

I climb for perspective, for a better view. Not necessarily the view from the mountain or the summit, but the perspective gained by endeavor, exertion, intentional movement.

It’s the same reason I return again and again to lifting heavy weights. In exerting myself, in choosing to fuel wisely for endeavors, in living mindfully, I find perspective. Hard-earned, hard-won, understanding arrives on the heels of ‘doing the work’.

It will change you. It will outsource your smallness, your invisibility, your heartbreak, your broken pieces, your inadequacy- it will require your full attention. It takes everything and it gives everything. The reciprocity of exertion is unparalleled. Move your body, free your mind.

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Italy’s Boot- in the icefall

 

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Italy’s Boot – view from my tent at day’s end

 

Pay the price for the attitude you want.

 

“I am dead because I lack desire,
I lack desire because I think I possess.

I think I possess because I do not try to give.
In trying to give, you see that you have nothing;

Seeing that you have nothing, you try to give of yourself;
Trying to give of yourself, you see that you are nothing:

Seeing that you are nothing, you desire to become;
In desiring to become, you begin to live.”
René Daumal

 

 

* * *

 

Nothing Else Matters

Otto Lake Sunset

So close, no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
And nothing else matters

Never opened myself this way
Life is ours, we live it our way
All these words I don’t just say
And nothing else matters

Trust I seek and I find in you
Every day for us something new
Open mind for a different view
And nothing else matters

Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
But I know

So close, no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
And nothing else matters

Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
But I know

I never opened myself this way
Life is ours, we live it our way
All these words I don’t just say
Nothing else matters

Trust I seek and I find in you
Every day for us, something new
Open mind for a different view
And nothing else matters

Never cared for what they say
Never cared for games they play
Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
And I know, yeah!

So close, no matter how far
Couldn’t be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
No, nothing else matters

* * *

“To the Lost.”

The words whispered against the backdrop of the snow-covered mountains, the alpenglow reflection in the lake cradling my voice and the edges of my feet. The silent benediction of the midnight sun’s last rays, the stillness in the absence of the wind- echoed in space between thoughts as I poured out the last of my water from the day’s climb.

I never drink the final sip. Of anything.

Ever since I was a small child, I reserved that last measure. When no one was looking, I would pour it out on the ground. Let it go. It was a reminder of all that I have, all that I’ve lost.

Since that time, I’ve seen the same theme replayed- in other ways. I’ve sat beside an old mountain guide and watched him hand-roll a cigarette for a lost companion. A friend, a climber who would never return. I’ve seen a man pour the finest Scotch on the ground, in silence, save for those three words. I’ve seen a woman carry her son’s ashes to the heart of the Alaska Range and lose herself in losing him. I’ve witnessed a man falsely accused of unspeakable crimes stand at the threshold of absolute loss of identity, home, family… stood beside him as he cries his silent, broken song to the mountains, to the ridgelines, to the wind.

In all of this, I have an abiding certainty: the trust and confidence, assurance and hope that we seek, we must first source from within.

I stand in silence at the base of the mountain ridgelines I climbed earlier in the day. I climb for perspective, for stillness. I climb for solace and solitude. Today, it did not come. The wind carries the sound of eight children, bereft of their father. There is no arguing with the wind. I make myself permeable and let it pass through me, around me- and the grief, too.

I went to the mountains for an answer and found that I carried it with me all along. Life has a way of shredding each of us down to the skeleton of the very frame that makes us who we are. The truth we align with, the substance of our actual belief system becomes very real, very vivid when there is nowhere to hide. We become transparent, permeable, evident, authentic. For better or for worse.

In this commitment to absolute authenticity and vulnerability, there is immense risk. We will come to know ourselves, intimately. We will know each other, fully. Pain is not suffering, pain is pain. Suffering is a choice: it rests in how we relate to the pain.

A man barred from his own home for two months, cast aside, set adrift to drown in an ocean of loss returns to his home to find it stripped bare. Emptied. On the day when this weight deadens on his shoulders and the ghost of loss takes the shape of all that remains, he finds his motorcycle jacket and helmet. The jacket literally hangs on his frame, a reminder of his own physical changes. He charges a winter-killed battery and he gets back on his bike. He rides.

He rode to this lake, as the last of the midnight sun’s rays softened the edges of the mountains in pink and purple and bright blue. He rode to a simple campsite, to a tent and sleeping system and a soft landing. He brought his empty hands and his broken heart and his beautiful blue eyes full of tears and unspeakable hurt. And the sun set, the lake sent tiny ripples of waves to lap against the shoreline and cradle his pain. The mountains surrounded him and the trees bowed their heads.

And nothing else matters.

Tent site Otto Lake

Song Credit: Metallica – Nothing Else Matters Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Rise Up

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Doesn’t have to feel good to BE good.

I turn forty this year, in the fall of 2016. I started training for this decades ago. Laying groundwork, running trails, lifting heavy things, moving my body when all it wanted to do was slow down and fall apart like an old grasshopper in autumn.

Unafraid of chronological change, I am actually looking forward to this next decade. A lot. I decided to celebrate in advance by competing in a Spartan Race with all of my siblings. I’m the oldest of five and uniquely qualified to lead the way toward a better birthday bash, in general.

Cake and icecream? Bah. Party streamers? Pooh. Balloons? Pop.

The music of the Spartan fife calls me in real time, not just for the momentary fun of challenging obstacles and playing in mud and barbed wire- but as a measuring stick. A reminder that we are only as good as the time and training and consistency we apply to each and every day of our lives.

When the race rolled around, I had every reason in the world to sit out. To tap out. To cancel, defer, explain myself away completely. I was utterly spent before even boarding the red-eye flight to travel 1,500 miles to Washington State. I had trained hard, worked hard for months (years, actually) to be at the point where I could participate in a challenge like this one, with my family, and be an asset to the team. The wheels came off the wagon in February. Sick with pleurisy and pericarditis, I was exhausted to the point of near-incapacity. Unable to take the time off work to actually recover and heal, I was staggering toward exhaustion every waking minute. Immune system compromised, I succumbed to bronchitis and a nasty sinus infection shortly thereafter.

Our bodies have this way of having the last word. Lack of quality sleep, profound stress driven by an ongoing family emergency, long-term overwhelm at work and an increased caseload that just wouldn’t end… and down I went.

When the week of the race arrived, I hadn’t been able to actually train for about three weeks. Lung capacity compromised, I was ready to call it off. After talking to my sisters, I realized two things: one, we are a team and this is a team endeavor. Two, if they were willing to take the chance on me- move at my pace, pick up the pieces I couldn’t- then who was I to determine that I was inadequate?

I raced.

It was pretty grim. My joints were in bad shape from the extended illness. My blood sugar and insulin were out of balance, continually. I was spiking and depleting and crashing and burning, hard. And yet? I ran. Easy. Opened up the throttle and just relaxed into my trail running stride, between obstacles. When it was time to climb walls and ropes and crawl through mud and carry heavy things, I found that some things were easy and some things were difficult, just like the rest of life. The biggest mountain we will ever climb is the one in each of our heads. The one that says, “What if I look ridiculous?”

I did. Look ridiculous. I’ve seen the pictures. It’s okay. I’m not a super hero. I’m just a woman who won’t quit. It isn’t pretty, especially when conditions are suboptimal. In fact, it’s kind of ugly. Messy. Chaotic. Ridiculous.

My family had my back. Literally. When both of my calves cramped up as I clamped my legs around the rope for a Tyrolean traverse, my sister and brother-in-law were right there to grab my toes and pull them back and release the tension that I couldn’t. They shared my burpees with me when I failed obstacle after obstacle. They walked with me when I couldn’t run. They know. As embarrassed as I was, as dark as the places were in my mind in those moments, I learned something far more valuable than words can express. I learned, again, that vulnerability is the gateway to strength. That strength is perfected in weakness. That family and friendship is stronger than any obstacle and that even at my worst, on my worst race day EVER, I am enough. Not because of what I can do (because that was fairly limited), but because of who I AM.

I am not afraid of failing. Of being the slowest, the weakest link. There was a good enough reason, and that’s all I needed. In life, we don’t often get to feel amazing. Great. Fantastic. Heroic. In fact, if we do… we should look around carefully to see what we aren’t fully comprehending.

I didn’t race on April 23rd so I could prove anything. In fact, if that had been my goal- I would have never climbed the wall at the starting line. I would have stayed on the course as a spectator, with every good reason in the book to back me up. I knew better. I have made a commitment in life to bring all of my pieces to Life’s starting line, every single day. I bring my 100%. It’s not always pretty. In fact, it’s rarely even a little bit adorable.

I ran those trails, crawled through mud pits full of cow manure, climbed walls and slid down rocky hills… because family matters more to me than how fast I run, how cleanly I climb or how horribly I fail at the margins of my experience.

I raced for my best friend, my Anam Cara- whose entire life is dedicated to his family, his children. I raced for his children. For their future. For all the uncertainty that lies ahead.

I raced to remind myself that my best is good enough. That life is meant for living. In the now. I raced to give myself hope for today and for tomorrow- that even in my own frailty, I can do my part. Can be a valuable part of something greater.

As I ran the course, I passed a man with no legs. Amputated so completely that he is literally without a lower half of his body, this man was navigating the obstacle course with his torso and arms. He was completing every single obstacle, just as I was, and he had no team. He was doing it alone. As I slowed to acknowledge him, to look him in the eyes, he said aloud, “No matter what life gives you, no matter how bad it gets, you have got to RISE UP.”

He locked eyes with me and I stopped. Knelt down. Cried. Kneeling next to a man who knows what it means to rise up, I found what I came for that day.

I brought everything I had to that race course, just as I do with my everyday life. He did the same.

I’m leaving this thought here today, with you. For your todays and your tomorrows, for all that you are and all that you can be: rise up. To do that, you have to start where you are.

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Make a damned choice. Mark Twight nails me to the wall, again, with this one:

“The hardest thing to do is one thing at a time.”

You likely won’t get to feel amazing and look like a hero and collect a special medal for doing that one thing today that will make a difference for your tomorrows.

You know what that one thing is. Go do that. I guarantee you, you’ll find me out there doing the same.

 

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Life won’t wait.

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