Monday, September 05, 2011

I'm shuffling off something alright, although I don't think it's to Buffalo.

Nothing like Buffalo, New York as the summer begins to wind down. Just 324 miles later, I’m virtually in Buffalo, with Canada so close I can almost touch it.

The bad news: my August was off just a bit – missed my minimum but about 1/10th of a mile. I hadn’t missed a minimum since being sidelined in April with my bad sciatic nerve.

The good news: I ran a week of August in the heat at the shore, and wasn’t quite able to track my mileage as carefully as I usually do. When that’s the case, I estimate down. So maybe I really did hit my minimum but who knows.

I still had my 26-mile cushion to see me through. So by the numbers, for anyone keeping track.

Through August:
326 miles in

124 to go

4 months to do it

That’s only 31 miles a month – which is considerably lower than my stated monthly goal of 37.5

Or 7.75 miles a week

Or just under 2 miles, four times a week

You know what that means. One of two things will happen:
Come December 31, I’ll have overshot Toronto by about 30 miles and end up in someplace called Barrie, Ontario; or have taken it easy, not unlike the hare in the fable, and after all this time, missed my number completely.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to ask the obvious question: why? What does this all say about me or my life at this time? Why, after more than half a century on the planet, and more than thirty of them as a full-fledged adult who is wholly responsible for her choices, did I choose this particular challenge at this particular time?

I think I alluded to this is a previous post but I keep coming back to it: control, and the inevitable flip side – lack of control. Because the further I run, and the longer I keep at it, the more I realize that the neat little columns of numbers in the little grid, with the monthly totals and the boxes that highlight the miles ahead or miles behind and those indicating miles logged vs. miles to go may all be perfectly calculated, clear and unambiguous. Don’t get me wrong. There’s some comfort and sense of accomplishment in the measureable, the indisputable nature of numbers. But understand this much as well: they’re perfectly meaningless.

But even at that, they are also one other thing: perfectly and completely within my control. No one else runs them, no one else logs them and no one else adds them up each month. And all of that has to count for something, right?

Wrong. Today’s lesson, one that took only eight short months to learn: Control is an illusion. Chaos is reality. This seems to be a very big deal for me these days.

Let me back up a little bit here. (I know I’m going off track here but so be it. I never promised a strict narrative.)

My sons are young adults. Their paths into adulthood are divergent and at this point, anyway, appear not quite as clear cut as some others have taken. And – utter honesty here – not as clear cut as I would like them to be. I suppose that had to be okay with me – has to be – because I can’t control that kind of thing.

The phrase “waiting to exhale” comes to mind. Is that something all parents do at least once in a while? And then when you let it all out, is it nothing more than a respite until you have to take the next deep breath and hope for the best?

We’ve all heard about the legendary roads not taken. I’m here to tell you that we seem to be on nothing BUT the roads not taken these days in my house, and no one is more surprised than I. It feels like I keep pointing down a familiar path, saying, “This way! I’m sure this is the way!! Follow me!” Two of my sons peer down it and understand why I like it. They consider the route then shake their heads and say, “Nah…I’m going this way instead. I’ll be okay.”

The confounding thing is: they could be right. They really could be and I try to remind myself about that maybe thirty or ninety times a day. I could be wrong and if I am, I wonder: What happened to my certainty? I was always a Point A to Point B person. What I was certain I could control all these years was myself. That choosing X + Y + Z for my life, then adding in some A, B and C would land me here: in a place of love and logic; where things (and people, yes, even people with all their quirks and personalities and peculiarities) moved along in a mostly predictable way to a mostly predictable outcome.

You remember today’s lesson, right – about control? Yup – it’s an illusion.

I spent the better part of two decades as a parent modeling and demonstrating the kinds of actions, behavior and beliefs I held dear. What kinds of things? Same as most people I would think; maybe more than some; less than others. Like what? Well, it was important that our family found time to connect each day over dinner and for many, many years we did just that. Even throughout high school, through the activities and obligations that pulled us in different directions, we fit in many family dinners. And when we had the time, we often found ourselves lingering for hours at the table. We attended church together, and then discussed the sermon on the way home.

We created traditions large and small together. We read books, played music, traveled. We cheered every soccer, basketball, football and baseball season. Holidays included large and mostly intact extended families. We took in zoos and museums and amusement parks; we attended concerts and plays and ballgames and festivals. As they grew older, they picked up some of my habits: like flipping to the last page of The New Yorker each week to check out the cartoon, and later, read the caption contest each week. I made them read Catcher in the Rye. They loved it on their own.

Me: Do me one favor. Do not marry a woman who doesn’t love Catcher in the Rye.
Son: Why?
Me: Please trust me. Just don’t.

In living every day, I thought I shared what I value (working hard to do your best) and what I didn’t (tattoos). At different points along the way with my children, at various age-appropriate and situation-appropriate times, I shared selected stories of struggle and sadness from my own childhood. I talked of my own family life as a girl and as a young woman, to help my sons understand a little more about who I was and why I believed certain things. [It wasn’t all a complete downer. I thought I used my own stories judiciously to illustrate some choices, some circumstances and some lessons that could perhaps be passed along and learned by my children, without them having to endure the pain.]

Turns out, none of that seems to matter. Lessons without pain may just be another illusion.

At this point, it feels like I should take a cue from Margo Channing and buckle my seatbelt for the bumpy night ahead. And I have to ask, as I lurch along with the ups and downs: what do you do when your view of “the future” veers out of your control? Maybe you realize, slowly and wincing with no little pain that much of it wasn’t in your control from the start.

And that staying on the road together, with its bumps, holes, hills, ditches and sharp turns, is really what matters. Staying on the road. I have to believe it smooths out; that at some point it has to come out somewhere, and you’ll all be okay when it does.

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