Tag: Running

On Poetry, Death, Running and Kid Power

 

This past weekend a magical vortex was created in New York City. The axis created by Halloween falling on a Saturday night, the NYC Marathon the following day, with an extra hour of much needed sleep tossed into the sweet spot center thanks to the arrival of daylight savings time.

After we slept off our Trick or Treating fun, and before Julia and I headed to an uptown Marathon viewing party, we made our way to church Sunday morning. And it was at Unity of New York that a reminder came that this Sunday, too, was different.

“Today is ‘The Day of the Dead’,” Barbara Biziou our guest speaker said. “When most of the world honors its ancestors. Let’s all take a moment and honor the shoulders we stand upon.”

Since September, my town has celebrated and honored our special dead. We face 9/11 feeling the heaviness of the past as it extends into the present. We try to shake off the day, to a certain extent, going about our meetings, and our days, and our lattes as we had on September 10th.  But we cannot, not fully.

Annually, the city is asked to pause at 8:46 am for a moment of silence at the time the first tower fell. We stop for the reading of the names televised at the annual memorial service at Ground Zero. We see the portraits of friends and family, loved ones lost; the stained grief on the faces of those left to mourn. And we know, as New Yorkers, everyone of us lost someone that day.

And on Marathon Day 2015 those lost on 9/11 came back to me in a fresh way, rekindled by a poem I’d read from Next Door to the Dead, a collection from Kathleen Driskell, a Kentucky based poet.

The volume gets its name from an interesting fact. Driskell and her husband purchased an old church and renovated it into a cool, modern home for their family. Still, one of the most salient features of their repurposed home is its backyard cemetery. The family was assured that the cemetery was no longer in use. But, soon after Driskell, her husband and children moved in, a funeral party showed up, and dismantled that idea. So be it, Driskell probably thought. Artists take their inspiration from many sources. Even death.

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 4.07.36 PM

Unused Grave

While time and elements refilled

you with nothing but your own red dirt,

have you thought long on who managed to skirt

your fixed and final embrace?

A solder’s miraculous recovery

from the bluing fever of Spanish flu?

 

Or knocked cold by the back hoof

of an ornery mule,

the blacksmith, hair slicked neat and combed,

and his only suit, nearly nailed

into the box but for a pallbearer

who saw a finger twitch?

 

Or perhaps the remarried wife,

whose last letter cut deep,

revealing she’d really rather sleep

for an eternity next

to her first husband?

 

Or perhaps when excavated,

you sprang a leak and your bottom

became a bay where no one wanted

to launch a loved one’s final ship.

 

No matter. Whoever’s escaped you

has now long been caught.

 

The anniversary of 9/11 reminds every New Yorker of the grave we escaped that day, of the graves that still lie at the edge of Manhattan, the graves of loved ones elsewhere, and those that wait for us all.

Then, in September, Pope Francis came town. Followed by the runners. And citizens took to the streets, to remind one another of our better selves; that we can do better. Love better. “That our best days are ahead of us, not behind us,” as I heard from the pulpit of Unity of New York.

Image by Bryan R. Smith/ Associated Press /www.wsj.com
Image by Bryan R. Smith/ Associated Press
/www.wsj.com

“Why do New Yorkers come out so strongly for the marathon?” Friends across the country ask. “Why do you watch for the last runner to cross the finish line under darkness from the comfort of your couches on the eleven o’clock news? Why do people who’ve never even laced on a jogging shoe care about a 26.2 mile race? Because the runners that travel from all over the world to pound it out across our five boroughs remind us of the importance of moving forward with positive intent. To live fearlessly and well, for ourselves, our families, friends, and the nearly 3,000 lives that perished. That raising our collective voices in support of another is one of the greatest ways to celebrate the Day of the Dead. And to leave the pondering about graves to the poets.

Infant Daughter, Marcus 2 Years Old,

Myra 8 Days

Among these tiny grave markers, I think of my own

little terrorists, my budding suicide bombers.

They shriek against inoculations, squirm, refusing

the spinach on their plates, try to swallow marbles,

run from the care of the woman who is

CPR certified. They smile when they see me

watching their plump fingers fingering the cord.

Every day, with such joy, they threaten

to blow apart my heart so utterly.

 

And as I watched Julia and her tiny pals lining the street of upper Fifth Avenue in Harlem, the bright sun and their inner glow lighting their faces, I thought of the above poem. And as each runner approached their awake, the children raised a rainbow of hands–tan, pink and brown–to deliver high fives, tiny, soft prayers of support, I saw their affirmations against suicide bombers delivered to all those present, running or not.

Next to the Dead by Kathleen Driskell

Available for purchase at amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Next-Door-Dead-Kentucky-Voices/dp/0813165725/ref=sr_1_16/188-6114239-5611955?ie=UTF8&qid=1431390411&sr=8-16&keywords=next+door+to+the+dead

 

Changing the Morning Mix

“Mommy, is it time to get up yet?” Julia yodeled from her room.

“No,” I yelled and lowered my sleeping mask back into position. The sky had just began its morning blush over the grey shadow of trees in the park. But I knew it was brutally early without checking the time. Julia wakes up the birds up that wake up the rest of us.

After thirty minutes more of listening to her sing and converse with herself, I pealed back the silky mask and rechecked the horizon. It held a slit of sunlight. The air pushing through the window smelled like hope. The clock read 6:33.

I jumped out of bed, and headed into Julia’s room. “Pick up your room and get dressed, We’re going running.”

“Whatttttttt? I’m not going to school?”

“Sure, after we run.”

I jumped into my clothes and then jumped her into hers.

“But I’m hungry Mommy,” she said as I slid the first sneaker onto her foot.

“I’ll get you a banana. Eat it on the way,” I said determined as MacArthur was to take Normandy.

One of the great challenges to motherhood has been maintain my running. All my life I’ve lived to run, high school track and 5Ks and 8Ks in adulthood. When one of my best friends, Beryl, gave me a Bob’s Revolution Jogging Stroller for my baby shower, I choked back tears when the beast arrived in the mail.

” Of course I bought that for you, ” she said, “you’re one of my oldest friends.”

The beast cost $450 bucks. The stroller known among the mommy set as the SUV of strollers was one large, expensive piece of equipment, one that I didn’t mind taking up room in the apartment.

And that stroller saved me mentally, for the first few years. But by the age of three, when Julia would announce “ Mommy why did you stop running?” every time I took a break on a rocky hill, or at a red light, or when I paused to change the song on my iPod, she sounded more and more like Coach Smith, my high school track taskmaster. So, I decided it was time to let go of the stroller. Besides, at 42 pounds it was getting to be a tight fit for Julia.

After that I ran sporadically and hated myself for it. I grabbed a sitter here and there and did a half-ass job of maintaining my running through the fall. Then the Snownado of 2015 hit the eastern seaboard.Then my life revolved around red wine, pasta Bolognese, and Babar books. During the last weeks March and the first signs of Spring were even more welcoming, more alluring. By mid April just the sight of a jogger either brought envy to my heart, or tears to my eyes.

“ Just take her with you,” Beryl said at dinner a week later. “I used to go ice skating with my mom and I loved it.”

“ I really prefer to run alone,” I said, “ but I guess running with Julia is better than not running at all. Two weeks ago, she and I did a loop of the bridle path in Central Park, me on my legs, she on her scooter. But because of the rocky parts and inclines she produced more tears than scooting time.”

“Try it again,” she said.” Without the scooter.”

I ached to run. So on Thursday April 30th I decided to put an end to the ache.

*

Julia and I exited our building. The air was cool and silky. I love the smell of sunlight in the morning. I’d forgotten how beautiful the world looks before you start hustling through your day. We crossed the street and strolled into Central Park. Julia munched her starter breakfast, while looking around puzzled at the emptiness of the typically bustling playground we favored, at the massive number of adults running and biking.

“Why are there so many grown ups in the park and no kids?” she asked.

“This is the time adults play, before work.”

An overhead view of the Central Park Reservoir which hosts a 1.6 mile dirt running track.
An overhead view of the Central Park Reservoir, which hosts a 1.6 mile dirt running track.

And with that, she finished off her banana and tossed the peal in the trash receptacle. We headed up the bridle path toward the loop of the reservoir. A quarter of the way around the 1.6 miles, Julia, a child who runs like freed slave every time she hits New York City pavement, lodged her first complaint.

“Mommy. my legs are tired,” she moaned.

“Okay, let’s take a rest and headed into walking,” I answered somewhat annoyed.

When I started jogging again. She seemed pleased. Then Julia kicked up her heels and zoomed past me. Surprisingly. I liked it.

A mid thirties woman jogging towards us looked down at Julia and then yelled out, “She’s fast!”

“Did you hear that Mommy?!” Julia said. “She said I was fast! Then she kicked into another gear.

I studied Julia striding beside and in front of me, her long yet tiny legs,  her Ethiopian-ness in full view. Images of the last top ten finishers of the NYC Marathon, a healthy mix of Ethiopians present danced in my head. For a moment I could see my daugher crossing the finish line, the tape breaking across her chest, me there, waiting and cheering, bathed in tears. She would take a bow, a victory lap then head back to her studies at Yale Medical School.

The dream set, I got back to the job at hand. That morning my goal was to get back to a sport I love, at the time of day I love, by any means necessary. What I had not planned on was the pride I’d feel watching my daughter run in the sun beside me, and how each moment she passed me, her legs pumping away, her heels high, that joy grew and speed, and broke, to begin again. How I’d wear the glowing smiles that other runners cast other at us like garland throughout the day. That I would watch my daughter dash under the sun, taking the bend of the track just above the dark stones where the white cranes nest during their season, and box turtles sun themselves, and think this is how a love affair begins.

 

 

Power to the People

As more parts of the city regained power, as Julia and I walked past the entrance to the great park on Central Park West and 100th Street, the nearest playground to our home, an area less than fifty-feet away from the barricade remained closed-off with crime scene yellow tape and a gang of dull metal gates.

The closed entrance to Central Park on Friday.

The trees I had spotted with snapped limbs and angled trunks, pulled up by their roots from the force of the hurricane were long evacuated by workmen the day after the storm. And still the park did not open to the stressed out public in need of some mental nurturing from nature instead of the kick in the face we experienced days earlier. So, I begin to think all this park safety was not for the citizens.

As the city hastily prepared for the 42nd New York Road Runners Marathon, the annual love fest for the world’s runners hosted by the city, The New York Post reported on Friday that four generators were set-up in Central Park to power the media coverage of the race, powerful enough to light 400 homes, each. New Yorkers love a party. but this was a party that should not go on. After I and thousands of people mounted up their Twitter accounts and Facebook pages and posted their rage at this misuse of power, as our fellow New Yorkers still trapped in the devastation of a ravaged Staten Island calls for help went unanswered, on Friday afternoon, the marathon committee canceled the race.

Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of New York Road Runners, calling off the marathon at a Friday press conference, after days of pressure.

Power to the people.

Truth is, on some level I understood why they wanted to hold the race. I am a runner. Julia and I regularly hit Central Park, she in the jogging stroller, me as the running mommy, working to stay connect to a sport I have loved since McMichael Junior High.

But each day since the storm blew out, it  became clear that the city was not ready emotionally, nor physically to host this marathon, that the marathon hit the runner’s wall just as Hurricane Sandy rolled out Tuesday morning, and the rising sun revealed the devastation left in her wake, a fact that Mayor Bloomberg did not want to concede to anyone or anything until the media+social pressure became too great. Became too loud, powered by the people.

 

So, no cheers at the finish line in Central Park today. No classic shots of the last marathoner valiantly struggling across the last few miles, alone in the dark, accompanied by the NYPD to finish the race now cloaked in darkness. But plenty of cheers as the power was restored to more homes across more and more of New York City, witnessed while I watched the local news last night. Plenty of smiles as misplaced marathoners donated their time and delivered food and water to those in need Sunday afternoon.

The collection of pull-ups, like the water, is mounting.

I  do not think, as some do, that Mayor Bloomberg is an insensitive lout. Bloomberg, just like many New Yorkers, believed so strongly in his will of accomplishment. So much so, he could not see the big picture, the complete road ahead for his city’s recovery.

Sort of like a single baby mama who decided, after months of harassment from her mother who ships pull-up diapers from Michigan, non-stop , so Julia could begin the potty training my daughter’s pediatrician said was still six months away, so I could “ have them on hand,” grandma had proclaimed, I decided to start potty training Julia, on Monday, during a state of emergency on the east coast of the United States. And I learned, in no uncertain terms, a whole new level of what the phrase “state of emergency” means.