I reached 5 miles with a smile. I turned at the half way mark, a pedestrian bridge across the Fox River, and I ran back down the ramp towards the riverside path.
And then it happened.
My ankle buckled. I flew with the downhill momentum. I landed in a heap, with a bloody knee and instantly swelling ankle. And I sobbed.
I had spent 5 months in the biting cold of winter, one foot after the other pounding the icy pavement, and now I was two weeks away from the half marathon I had signed up for in an effort to hold myself accountable.
I needed the winter running to stay sane. I refused to spend months of cold gray skies huddled inside, depressed and agitated. And so I ran. And it was awesome… until it wasn’t.
Our world seems to have an obsession with being known. Perhaps it is an innate human need, I don’t know. But it lies at the heart of the insane phenomenon of celebrity culture and leaves few people unaffected by the opportunity to claim a mere 15 minutes of fame.
But is being known by many the same as really, genuinely being known?
A year ago, I published my first blog post. I wrote out of the desperate need to tell my story, to share my grief after the death of my husband.
I wrote about how there’s something deeply human about imagining worst case scenarios.
A year later, in this 3rd year since Chris passed, I haven’t stopped imagining. And yet, that initial grief has shifted. What once tore me apart on the inside and made it hard to breathe has since calmed itself.
It lingers like a scar.
This year has been my year of throwing on mismatched fluffy socks and devouring Harry Potter page by page for the eighteenth time.
It’s been a year of dance parties with the three year old and dinners with the friends I love.
A year of storytelling and struggling with how to write what I need to say.
A year of admitting that I don’t know how to pray and realizing that God meets us wherever we may be.
It’s been a year of opening doors.
My new neighbor cut their tree down last week. It wasn’t dead or diseased, but I’m sure there was some legitimate reason behind their decision to chop it down.
It was surrounded by other trees and houses, so it had to be cut limb from limb, one slice of trunk at a time. By the time they got to the base, I could see just how old it really was, its life on display in concentric circles, each telling a story.
My whole yard was littered in saw dust and broken branches and torn leaves, and the men sucked it all up clean and tidy, leaving nothing but space. But the roots are still there, all over everything. They snake over the ground and plunge into the earth. Big, old knotty things, preventing anything from growing in its place.
And isn’t that the way it is? Death strikes us down, but our roots stay stubborn and strong, our lives splayed out over everything.
Robert Frost is famous for saying, “a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is never a thought to begin with.”
I’d argue that, at least for me, most writing begins this way.
My 9 year old self would probably disagree. At 9 I started writing a journal. Correction, a diary. As in, “Dear Diary, today I….” …sat next to Simon at school… watched The Simpsons on TV… ate shepherd’s pie for dinner… It’s quite the page turner.
I didn’t expect to be afraid of dying. The terror crept up slowly like the dawn until all of a sudden it was blinding and hung over my day.
When I had planned out my life years ago, it was with youthful ignorance; predictable and familiar.
I did not expect to become a mother who, exhausted and emotional, reaches for cheerios for her kid’s dinner.
I did not expect to be searching for signs of my husband in the soft sleeping face of my son.
I did not expect to be offended by the rows of summer corn, growing tall as if nothing ever happened, as if time had not stopped.
I did not expect the dust to gather on his nightstand.
As the expectations collapsed, I was left with the bitter fear of my own death.
Did anyone else think they’d have life all figured out by the age of 27?
My shy, pimply 14-year old self thought 27 would be a magical age: I would be happily married, growing a family and publishing my first novel. We’d be living in our first house with a friendly dog and regular dinner parties. I probably would have figured out the meaning to life. Oh, and I’d have great hair (finally).
Instead, a year ago, I turned 27 and realized a harsh reality:
I was a widowed single mother to an only child.
I was burning myself out at work.
I owned a house that was far too big for 1.5 people.
I was sadly in need of finding my high-maintenance dog a new home.
And my hair was falling out with stress.
12 months later, I can honestly say the year of being 27 was the longest, most difficult year of my entire life.
I was utterly terrified to hit the publish button on my last post, The Day Death Ripped My World Apart. In fact, WordPress tells me I made 83 revisions to the post before making it public. Perhaps that’s a clue on just how anxious I was to share my words with the world.
But almost 600 Facebook shares and a couple thousand readers later, I am so glad I did it. The emails, messages, and Facebook comments I received were touching. It blew me away that something I had to say could have such an impact.
I truly hope that anyone facing their own loss will see that they’re not alone, that they can make it through these dark days.