Sunday, December 5, 2010

Making a pact

The last time I ran in a race was the Turkey Trot, 13 months ago. I didn't think I missed racing; I've rather enjoyed just running for the sake of running.

But on Sunday, reading about the Dallas White Rock Marathon; watching it on TV in my dad's rehab room while he was in physical therapy; pondering the route to take my son to Sunday school to avoid marathon traffic, I found myself feeling a bit sentimental.

The day was glorious, sunny and cool and perfect. Plus my dear friend Laura was running the anchor leg of her relay team. What better reasons to head to Swiss Avenue to look for Laura and cheer her (and anyone else) on. I asked my son if he'd go with me. He didn't hesitate.

"Sure," he said.

I have run one marathon: Austin in 2007. I remember it in snippets: The sun rising as the starting gun went off. Walking through water stops and reluctantly resuming running. Crossing the finish line and eating chicken-noodle soup ladled out by kind volunteers.

I remember the training as grueling, particularly runs on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve: twice around White Rock Lake in the windy sleet. So when I saw the runners on Sunday, I yelled and cheered because I knew what they were going through, and how hard they worked to get there. I knew that the three miles they had left to run probably seemed at times like 300, though during training, three became little more than the snap of a finger.

During my marathon, I was so appreciative of the bands that played, of the people who rang cowbells, of the spectators who looked at my racing bib and called me by name. With each of those memories, I could feel my smile getting bigger, my cheering more crazed, my tears closer to the surface than I would have imagined.

At first, Charlie just followed me -- not cheering; looking shyly at the runners -- as we made our way down Swiss Avenue, scanning the street for Laura. After a few minutes, when I'd turn to look at him, he smiled his big smile and looked me in the eye.

"I want to do this," he said.

Laura told me later that she heard Charlie's voice before she saw me. After she passed us, he and I headed up Swiss toward the side street where our car was parked. He was yelling by then, telling runners to stay strong, to stay focused. We didn't leave right away; instead, we stood on a corner, straining through sunlight to see names on bibs.

"I really want to do this," he said again.

"OK," I said. "Next year. Should we do the full or the half?"

"The full," he said. "Maybe we can each run half of it. Do you want to go first or last?"

"First," I said. "I get jittery anyway; I'd be a wreck if I had to wait for you to finish before I could start."

"I'm not sure when I can train though," he said, thinking about volleyball practice, P.E., track.

"We'll figure it out," I said. "Let's do this. Let's make a pact."

"OK," he said.

"Remember this, Charlie," I said. "Remember this minute, right now. Remember how good it feels, how much we want to do this."

We didn't hook pinkies or spit on the ground or sign a contract. I just put my arm through his as we walked  to the car.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Taking away the pain

You know how, when you're little and your stomach hurts or your throat itches or your head aches, your mom or dad will say, "Oh I wish I could have that instead of you"?

I never really understood that until A. My son was born and B. I saw my dad grimmacing in pain.

Dad has had way more than his share of ailments lately. A bad knee, congestive heart failure, a broken back. He has spent many more nights in hospitals and a rehab facility than he has his own home, in his own bed. Not a person previously known for his patience, Dad doesn't complain. Instead, he makes certain he knows the name of each medical professional (and there are a lot) who enters his room, and he thanks them when they leave.

When one of us pops our head into his room, his face lights up. He thanks us when we remember to bring him the newspaper. He appreciates every Schlotzsky's sandwich we bring him, every Starbucks drink, every milkshake -- even though he can hardly muster up an appetite for a bite, or for more than a tiny sip or two.

So when I went into the hospital room yesterday and his eyes hardly showed a glimmer, I knew he felt awful. When I called him last night from the car, he said as much: "Honey, I feel terrible." I had to hold my breath and keep quiet for a second so he wouldn't hear the sob that almost slipped out of my throat.

"Oh, Daddy," I said. "I wish I could have that pain instead of you, even just for a little while to give you a break."

"Aw, honey," he said. "It's going to be fine. The doctor said I'm healing; it's just going to hurt for awhile. I'm going to watch the World Series now, and besides, it's almost time for my pain pill."

I told him I had a morning interview, and that I'd stop by afterward. He said he was looking forward to something from Starbucks.

I got to the hospital around 9 today, just as my sisters and mom were arriving. I brought him oatmeal and a pumpkin latte. He had a few sips and ate more than half the oatmeal, something he hasn't felt like doing in weeks.

When the nurse came in, he turned around her name tag so he could read who she was. After the two orderlies straightened him up in bed, he asked them theirs, and thanked them too. 

I told him I needed to leave, and bent down to kiss the top of his head.

"Love you," he said, as he always does when he says goodbye.

"Love you too, Daddy," I said. I walked out the front door and into the October sunshine, happy for its warmth and beauty, but still fairy-tale wishing he could be there -- even for five minutes -- instead of me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Getting lost in the moment

On any given weekend, the plaza in Santa Fe is bustling. Local artists come in from the pueblos, spreading blankets and setting up tables to display what they've crafted during the previous week.

Once a year, the Santa Fe Indian Festival overshadows this ritual. Artists from around the country work all year in hopes of being selected to display and to sell. They fill 600 booths in the plaza, as well as in blocks and blocks surrounding.

Their names are storybook sweet, as tantalizing as their talent: Daniel Sunshine, America Meredith, Aaron Brokeshoulder, Charlene Laughing. You whisper them to yourself, just to hear how the names sound aloud, how they feel on your tongue.

Wending through the streets and between booths, you find trios of women -- friends since forever, you can just tell, and wager they still refer to each other as "girls" -- wearing flowing skirts and broad-rimmed straw hats. 

You watch as couples call each other over to inspect potential purchases. You stand shoulder-to-shoulder with turquoise-and silver- bedecked women whose hair is the color of tow-headed toddlers, their skin the hue of a Coppertone bottle, their faces textured like the un-ironed blouses that hang in my closet.

Men with tanned legs and brown sandals, their white hair pulled into ponytails, inspect black pottery vases or stand in line for Navaho fried bread. Females in the crowd try on silver bracelets, gently waving their wrists to make sure they've chosen the right size.

Others ask artists for a mirror to see how the shape of the swirly silver earrings looks against their faces. Couples photograph each other standing by the smiling jewelry maker or weaver or potter who sold them the piece of art they'll always remember this trip by. 

The artists have come from Alaska, Utah, upstate New York. Some of the estimated 100,000 visitors walked a few blocks to get here; others flew from California or Florida or London as they do every year. Some, like us, happened into today because a few days earlier, a gallery owner mentioned in passing the spectacular nature of this weekend.

We began our wanderings together, the three of us moving from booth to booth. Then as one of us stopped to look at a piece that caught our eye, the others moseyed on. We'd catch up, reconvene, and the rotation would change.

At one point, though, I missed my turn. I was admiring a strand of serpentine, its discs the colors of the candy necklaces I'd wear around my neck and nibble when I was a little girl. I set it back on its velvet tray, and when I turned around, all I saw were strangers.

Getting lost can be a good thing. You can get lost in your passion, or lost in a person -- which sometimes (at least in that early, sharp-intake-of-breath stage) is one and the same. You can get lost in your thoughts, lost in your work. You can get lost in your pursuit of a goal attainable, or one forever beyond your grasp.  

Yet my thoughts weren't so dreamy when I looked around and felt swept up in this sea of strangers. Quite honestly, I felt a little bit -- oh, not frightened exactly, just uncomfortable, akin in a way to finding yourself alone on a mountain trail when you thought for certain your sisters were right behind (or in front of) you. Or being the last person waiting for your suitcase long after the plane has landed. 

I walked around the booths for a few minutes, pretending to be perfectly at ease. I struck up a conversation with two women who were amused at my funny-looking barefoot-running shoes. I called my best friend in Washington, D.C., and my sister Susan in Dallas, leaving voice-mail messages when they didn't answer.

I sent text messages to the friends I'd been with only moments before. Finally (though probably hardly any time had passed) I saw them. I felt a little stupid, but mostly I felt relieved. We walked around some more, picking up business cards from the artists whose work we liked.

The next day, we went back to the festival. We bought a few things we'd seen the morning before, and a few we hadn't. We shared a dish of chocolate ice cream as we walked around. I had a delightful time. When I thought about the previous day, I wondered (as you do in broad daylight after a terrifying dream in the dark of night) how I possibly could have felt so disjointed, so lost.

But I had felt that way. Though I'd prefer to think otherwise, I probably will again. Maybe next time, though, I'll take a deep breath and gather my gumption. I'll shake my wrist gently, getting a bit lost in how the silver bracelet catches the sun, and how cool and sweet it feels on my skin.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Being reminded

You don't really notice the able-bodied people at the park. They walk quickly or they jog; they play baseball or kick soccer balls or careen down the slide.

Like summer heat and wayward tennis balls, they're just kind of a given. A nice one yes; seeing others outside conjures up a bit of camaraderie, of unification, a we're-all-in-this-together feeling.

It's the other people, those for whom moving is a bit of a struggle, that you find yourself noticing, and you find yourself rooting for. I crossed paths with two this morning.

The first was a man I first noticed almost a year ago. Though he still uses metal polio-type crutches, he's now alone. He no longer relies on his wife by his side, nor on his teen-age son or daughter behind him, each ready to stop his fall if he stumbles, or if a rubber-tip crutch gets caught on the sidewalk.

When I saw him today, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved button-down shirt, I said hello, then left the park for my run. By the time I returned 20 minutes later, he'd progressed almost two-thirds of the way around, one boldly cautious step at a time.

A block closer to home, I saw another man making his way with a walker, his back so bent he had to raise his head to smile at me and say hello. But he did smile, and he did say hello, and he did keep going.

Yes, it is skin-searing hot today. Yes, I started my run too late, when the coveted early-morning shade was barely mottled shadows on the sidewalk. Yes, I ran a mile less than what I had planned.

But these men reminded me of what I forget all too often: I have two legs that work, and a stalwart heart that keeps a steady beat. I have a cap to ward the sun from my face, and sunscreen to keep my bare shoulders from burning. I have cold water in a bottle, and a towel to wipe the sweat from my face. I have energy to go, and (mostly) good sense to stop.

As I walked that last block, I glanced at the sidewalk and saw it dotted with green pecans. Tiny and inedible, maybe on another day I wouldn't have given them much thought. But today I saw them as something affirming: Hopeful precursors of autumn.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Flying high

The word "volley," I just learned, comes from the middle-French word volee, meaning "to fly."

This definition -- admittedly, a bit of a head-slap for the mother of a live-it-breathe-it volleyball player -- was refined, repeated and reiterated in Austin the first week of July. That's when my Charlie's team, High Intensity 16s, and hundreds more played their hearts out in this event. 

More than balls flew. So did bodies, scores, spirits. They were lifted and they were pummeled, raised and thrown, tossed and crushed and lifted again. Everything these teams -- from as far away as Hawaii and Canada -- had learned, practiced, strived and sweated buckets for came down to these days.

The jaw-droppingly defined calves of these kids, their arms powerful propellers, bore witness to a work ethic shared, one surpassed only by a hungry desire to be there.

In backpacks under team benches, I could almost see Charlie's plastic bottles, two filled with Gatorade and one with water; his energy bars and almonds; the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich he asked me every day of practice to make for him.

I could picture these players I didn't know by name, but knew just the same, gathering gear for a variation on High Intensity's practices: Two hours four days a week, four hours on Sundays. I saw them at thousands of kitchen tables, eating late after-practice dinners, telling their moms about the drills, collapsing on their couches in front of TV sets, a bag of ice held on a sore muscle, or on a scraped knee. 

By the time each practice rolled around, the previous day's difficulties were all but forgotten and the kids were ready to play again. By the time the boys arrived in Austin, nothing mattered but the games. The first ones began each day at 8 a.m.; the last, 12 hours later.

From Saturday through Tuesday, we family members yelled, we whistled, we did a modified wave. We watched our boys show grace in victory, dignity in defeat. We marveled at how the tide can turn, at the intricacies of momentum, and the beauty of having it on your side.

On the tournament's last day, during the third game of the set that would determine whether our team would go home or play again, one mom turned to me. "I get so worked up over this when I'm here," she said. "Then I get back home with everything else going on and I wonder how I could get so caught up it."

One look around the massive convention center, though, and we both knew. How could we not get caught up, seeing balls soar through the air like numbered spheres at a bingo night, hearing whistles of refs and spectators, smelling the passionate hunger to win?

In front of us, behind us, surrounding us were boys who had put in countless hours of practice to be in this exact place at this exact time. These kids, who for four days gave everything they had, were reaching even deeper inside themselves -- just for the privilege of playing one more match, one more game, one minute more. Of doing what they believed they were born to do: Fly. Higher than even their dreams dared them.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Springing to action

As soon as my neighbor opens his front door and walks out to his truck, he'll see my surprise: Flowers. Gerbera daisies, to be exact. A dozen of them, with more to come, planted in the bed that divides our respective driveways.

Longer ago than I care to admit, Alex gave me money to buy -- something! anything! to fill that sunny space. It's a perfectly nice strip of dirt that would look perfectly nicer with some sort of color. Meanwhile, he doctored the soil, did some digging, plus installed a sprinkler system down the middle of the bed. (He's a former engineer and can do that sort of thing).

Since then, we've met periodically meet as we've gotten out of our cars. I've renewed my promise to plant; he says no rush. A few days ago, he offered me more money.

"No no," I said. "I haven't even started to spend what you already gave me."

Alex put his wallet back in his pocket. "When you need some, you let me know."

On this oh-so-beautiful spring day, happily remembering where I had put his money, I pulled it out and went to Home Depot. I walked around and around the garden area and decided on the daisies. I didn't buy too many; I know from being slightly familiar with myself all these years that buying many more would not be a good idea. They would A. Overwhelm me and B. End up dying in their plastic cocoons instead of thriving in dirt.

I smiled as lugged the plants from my car, felt almost giddy while planting them. I put the pots in the recycle bag in the garage, then went back out front. I am sitting on the porch now, awaiting and excited about Alex's reaction to my promise fulfilled.

True, those dozen red and yellow daisies I planted take up barely one-eighth of the strip of dirt between Alex's and my driveway. But I'm still pretty tickled. After all, we do what we can to bring color, to bring beauty, to bring flowers into our lives. Sometimes it happens all at once, but more often, I suspect, it happens as it did for me today: One leaf, one petal, one satisfying scoop of dirt at a time.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Running on

One year ago April 7, I was laid off from The Dallas Morning News. It wasn't a bad day; it was beautiful and sunny and a lot of people hugged me and I cried a little but really not much at all. A friend carried my boxes to my car; another met me for lunch. I ran that night and woke up the next morning and life went on.

A month or so later, I started working at Run On, the running store where I had shopped for years. It was one of the best things I have ever done. I have learned so much -- including (if I may boast a bit here) what a primo socks salesperson I am. For someone who had never sold anything other than Girl Scout cookies (and those not particularly well) it was a huge kick.

I have also worked with some of the finest people imaginable. People who -- even on my days of feeling like the village idiot -- have made me believe I belonged there. More than half of them (including the manager and assistant manager) are young enough to be my children. Still, something about each endeared them to me, and I hope I know them forever.

I also met (mostly) wonderful customers  -- walkers, runners and neither-of-the-aboves. Everyone who walks through those double doors has a reason, a story behind their need for shoes on that particular day. I loved finding out the whys; looking for a connection with even the most stand-offish or shy.

I liked talking to the new runners, convincing them (or at least trying mightily) that they CAN do this; that running is at its essence as simple and complicated as life's journey: Putting one foot in front of the other.

And in so doing, of course, no matter who the customers, helping them find the most comfortable pair of shoes they have ever worn in their entire lives.

My son has loved me working there. He runs track, and his coach is a fave of our store. Plus Charlie likes hearing my stories: About the people who are way too particular about their shoe size, and the few who really do have stinky feet. About the man who tried on eight pairs of shoes before buying...nothing. About the woman who runs to raise money for blood diseases, because her son died of one and her husband is struggling to survive his own. About the girl who ties her shoes so tightly that her mother needs a screwdriver to loosen the laces.

Run On became an important part of both our lives. Then, a month or so ago, my former editor at the DMN called. We met for coffee and she offered me my job back. I start on April 19. And though I am extremely excited about writing for a living again, the thought of leaving Run On was tougher than some people might understand.

Working there was serendipitous, a godsend, an alignment of the stars -- one whose purpose only those really close to me can fathom. It was more than a paycheck. It was a place; it was people. And I expect I'm going to refer to the store as "we" for quite awhile. As in "This summer we're going to start selling the Vibram (barefoot-running) shoes."

Truth to tell, I hope I don't catch myself when I do.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Taking our chances

Judy, a beloved college cohort, emailed me today. She wanted to let me know that Alisa, one of our newspaper-staff friends from our Baylor days, had died.

Alisa was an editor at the Shreveport Times, and an ardent animal rescuer. She'd undergone routine back surgery, and all had gone as planned. But then she developed a blood clot in her lungs, and she died. Just like that.

I have reread Judy's email probably seven times since then. Eight, counting just now.

True, I hadn't seen Alisa in decades. Periodically she'd send me a note about something I'd written, and for a few days afterward, we'd share back-and-forth newspaper chitchat and catch up on people we both knew. I can't remember the last time we corresponded, which in some way I think contributes to my feeling beyond sad, beyond shocked.

As I write this, I'm sitting on my front porch. The sky is the color of vinegar-smelling dye, into which dozens and dozens of hard-boiled eggs are now being dipped. They'll be hidden tonight, and discovered under couch cushions and upside-down flower pots on Easter morning.

Even at dusk, I can still see the marigolds and periwinkles I planted today, having grown impatient with seeds that just take too long for my spring-hungry mind. The world is Oz, an outpouring of color I'm especially aware because of this part of Judy's note:

"Alisa loved spring, and her funeral was on a perfect spring day.  She is buried up in Texarkana, under a tree, next to her beloved dad."

Just as I finished reading Judy's note for the first time, my best friend called. After I read it to her, I said what we all know, but which we take so for granted.

"Oh, Sister. Life is just so precious."

At work last week, we were talking about a first grader who had choked to death at her school. That tragedy led to a conversation about life's unpredictability, and how sometimes stuff just happens for which there are no answers. One friend told about a jogger she'd read about who was hit and killed by (this is true) a plane.

So does news like that make us stop running or driving or having much-needed surgeries or falling in love because we MIGHT get hurt? It could...but it doesn't. After all, we humans are a strong and plucky lot. Sure, life is inherently a risk. But we take our chances; what choice do we have?

Click here to read what I wrote about this -- almost four years ago to the day -- after a trip to a writers' conference in Hartford, Conn.

And rest in peace, sweet Alisa.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thinking (tw)ice

If you heard about an 82-year-old man who, on a snowy, icy and windy Sunday -- after taking his wife to catch a pre-dawn flight to attend her brother's funeral -- decided to drive 100 miles home before the sand trucks had ventured out, what would you say?

If you knew my father, your answer would be easy: "Oh, that Eddie."

Not much stops my dad. Not a nosebleed that can't be controlled; not a broken foot caused by kicking a stubborn sheep (who never felt a thing, by the way); not various falls to the ground; not a few serious skin cancers.

And certainly not a little (or a lot of) ice. After all, he had to get home. The dogs and donkeys needed feeding, the plants to be brought in from the front porch, a nap to be taken in his own chair.

Still, when my sister Susan told me at 8:30 this morning that Dad was on I-30 headed east, I first texted back: "Why?" to which she replied, "Cuz he's Dad."

"Eddie is invincible," I replied.

Just to make sure, though, I knocked wood, tossed salt over my shoulder and began my oft-repeated, "Please let Daddy (fill in the blank)" prayer.

She sent back a note two hours later: "I called the house and his cell phone and there's no answer," she said.

I saw that note after I saw the next one: "He made it," she wrote, and added a smiley face.

I called to tell him I was glad he was OK, and, yes, to admonish him a bit for driving in this.

"Well, it was slippery," he acknowledged. "The sand trucks hadn't been out, and there were a couple of places on the overpasses where I skidded a little."

"I'm so glad you're OK," I said.

"Oh honey, of course," he said.

There's a fine line between courageous and crazy, between determined and stubborn, between aware and oblivious. Frankly, much of the time, I'm not sure on which side my dad leans. But as long as he doesn't stumble, and as long as he keeps answering the phone, it doesn't really matter.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Watching out

The man who came into the running store held the door open with his foot while he pushed a kid-cool wheelchair inside. He was upbeat and friendly as he maneuvered the chair to the shoe wall. I asked his name.

"Jeff," he said.

"I'm Leslie. Who's your friend here?" I asked, kneeling to look at her eye-level.

"That's Katie, my daughter," he said. "She's 13."

"Nice to meet you," I said.

Katie's brown hair was held back from her forehead with a white headband. Her tennis shoes were pink and white, her bare legs smooth and slender. She didn't answer when her dad or I spoke to her, or seem to understand what we said. But she tilted her face toward her father, and seemed comfortable and happy.

At one point, I asked if she'd like to hold the teddy bear we keep, along with other toys, in a corner for antsy children. "What do you think, Katie?" he asked, then answered me, "Thank you, but I think she's fine."

He talked to her some as he tried on the shoes. "Katie, I'm going to walk around the store for a minute," he said. Or "How do you like these, Katie?"

He bought the shoes and put the box on Katie's lap. When they reached the door, Andrew, one of my colleagues, dashed out from around the counter to open it for him. He came back to the desk where a few of us were standing.

"Do you know what's wrong with her?" he asked.

No, I told him, only that she didn't seem to be able to do anything for herself.

Andrew fiddled with one of the rubber bracelets on his arm. "My cousin's son is disabled," he said, "and his parents have started a foundation for him that raises money to buy playground equipment for disabled children. That's what this bracelet is.

"Do you think that man would mind if I gave it to him, and told him about the foundation?"

We looked out the window. Jeff had slid open the side door to his van and was lifting Katie's wheelchair inside.

"Not at all," I said. "Go! Hurry!"

Andrew quickly scribbled down the foundation's website, grabbed the piece of paper and ran outside. He returned a minute or so later.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"He said thank you very much," Andrew said.

Just another reminder that 1. I work with some really wonderful people. And 2. We really are all in this together.

Here's the website, by the way:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stepping out

Sometimes at the running store, I'm still a techno-talk neophyte when it comes to explaining how one shoe differs from another. Still, I'm pretty good at matching feet to shoes. Or, as I like to tell customers, "helping you find the most comfortable shoes you have ever worn in your entire life."

But where I falter in shoe-speak, I find my footing in chitchat. I like learning what (if any) training someone is doing. Why that person has decided to walk, or to run, or to keep doing either, or to simply find shoes that won't hurt his feet. I have been with people for as little as 10 minutes, or as long as one-and-a-half hours.

When I fit them into the right shoes, I'm happy. When I can make them smile or laugh, I beam.

That said, here are a few faves from the last few weeks.

1. The history-wearer. The man named Rich didn't know the treasure he wore on his feet. He just knew the Brooks Adrenaline had served him well. So I brought out a newer model. He tried them on, proclaimed them perfect, stood up and walked around to make doubly sure.
At that point Daniel, our assistant manager, was passing by. "Oh my GOSH!" he said, spotting the old shoes. He picked one up, looked it over and said, "How long have you had these?"
"Ten years," Rich said.
"They're the original Adrenalines!" Dan said, calling over another colleague to look at them. "I've never seen these before!"
"You can have them if you'd like," Rich said.
Daniel thanked him profusely and put the shoes in a glassed-in section of the front desk. He printed out a label giving Rich credit for his donation. It was pretty exciting. I think we all felt a bit like winners in our own version of Antiques Roadshow.

2. The father & daughter. Confession: When the heavyset man came in wearing a White Rock Marathon t-shirt, I didn't think it was his. I am happy that it was, because it furthers my belief that anyone can have the passion, and that anyone can run.
He brought his daughter in. They're running her first half marathon together this Sunday, and he wanted her to have the right shoes. She's 13, a teen-ager who texted her friends between try-ons; a little girl who giggled when I told her the red Nikes were just right for her foot, and who pranced around to show her dad how they looked.
Interesting, what you can learn about someone in an hour-and-a-half. The girl's favorite color is red. She had just moved from her mother's home in another city into her dad's. She has a sister. He has a girlfriend who is coming in town to run the half with them. Father and daughter seemed so easy, so respectful, so comfortable with each other.
After she found her shoes, he decided he wanted some, too. Six pairs later, he decided on the very first ones he'd tried on, which were the same make and model he was wearing. That was fine with me; I enjoyed their company, and feeling part of something rather special.

3. The hero. The tall, blondish man said he was just starting to run again after five years. So yeah, of course I asked the story of why. He told me he was four months away from running his fourth White Rock marathon. One night, he was home with his year-old daughter when they next-door neighbor's house caught on fire. He ran onto his roof to spray it with water and protect it -- and thus his daughter and his home -- against the fast-approaching flames.
The firefighters, seeing how close the fire was, screamed at him to get off the roof. So he jumped, breaking both ankles. The day after surgery, he asked his doctor if he could run again. The reply: "Right now, you're lucky to be able to walk."
Five years later, he runs fewer miles in a week than what he'd run on a long Sunday run. But he's learned a lot -- about capabilities, about strength, about the human spirit. And he, unlike most of us, takes nothing for granted.

4. The size observer.
We noticed her shoes as she walked in: Four-inch patent-leather heels.
I fitted her into a pair or running shoes that seemed much more comfortable. She was happy with them; I was relieved when I was able to talk her into a bigger size. She was very nice but, as way too many customers are, overly concerned with sizes. Clothing, I can sort of see. But none of us has control over the size of shoe we wear.
I put her shoebox on the counter and took her to look at apparel. She selected a sleeveless top.
"I think I'd wear the small," she said. "What do you think?"
My eyes tried to avoid her cleavage (read: ample bosom) that was never intended to fit into the built-in bra of a small (or even a medium) size. We didn't have a medium so I tried to be diplomatic.
"Well," I said, "you're a bit...well endowed for a small, I think. How about if you try a small and a large and see if maybe the medium would be the right size. Then I could get it from another store."
"Oh I could never wear a large," she said.
She found a medium in another color and carried it to the dressing room. A few minutes later, she called me in.
"Look," she said. "The medium is just perfect isn't it."
It wasn't a question, so I didn't feel compelled to totally answer.
"That is such a pretty pattern, and the color looks really good on you," I said. "How does it feel?"
"It feels great," she said.
"That's the important thing," I said. "I think you should get it."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Passing fancy

I have long been enthralled by relay races. By the choreography of passing the baton from one hand to another. By the split-second accuracy. By the blind faith each runner places in the other to make it all work.

Last Saturday, at the second track meet of the season, my son Charlie was part of the quartet of trust. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Being reminded

We humans tend to take life's basics -- running, walking, snort-laughing, listening, friends, music, raincoats, children, parents, pets, pasta, thunderstorms, sunshine, soup, silence -- for granted. This isn't a particularly bold or astute observation; still, it's one that needs to be pointed out at least a bit more often.

Tomorrow, you can be the one to do so. But today, it's my turn. Or, more accurately, it is that of a total stranger, one who didn't even realize she was taking a turn.

She came into Run On, the running store where I work, on Saturday. Truth to tell, if she walked right into my dining room right now, I probably wouldn't recognize her. But I do remember her story.

She sat down across from me in the store and told me her feet hurt. No wonder; she had just walked around White Rock Lake in shoes she knew needed replacing. If she were to do the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon on March 14, she told me, she'd better buy some new ones.

"You're running the half?" I asked. "How exciting!"

"Oh, I'm not running it," she said. "I'm walking. It'll be my fourth half-marathon. I do it with Team N Training."

(TNT is a program in which participants raise money to fight blood cancer and support patients. In turn, they are trained by certified coaches for various events across the country.)

"I've heard such wonderful things about that program," I said. "If you don't mind I ask, how did you happen to get involved with it?"

"My husband and son both have had forms of blood cancer," she said.

"Oh my gosh," I said. "How are they doing?"

"My husband had a bone-marrow transplant 16 months ago," she said. "He's had some complications, but he's doing OK. My son died last September."

"Oh no," I said. "I am so so sorry."

"He was 35. He had a wife and a precious 3-year-old daughter."

I was tying her shoes while she talked, tying them very slowly and deliberately, wondering whether I would start to cry if I said anything. I finished, patted her shoes, put my hands on my legs and sat up straight.

"What a beautiful tribute you're doing for them," I said.

"Thank you," she said. "I love it. I know it means a lot to my husband, and that it meant a lot to my son."

She smiled, paid for her shoes and a pair of socks, and walked out the door. She wasn't trying to make a point, or to teach a lesson, or to remind me not to take life for granted. She was just someone doing what those who meant the world to her could not do -- walk. Because she can, and because she loves them very much.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Running commentary

I haven't asked her about this in awhile. Still, I am fairly certain that on the days that she works, my mother still jots down snippets to share with my dad when she gets home.

(Click here to read what I wrote about her a few years back).

When I work at the running store, I meet all sorts of interesting people. Like Mom says, everyone who walks through the door -- runner, walker, neither -- has a story. As we talk, I think I'll remember what each one had to say. But (surprise) I don't.

So I followed Mom's lead and started jotting down a few notes myself the last week or so. Here's who -- mostly for better, maybe one not so much -- I want to remember.

1. The pilot. She was laid off from her job as a corporate pilot about the same time I lost my job. Her smile was beautiful; her attitude optimistic. But when she started talking about aviation -- about why she loves to fly and why she misses it so -- her eyes filled with passionate tears. I recognized them, because once in awhile (less than I thought I would, really), I get that way about writing.

2. The half-marathon walker. As I fitted him with shoes, I think he told me four times that he weighs 260 pounds. What I liked about him, though, was that he finished last in a half-marathon last year.
"That is so cool," I said. "You finished it. And somebody had to be last."
"Yeah," he said, "once I got to the Katy Trail, I turned around and there were four police cars right behind me, just waiting to be able to open the road again. One of the police officers got on his radio and said, 'He just started on the Katy Trail.'
"When I crossed the finish line, everyone there shook hands with me."
"See?" I said. "They didn't do that for the person who finished next to last."

3. The Breast Cancer 3-Day walker. One of those women who's so naturally pretty you try not to stare at her, she walks faster than many people run. When I asked how she happened to start doing the 3-Day (did she have a family member with breast cancer?) she told me this:

"My husband's mother died of breast cancer when she was 40 years old. I decided that when I turned 40, I'd do the 3-Day for her, and keep doing it for every year she missed. I'm 47 now, and I'll keep walking for it as long as I can."

4. That uh, other guy. Ten minutes after we locked the doors and midway through his shoe try-on, his phone rang. He answered it, asked me for a pen and paper, walked to a nearby table, and spent a good five minutes talking and taking notes.

By that time (truth be told and despite what my mother says) I wasn't in the mood to hear the story of this chap with the name so Biblical I thought he made it up. Not that his extra thumb that had to be removed grew back more than a decade later...necessitating another amputation. Not that he wanted to bring a friend in to help him choose shoes -- someone who (apparently unlike me) could explain shoe technology to him.

So I smiled, walked him to the door, unlocked it to let him out. I felt a little dazed. Quite frankly, I still do.