the journey.

“The Journey” by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

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When I was pregnant with Atticus, I dutifully took a breastfeeding class but I refused to take a birthing class. Refused. Did not check out any books about childbirth. Did not look things up on the internet. I went into the hospital with contractions (that I thought were fake) and had done zero research. I was terrified about the whole experience, so I justified my lack of information by assuming that my body would take over for me and also the midwife would be there and so everything would be fine and women have been doing this for millions of years. It sounds crazy now but at the time I couldn’t deal with having to take in all the information and opinions.

I approached the half marathon in much the same way. I figured out my running plan and then got very small amounts of advice from trusted friends, but I did not do any research or buy any gear. It felt too overwhelming. There are so many things to know and way too many things to buy. I just wanted to run, not support the entire industry with the water bottles and the sunglasses and the gels. I guess I was hoping that my body would just do what I trained it to do.

You would think that I would be a person who would research to the max but apparently I am not. World’s worst librarian? It’s possible. Luckily, both times my body did just fine. An epidural would have been nice for the half marathon, though, now that you mention it.

After the race I realized how much I had responded to both of those situations from a place of fear. During pregnancy, I was afraid of motherhood and how my life was going to change. Before the race, I was afraid of failing and also afraid of the super fit people who would be running with me. I thought I would be the slowest pudgiest person in attendance. And the shortest. And that everyone would laugh at me. (I get really anxious around anything that seems like gym class.) So I did my running but didn’t open myself to the experience more than that.

What was beautiful to me about the race was that none of that mattered. It goes without saying that everyone in my section (aka the slow people) was nice and encouraging and some of them were pudgy, too. The people holding signs along the route did not jeer at me for having to walk up the hills. No one rolled their eyes at me for not having the right gear. Instead the people along the way generously offered their time and themselves as they cheered us on. One lady even offered free bloody marys. (Which seemed gross to me but was kind of her just the same.) I was too nervous to open myself to the experience, but the day opened itself to me just the same. I shared smiles and laughs and frustrations with strangers and friends, and I gratefully accepted the community around me because I needed them and was too hot and tired to let my brain object.

I shouldn’t be surprised by these kindnesses but I am, again and again. Instead of a clenched fist, there is the open hand of grace offering encouragement. On Sunday it looked like silly signs and sounded like cowbells and tasted like cold water in the hot sun. I am grateful for these small gifts that help pull me out of the dark hidden places of fear and into the light, offering hope for the journey ahead.

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