Holiday lights and haunted houses

A month ago the light was touched with the colors of the season. We counted pumpkins on doorsteps, noting the special ones, unusual colors or sizes, and brought great quantities of candy into our home. The quietly spectacular transformation of green into stains of orange, red and yellow took place before I could appreciate it properly.

One by one, thousands of fallen leaves evaporated into the earth, leaving us with a memory of when they were lush and unseasoned.

Like so many birds, I flew south for a few days last month. During my absence winter came crawling, beckoning at the door. When I got home I dug out gloves and hats in preparation for stinging weather. A rainbow teased itself across the blue only to leave no trace of its existence when I blinked, and suddenly I was gazing upon a dull grey sky.

I blink sometimes, and she is gone again.

When I talk about her with someone who really knew her, it makes it feel real again.

It makes me miss her more, and yet makes me feel like I’m not the only one, and so I am sad and grateful at the same time.

Most of the time these days I’m hardly thinking of my dead sister, though, and the enormous void that was left in our family when she died, and really, for a long time now, my grief  has remained silent. I am happy, and yet my heart is haunted, you see.

So then.

Then something happens, and I am struck, no, torn, torn into a thousand pieces of misunderstanding and hurt and terror mixed with ambivalence and blame and fear, and I fear for my children, for the world in which they are being raised. How on Earth can we protect them?

Yet when I was a child, we lived without sun protection and seat belts. Secondhand smoke was, well, everywhere. I remember tipping full ashtrays into the trash, with no immediate effects. We were routinely allowed to get hurt (or okay, at least put in harm’s way with limited observation especially in the summer time).

My sisters and I made it to adulthood with a few scratches and scars, but nothing serious. Certainly we arrived as newborn adults prepared to live, and live freely and confidently.

This is part of the reason why it’s been so very, very difficult to accept my sister’s death (nine years ago and counting). She was so very much alive.

That, and also that our national and international news is so terrible of late.

I know my sister would be fighting to arbitrate such news today. In her core she was a stubborn negotiator, a protector of human integrity, and a woman who sought to collaborate, agree with or attempt to understand someone despite of or due to their differences.

She was a person who fought back, typically with words but once with a well-placed and most deserved punch to the face. She listened to stories from men and women who were disabled but not downtrodden – she recognized those who needed a hand from time to time were not unworthy of their humanity.

She would fight with me, with us, help me to understand what I can do better.

There’s a lot on my list to do better.

(At least seat belts, smoking and sun protection don’t make the list).

I’ve been doing some yoga lately. I’m not one with the mat or anything, but it makes me feel better.

Yoga makes my wrists hurt, my sister said with a shake of her head, a long time ago.

Some nights I cannot sleep.

There are haunted houses in my dreams, darkened windows, broken glass. The wind scatters leaves across my path; a cat cries before I wake up.

Haunted hearts, empty, shadowed by sadness. Full of memories that can not always be trusted.

I lose you again and again and again.

You move and breathe and smile in our minds, but just like those moving portraits that hang on the walls of Hogwarts, you aren’t really there.

Those whom we we have lost in recent days are real. As usual, I send a silent appeal to my angel sister so that she may greet them in turn, a reflective reception for Michael Brown among them… always, I think, those whose deaths were unexpected deserve a kind and compassionate welcome.

Lights sparkle in our living room tonight, illuminating a tiny Nativity scene organized on the coffee table by our youngest son. He is very taken with the miniature wooden figures, especially the Three Kings and the Baby Jesus. We have been listening to a lot of holiday pop music lately, and not especially focused on theology, but I thought I’d been pretty clear about the meaning of the holiday until he asked me about Michael Jackson’s role in Bethlehem at Christmas.

Perplexed, I asked a few questions, and it turned out that he had confused the Baby Jesus with the renowned rock star.

My explanation of Christmas was puzzling at best, dubious at worst. I attempted to set him straight, and he marched back into the family room to dance to little Michael’s rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

My sister would have celebrated another turn around the sun tomorrow. Surely she’s dancing, wherever she is, and crying, too, at the loss that we invoke while here on Earth, at the sudden force of grief and mourning that we create when another young life is taken senselessly and forever.

In my heart I remember you as you were, Liz, 28 years old, a smile upon your lips to greet a loved one or a stranger, a frown as you observed injustice around you. I am grateful for you, and saddened by your absence. Always, I remain your sister and your friend.





phantom spiders and falling leaves

Our house had been unoccupied for the better part of a year before we moved in. As a result, the land was stirred up and spider homes unearthed themselves into walls instead of trees. We spy tiny spiders in the yard and driveway, beneath the eaves and mailbox, and sometimes, inside.

Inside isn’t good for spiders, and inside spiders sure aren’t good for children who are scared of spiders. Our youngest hasn’t struggled with sleep in a couple years, and during the first month living here he woke once or twice every night crying I’m scared! of the spiders in the closet.

We’ve done all the right things to get the phantom spiders out of his mind. Three night lights fill the room with a gentle glow. He shares his sleep with two elephants, one cow and a shark, but last night he woke up screaming again.

Scared or not, he is often tender and loving, and yet he can turn into a heart-crushingly difficult child in the blink of an eye.

In an effort to direct some of his energy in a positive direction, we signed him up for taekwondo. Master Frenel is soft spoken with a slight accent inspired by French Creole, and his ability to capture and hold the attention of a roomful of four and five year olds for forty minutes is almost miraculous.

taekwondo max

After class he is more relaxed and less combative. He typically sleeps for at least eleven hours straight. He is learning to speak in a whisper, sometimes. He tries to catch the leaves of fall as they gently rain down in the backyard, changing from green to yellow and orange and brown.

The season that makes every leaf a flower is ever welcome.

Some people think Autumn is a sad space, as winter beckons and branches grow bare. But I love it, perhaps more even than the fresh breath of Spring. I like tucking into cooler nights and finding socks again. I like the evening light, even as the days grow shorter and darker. I like pumpkin patches and cider and soccer games and rays of light that stream like lasers through orange and ruby and golden leaves. They settle into a richer earth and drape themselves like a blanket across the land.

When I asked my oldest what he thinks of Fall, he said I think about how the birds will migrate and how mostly we’ll see hawks and how it’s apple season and apples everywhere and Halloween is coming up which I am very excited about and I am very excited about how Christmas gets sooner and sooner when you pass Fall. 

Last weekend I ran in the Memorial 5K event established to remember and honor my sister’s legacy and raise money for an organization (her former employer) that provides free legal services for low-income individuals and families in Brooklyn. It was a picture perfect fall day, breezy and chilly until the sun shone full and we began running.


Two dear friends joined me for not only the race but the entire weekend. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, and I mean all of it – the trashy paperback I read on the plane, brief reunion with family friends, hugs and smiles, and an amazing meal with my friends. I would also be remiss to neglect the kind Dominican couple, boisterous Jamaicans and quiet Indian woman on the subway without whose direction I would never have managed to get from the airport to Manhattan by myself.

(and I would never, ever live in this city, not if I was expected to get somewhere on my own).

My sister would be very happy to see what a fine community event this has become. I believe that from her unknowable space in the universe she was shining for us all day, a candle whose light burned out far too soon but whose joy in living and commitment to service endures for all of us who remember her.

Her light shown within the children as they toddled toward the finish line in the kids’ race. It beamed from the speedy runners who finished in 18 minutes and some change. Walkers and joggers and slow and fast runners made their way along the course.

Some ambled. Others dashed. One guy rode a bike.

Light shown within the race volunteers and the park and city staff who keep this part of New York beautiful and accessible. Our mother’s tough spirit was also illuminated, and reminds us that the event represents so much goodness and a very, very hard reason behind the day.

Yesterday was Eleanor Roosevelt’s birthday, so I’ll end this post by borrowing her wise words, and wishing my readers a lovely Fall.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Eleanor Roosevelt

the angels are working overtime

When I learn that someone has died, I always send up a quick prayer to my sister, organizer of angels, so that she will welcome them into her part of the universe. I make a special urgent request that she do so when it’s someone that has died unexpectedly or senselessly, so that he or she will have a friend greet them wherever they land.

I’m not suggesting that the death of Robin Williams was senseless. On the contrary, and I do not presume to know a damn thing about depression except for my own bits and pieces of sorrow, and even they bewilder me sometimes.

But I think that probably in his mind at the moment, his death, well, it made a great deal of sense.

It may have been the only thing he could do to stop the pain.

It sure seems like I’m having my angel sister work overtime these days, doesn’t it? A friend’s mother, another friend’s father, a seventeen-year-old from a local high school, all lost within a few days of one another this summer. And it sure is hard to write when you’re crying.

But then again it sure is hard to NOT write when you’re crying.

Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Mr. Gibran’s words resonate deeply with me. My heart goes out to all the families experiencing pain and loss right now.

Just a few hours after my grandfather died last year, I wrote this post. His death, while tremendously sad, made sense to me, and the words came easy. On the other hand, I’ve written about sudden loss due to accidents, bombings and guns in schools, and those words are a struggle to put on the page.  

Managed pain is still pain. Controlled depression is still a deep well in which one swims, where the light seems far, far away. I grow sunflowers to cope with sadness. I admire the tiny seed that sprouts from the earth, fragile and small, that keeps on reaching for the sun until it is seven feet tall and brilliant. Its edible seeds start to tumble and twist from their place on the blossom, and squirrels feast while the great stalks gently fold back onto the earth to close another summer season of light. 

Just over a decade ago I was living in central California with my then-boyfriend-now-husband. We road tripped to San Francisco to spectate a professional cycling event in which the then-much-adored Lance Armstrong was racing. While walking around the course we heard a familiar, friendly voice.

Robin Williams was standing next to a bike and a guy who might have been an assistant or a friend. Within minutes everyone around us immediately recognized and surrounded him, and for about ten minutes he joked and smiled with the crowd. An old lady nearly knocked him over trying to get a photo, and he made a kind joke about being taken down by someone just a tad older than him.

I shook his hand. 

When I moved to California I expected two things: 1) warm, sunny beaches and 2) frequent celebrity sightings. We lived less than a block from the spectacular coast, but it was chilly and foggy most mornings. And I guess most of the celebrities lived somewhere several hours south of us. 

Robin Williams remains my one and only celebrity sighting. When I shook his hand, it felt like a normal, healthy, happy guy’s hand, one whom life blessed with talent and opportunity, and certainly not one that belonged to a man in a critically unhappy and potentially life-threatening space. 

I’ve been pretty lucky not to have too much direct experience with depression other than that which was mixed up with bereavement. I’m not depressed anymore. But I am Sad with a capital S about the death of Robin Williams. 

Crying isn’t innocuous in public spaces. It may be rooted in deep emotion, but it isn’t always appropriate. You know that moment when your voice catches and you pause in order to suck back in the sad? Jimmy Fallon did that last night on his show. I do it all the time.

Please seek out help if you’re feeling deeply or desperately troubled. 

You can reach The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 day or night.


following a cloud


Max smashed his head into my face… and it’s still wriggly! My tooth! It didn’t even come out! I can’t believe it!

Great, are you okay? Why is your brother smashing his head into your face?

Oh, don’t worry. It was an accident.

The past weekend alternated from an environment of peace to nearthebrinkoflosingmysanityforreal and whywon’ttheseboysstopfightingfortheloveofgod and then back to peace. Boxes are stacked neatly in the corners of every room, leaving lonely Lego pieces scattered beneath the boys’ bunk beds and across the living room floor. Our dog moves from room to room seeking refuge. And it’s been quite hot in our non-air-conditioned home for the past few weeks. Tempers have flared. Maybe they, too, are seeking refuge.

It took me four hours to dismantle a rarely used closet filled with odds and ends that we didn’t have space to care for properly, yet didn’t want to let go. Shredding sleeves of worthless paper felt good (lay-off letter, anyone?). I found our unofficial marriage certificate and a copy of a love letter scripted in broken English from my great grandfather to the woman he courted, and eventually married, in 1918. Those I kept. Unused passport photos were tucked into a box I call “old photos and letters that I cannot bear to throw away” along with sweet cards recognizing several firsts…. birthdays and holidays and etc.

A heavy layer of dust unsettled as I lifted a thick folder of material from the closet containing details on bicycle travel, bike accidents, cycling law, city zoning policies… changes to New York City streets to make them safer… newspaper clippings, print outs of e-mail exchanges, and duplicate copies of articles that are very difficult and painful to read.

I tossed the entire folder.

Well, I recycled it, anyway. I know what the articles say. I know that good people are working to make streets less hostile and more compelling for cyclists. I see no need to keep every unkind reminder of my loss.

Instead of tucking into myself afterwards, I shouted to my kids. Look at this! a picture of Miles hugging a stuffed soccer ball at six months young. Keep. A handwritten note from an old friend? Keep. Burned out birthday candles? Seriously? Toss. Paperwork from a rental three cities ago? Toss. Toss. Toss.

The process was either mindful or mindless depending on the material that we had saved for mostly unexamined purpose and little value for many years.

Shifting gears, I finally took a shower so that my husband and I could head out for an evening by ourselves. Early the next morning, and I mean early (4:30 am rising), we arrived in a fog lit field in which wandered other expectant visitors waiting for a ride in a balloon.

I have wanted to go up in a hot air balloon for a long time, and my husband’s 40th birthday gift to me was a certificate for a summer flight for two.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the Wizard of Oz when he cried out, I can’t come back, I don’t know how it works! Good-bye, folks!


His balloon lifted as Dorothy watched him from the earth feeling lost and hopeless as she realized another opportunity to go home had crumbled before her eyes.

Not unlike the Wizard, we climbed into a sturdy wicker basket and quietly yet quickly rose upwards beneath the skillful direction of pilot Roger, co-founder of Vista Balloons in Newberg, Oregon. Roger provided us both an education and a promise of knowing a space previously unknown, unique to that morning’s winds that shifted east and west as we moved through the air, high above vineyards, forest and agricultural land.

The hot air balloon is the oldest successful human-carrying flight technology. Historically it wasn’t the sort of travel available to those without immense wealth or power. The first manned flight took place in 1783 in Paris, France. Not until the 1970’s did ballooning become popular and (relatively) affordable for regular people.

We followed a cloud, slipping into an astonishingly peaceful pause in which the light warmed us and the wind seemed to disappear. I waved my hand into the emptiness. Our small group of seven, including Roger, remained pleasantly quiet as we took in the substantial views. Blinking, we watched a deep red glow rise from beyond the hilly horizon, and as we rose the sun rose with us, moment by moment. It was as if we had traveled a thousand miles and a thousand years from our daily experience, and acknowledged that there is so much more out there than where we spend most of our time.

Not unlike Dorothy, I felt lost and helpless many times during the better part of a decade. But curiously enough, the tranquility of floating 1,400 feet above the earth made me feel more grounded, more calm, and more ready to return to real life.

We went home and it wasn’t a perfect day or one in which I managed to feel that great. But just when the boys were about to bring me back to that place where Mama is losing it, I overheard the oldest suggest they have a “dance fight”.

And they did.

With no music.

It was pretty funny to watch.

When the whole weekend was said and done, I felt not quite rested, dusty and troubled and tossed, and yet moved enough by flight to be able to return to a space in which I could remember the gentle light within the balloon, wherein strangers and lovers mingled in a basket among the clouds, and I thought, I will get through this. I will do what needs to be done to move forward, change where needed, and amend plans as necessary.

We are moving soon. Goodbye folks!

All balloons start out flat and empty.

empty balloon

And then they begin to grow.

balloon basket balloon filling up with air

Until they are full and light, strong and beautiful.

a single balloon

We were lifted up, up, up… by invisible wings that grow still as they light on a breeze concealed from human sight. Our journey became rhythmic and peaceful as we rose keeping pace with the sun. 

morning is breakingballoon at sunrise

And our souls were realized as essential and strong as we fully entered into the day.

forest nearby ballooning floating


After I finished writing this post, I wandered around my backyard to look for overgrown zucchini, cherry red tomatoes and dog poop. I glanced at the few sunflowers that came up this season.   None had opened until today. first sunflower 2014

As we leave the sunflowers behind for the new owners of our home, I hope to remember the slight turn of the wind as we drifted without great expectation or worry a day ago. So many memories in this busy house. So much stuff. So many tears. So many children (okay, two). So much love.

first grade rainbow

A friend of mine made me laugh recently while describing her approach to sharing a potentially objectionable plan with her partner.

Paraphrasing here, she said,

I’m like, listen. There is fantasy, and there is reality. We live in reality, dear. 

And reality makes us do things sometimes that we don’t want to do.

Blogging is a heavily filtered view of reality. I share what I want to share, and I withhold so, so much. It’s a curious way to write. Sometimes I go back and read something I’ve written, and I hardly recognize myself in the words. Other times, I read my words and am grateful to no longer be in that space, yet know it remains within me, unforgotten, unforgiven.

Last night my reality included first grade homework. The task was to write six sentences describing my son’s summer plans. His words were effective. The plans include attending a Portland Timbers soccer camp, a family visit to the East Coast, and camping in southern Oregon.

At some point, however, his mind turned back to school. Casually, he mentioned being almost stapled in the hand. Further questioning revealed that a friend nearly stapled his finger while attempting to fasten together some paper. Nothing indicated that he had actually been stapled, and we agreed it had been a near miss.

The conversation reminded me of when my younger sister once stepped on a staple. I was in the second grade and she was in kindergarten. I don’t remember the incident clearly, but I think it involved her throwing staples down a flight of stairs in a fit of anger. Several minutes later she stomped downstairs and stepped on a staple, sharp side up. There was blood and tears.

And… childhood karma?

I shared the memory with our son, and he wrinkled his forehead. He went to the piano where we keep his aunt’s image framed and present, and brought it to me on the sofa. The photograph of Elizabeth Kasulis Padilla was taken at age 27 during my bridal shower at our family home. She is young and beautiful.

I asked Miles if we looked alike. He studied her image before he spoke.

Um, Mama? No, not really. Well….. yes, you actually have the same eyes.

He continued, but you’re not wearing a bracelet. And she has different eyebrows. Hers go like this (demonstration) and yours go like this (demonstration).

Plus she has long hair. And you have a wig. 

What?! (that was me).

Oh! I mean not a WIG. You have a PONY TAIL. And her hair is long.

Let the difference between a pony tail and  a wig be clear. Not that there’s anything wrong with wigs, but I’m trying to work with what I’ve got here.

He continued, Well, not really, you don’t look alike. Except for your eyes. Oh, and your ears are the same. PLUS you might have the very same big toe.

I swear he said this.

After this illuminating dialog we entered into a faux soccer match between Mexico and Brazil. I’m always Mexico and he’s Brazil or another spectacular team. (I’m not advertising, but these soccer guys are an awesome toy for creative young soccer aficionados).

soccer guys

The 2014 World Cup is imminent. I am excited not only because I’m genuinely interested in watching the matches, but I love that it’s something our family can get into together. We are teaching our children about nationalities and maps and languages and colors. We may choose different sides along the way, but we all experience similar lessons in play, struggle, pain, loss, movement, observation, success and strategy.

Also on the horizon is the anniversary of my sister’s death, and in the days and weeks prior it is no secret that anxiety and fear are my closest friends.

In a few days, Liz will have been dead for nine years.

I still struggle with this menacing truth. It has threatened to destroy what little faith I have for so long.

Haven’t I grieved long enough?

Allowing the grief to move through me last night, watching my son compare my sister’s image to my own, was enough. It was enough in its authenticity. It was enough in its innocence. The experience was enough in its brevity and relaxed sentiment. It wasn’t sad, comparing faces, one in the here and now, one in the past.

It was enough to move within a brief span of time from dreams of summer to howdoyouspellDeschutesRiver to the dangers of staplers to remembering my sister to World Cup fanaticism. It was enough, and I was happy.

Because, as my son pointed out, my sister and I might have the very same big toe,

and that is enough for today.

Ms. Maya Angelou once said,  “Try to be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.” 

Last night my oldest was my rainbow.

She also wrote,

When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors. 
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else. 
I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return. 
Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting? ‘ with ‘ it is here in my heart and mind and memories.’

And so it is in mine.


old and new, near and far

It came to my attention last week that I never wrapped up last week’s post.

What happened to my son and his first grade BFF after their falling out?

Well, I don’t have a simple answer. My son and this boy remain good friends.  At home we’ve recently hashed out different strategies for managing his response to school playground challenges, and the thing is, he gets along beautifully with this friend and all of the other boys when they are playing one-on-one. It’s group play that becomes tough and provocative for him.

His situation strikes me as similar to ‘group play’ as experienced by adults, whether on the playground, so to speak, or in the workplace. As adults employed in a professional landscape we experience partnerships, jealousies, and breakups. Our relationships with our colleagues and friends are distinct, yes, but also similar in that we spend meaningful time (I hope) with men and women tending to shared goals and impact. The way we get there, however, may or may not be on or even treading close to the same path.

Navigating new and personal grown-up friendships is also interesting. Most of the time I like meeting new people, but there are times when doing so scares or shuts me down. Given this and for a thousand other reasons, I treasure my ‘forever’ long time friends… the women I met as a happy, breezy, active girl, and later as a smart, insecure, more or less happy teenager, and still later as a searching, open, and unsatisfied college student. They’ve known me long enough that if they wanted out of our friendship I believe they would have ducked out long ago. The fact that liked me ‘then’ and ‘then’ and then’… and still like me today, well, I am humbled, happy and grateful for their friendship.

I may have mentioned it in my last post, but I have the most amazing friends. Writing this makes me want to be with them right NOW!

Friendship break-ups are the worst, though. While I haven’t gone through permanent separation from a loved one/partner/spouse, I do know the sadness of a friendship that is, for a variety of reasons, unrecoverable. There are people out there (fortunately very few)… who know me… or knew me… and we are no longer friends.

Experiencing my parents cherish, but eventually break up with their dearest friends years ago is something I will never forget. On the other hand, observing them hold other friends close for more than 40 years (my lifetime) has been a privilege.

Sometimes I think my parents’ friends are actually my friends, too, and I feel so lucky.

When my sister Liz died, I had the true pleasure of connecting  or re-connecting with a few of her BFFs. Of course I’d known them before the accident, but they were hers, not mine.  In fact, I often observed Liz’s friendships from a distance, due to geography or biology or whatever.

Once I went out with a guy in her circle of summer friends.

It did not go over well (with her).

Today, these lovely, accomplished, smart women are still not mine, but occasionally I reach out to them or they reach out to me. When this happens, my heart always fills with the knowledge that they remember Liz. And that we all remain connected to her. I’m struck, but not surprised, that she had such awesome girlfriends.

One thing Liz and I had in common was our ability to cultivate wonderful friendships with women who are extraordinary given their grace, intelligence and humor. (Some of these women, I should note, were stuck with us because our parents were friends and so that was that. Like cousins, we came together regularly on special and non-special occasions through no planning or our own desire. Thank you, thank you, parents.)

To my sister’s friends, whom I now might quietly call my own, and to my friends – old and new, near and far – and to my sons’ friends – the new, the challenging, and the sweet — I raise a glass tonight.

I look forward to knowing you all for a very long time.

And I thank you for knowing me.

Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.

 Khalil Gibran


On the run with Joe

This past weekend I had the pleasure (and pain) of running 7.25 miles with a local marathon training group. This was the second time I’d joined the group, and I’m likely to return, if for nothing else than to spend a few hours with one of the pacers, a guy named Joe* who introduced himself as an alcoholic, cocaine addict and three-pack-a-day smoker a few miles into the run.

Three packs. That’s like 60 cigarettes, right? It didn’t appear that we had much in common at first, but I shared back that my parents were smokers and I was very happy when they quit. He told me that he would wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning and couldn’t go back to sleep without a couple of smokes.

I remembered how I couldn’t sleep without crying for a while first, not so many years ago.

Joe and his wife met in a drug treatment program. They each have 18 years of sobriety under their belts, and Joe insisted that tobacco was by far the most difficult vice to quit. He is 58 years old.

I quit drinking and drugging at 40, Joe said, matter of factly, as I ran by his side.

What do you say in response to a critical, personal, unexpected and heartfelt truth shared on the run?

My thoughts bubbled to the surface, yet remained unsaid. Thank you for telling me. Thank you for sharing your story. You are so much braver than me. In fact, you are one of the most amazing men I’ve met, even though I just met you twenty minutes ago. And your calves are kickass for a guy pushing 60, by the way.

Silently I wondered, How did you quit? Why did you start? And how fantastic is it that you met the love of your life (so described by Joe) who also is a recovering drug addict and an accomplished distance runner in her 50s? 

Nothing felt right.

Fortunately he just kept on talking and I kept on breathing and didn’t have to say much.

Later I reflected upon the truth that I am now 40 years old. And that Joe and I actually do have a lot in common.

I have not been as careful as I could be about what I consume and how I make decisions that impact my mind and body. I’m not an addict, at least not in the strictest sense. But I do find addictive behavior compelling, and have, for many years. It’s been said that bulimia and alcoholism are two sides of the same coin. Eating disorders are also often related to depression, a condition for which I have never been diagnosed, nor do I believe is something that I live with (fortunately). I did more than dabble in disordered eating, but that was more than fifteen years ago.

Today I almost do not recognize that young woman who was me, age 20, sometimes starving, sometimes stuffed, but you’re never completely able to leave who and how you once were.

Or are you?

I wondered more than once about chemical imbalance when I was unable to shake the sadness in the wake of my sister’s death. And I absolutely use wine and other mind-numbing hobbies (reading trashy novels, scrapbooking,  nail-biting) to shake off sadness sometimes.  I try to use better strategies, too (reading well-crafted, delightful novels, writing, running, long conversations with my incredible friends). But you know, sometimes you gotta do what works for you, and my life includes both good-for-you and less good-for-you coping mechanisms.

I never smoked cigarettes, but I understand their appeal.

Back to the run: this guy was telling me about a 50-miler trail race he finished in ten hours, and he claimed, I could have run ten more hours – it was that great!

He wasn’t bragging; he was happy. It was like running with a live over-sharer on Facebook. Weathered, but not withered, Joe was bright-eyed and unapologetically cheerful as he led us along the waterfront, across streets and beneath an early spring sun in Portland.

He described his first marathon in 2008 and how he started running at age 50. Today he is semi-retired, and he and his wife travel around running together. Over the next six weeks, they will complete three full marathons.

He went on: For years we just took and took and took. Saw how much we could take from others, on and on.

Shakes his head.

Now we just give back a little, just do what we can to make a small difference. My wife leads an annual retreat for recovering addicts. I lead a running group every week, every year. Not gonna stop. There’s a 70-something running community in Portland. I plan to be a part of it.

I can never give back as much as I took, but I can try, he said somewhat ruefully.

Are you kidding me?

He gave me something HUGE on Saturday, so much that I’m still mulling it over today. He gave me his story. His truth. While the part of the story I listened to was mostly the good stuff, he was honest about the fact that for 25 years, his life was tough and he struggled. The astonishing part is that he turned his life around. I don’t know how. I didn’t ask.

I’ll be out of town the next two Saturdays, but Joe told me that he’ll be looking for me at the group run on May 17th.

I’ll be there.

*Joe is not his real name.