Backache

Tangled fingers obscure the world

Pain transmutes the question of where do we begin

Into a gnashed plea crying when will it end

Focus funneled to the pinpricked point of light

A star mushrooming plasma down neurons swollen with the message

ThereispainYouarehurtDON’TMOVETHATWAY!

 

Fractured cerebral cortex, Overheated engine

Steams

Surrendered to the onslaught

Of glass-toothed mole rats

Burrowing deeper

Incisors clamp

Stopping the train at Lumbosacral Junction

 

Trials and Errors

I just finished reading Run the World by Becky Wade, a former collegiate runner who in her first marathon, beat out the rest of the women in a touch over 2 hrs and 38 mins, launching her professional career.

What’s her secret? How’d she do it?

Concocting a plan to travel the world, Becky visited star-producing countries that shatter speed and endurance records to run with their elite, averaging 75-mile weeks and learning their dietary and cultural practices.

That’s the elevator pitch.

How’d she really do it? She worked for it. Earned it. Struggled. Fought for it. Deprived herself. Sacrificed. She tried herself. Found out of what she was capable.

I teach middle schoolers, and there’s a divide yawning between my kids who succeed and those who fail: their willingness to jump. This week, I assigned a certain number of lessons students had to pass in order to net the full credit, and the ones who did were the ones who failed and tried again and failed and learned from their mistakes and passed. The ones who earned none of the credit were students who failed the first lesson or two and stopped.

Thing is, I am those students who failed, and I’m not just talking academics here. I’m talking about any moment where one can risk or not, whether it’s sports, social situations, or even dealing with spirituality. Spending much of my life afraid of change, I took few risks, which stunted my growth and limited my options. At 25, I weighed about 165 soaking wet and worked a full-time job to which I commuted from my parent’s house. I couldn’t afford to move out, because I had yet to save up for a car.

At any instant where growth can occur, there has to be momentum, forward progress. To learn to swim, one has to let go of the ladder. To be a parent, one has to bear responsibility; producing a child is not enough. To succeed, one has to fail, and one can’t fail if they don’t jump, letting go of whatever makes them feel safe, propelling themselves into a space where guts move independent of the rest of the body, and landing well or falling. We don’t leap forward because we’re afraid to fall.

Within a year, I bought a car and moved out on my own, taking a flying leap.

I read Becky Wade’s book because I’m a runner; I’ve fallen too many times to count. I’ve sustained injuries and frozen extremities. The reason I keep running is because it propels me forward; I get to explore my physical and mental limits. I learn what works in various situations because I risk running with ever-changing variables, whether that’s weather, distance, surface, time of day, location, or even physical condition. Because every run changes, I have to change with it, causing growth. Change causes growth.

It’s January 6th, and I have yet to make any resolutions. Well, time to change that. Because I want to continue developing mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially; I resolve to embrace change. Expect to see more frequent blog entries; look for announcements about my memoir and the novel I’m writing; anticipate my teaching a new class; and prepare yourself for such minor adventures as new friendships, improvements to the house, and a trip or two.

If there’s something you know you need to do, but you’ve been afraid to do it, do it. Risk failing/falling, and if you do, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, assess your injuries, and try again.

Get to Work

I know; I know. I just published a post last week, and you’re used to me waiting six months between entries, but just hang with me, I promise it’ll be worth it.

I get sweaty.  (Not quite what you wanted, was it?) Not only that, I like getting sweaty, because for me to perspire enough to put deodorant to the test, I have to be doing work. For instance, the last time I got sweaty enough for my daughter to notice when she went in for a hug was at church this morning. You see, I led children’s worship, and it’s hard work trying to lead kids ranging from four years to fifth grade into the presence of the Lord. Sure, it may have had something to do with the fact I didn’t know the songs as well as I should, and the munchkins seemed more interested in wrestling each other to the ground instead of lifting their eyes to heaven, but I gave it enough to soak through my shirt.

The thing is, it’s not that difficult for me to get my skin glistening. The wife calls me “her little furnace” and enjoys snuggling up next to me when the nights are cold, but she can’t stay there. Apparently, I give off enough heat even at rest that she can hang on only for a few minutes before retreating to her side of the bed.

I also soaked through another shirt just yesterday. No, I wasn’t accumulating miles upon a treadmill, nor did I wrap myself in layers upon layers of fleece. My buddy, Steve, and I were running the trails of Infirmary Mound Park in 30-degree weather, and I had on a pair of shorts, some running tights, and a long-sleeve tech shirt. Don’t be crazy — I prepared for the December weather. I had on my insulated running shoes, a light jacket, ear protectors, and a pair of gloves, as we were outside running for over an hour.

I never did anything like this as a kid. I hated being dirty. Smelling bad meant something was wrong, which I had to remedy immediately.

So what’s changed? Now, sweat equals accomplishment. As a middle school English teacher, I don’t get many opportunities to sweat through my dress shirt. Sure, there’s been times in late August when the cooling unit’s not doing it’s job, and I have to crack a window or face melting into a puddle, but that’s the exception.

In my day-to-day, nitty-gritty life, it’s easy to avoid working hard enough to activate my integumentary system, and I have decades of experience coming up with reasons not to face physical challenges, which made me a soft spectator.

People watching is fun; observing human behavior can provide deep insight to our collective psychological condition, but restricting yourself to what equates to a seat on the short bus means you’ll get somewhere eventually, but you’ll have surrendered any influence on your trajectory to reach a destination with which you’ll have no connection.

I sweat to exercise influence. I work to make a difference in the lives of those around me. I create music and movement to inhabit my skin and draw myself and others closer to Perfection.

Embrace those tasks that seem difficult; don’t wait for someone else to do the work for you. Surrender your life to service and discover the person you were always intended to be.

Are you comfortable?

I know I am: coffee sits steaming within my favorite mug, an air-conditioned breeze wafts against my legs as my daughter grins her way through a dance lesson, and I get to sit here and compose my thoughts, but this time last week, comfort abandoned me. I chose to run a 50k — 31 miles American — in 88 degree weather.

When selecting running clothes, the rule of thumb is to dress for weather 20 degrees warmer than the thermometer displays; therefore, it felt like 108. So hot, the heat from the pavement seeped through the soles of my shoes. So unbearably hot, we ran from one shady spot to another along the paved path on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. Me and my three running buddies traveled 6 hours, rented a cottage for two nights, and invested a three-day weekend to pay for this ultramarathon, going out of our way to risk dehydration or worse as we suffered through heat, physical pain, and mental exhaustion. This was not comfortable.

I grew up in a house where we squabbled over beanbag chairs and the La-Z-Boy before settling in for an evening of pizza and television where we’d watch sitcoms while awaiting a “good show” to come on, becoming champion channel flippers. I spent so much of my childhood being comfortable that I can still quote entire cereal or fruit snack commercials from 30 years ago. I quit t-ball and cub scouts due to lack of comfort along with choosing to home school in high school because it was easier. If choosing comfort over hardship was a major in college, I would’ve started my freshman year with enough credit to graduate as a senior by the time spring semester rolled around. I chose to sleep instead of going to work and left chores undone because I didn’t feel like doing them. I played hacky sack instead of revamping a script and walked away from multiple conversations knowing the tough remark I should have said instead of nodding dumbly in agreement.

Please don’t mistake this take on comfort as a condemnation of taking a rest. We all need to recharge; our brains wired to digest information as we sleep. Taking one day off per week equips us to face the challenges the following six days present with fresh eyes and a revitalized immune system.

Finding comfort is necessary, so why do I choose hardship? Am I making up for lost time? Is my running motivated by guilt, a sort of self-imposed self-flagellation for perceived failings?

No, I like meeting the challenge, staring it down, and exerting the effort to overcome. No matter how good binging on Doctor Who makes me feel for the moment, it doesn’t satisfy anywhere close to crossing the finish line of that 50k did. Pushing myself to the breaking point shows me I can push further than expected and each time I overcome an impossible challenge, daily challenges lose their fangs. Working through a conversation with a parent upset over their child’s grades for an hour holds less dread now that I’ve spent seven hours traversing 31 miles.

I’ve proven I’m not a pushover, that great accomplishments can be earned through hard work and consistent practice, and it’s through hard work and consistent practice that so many rise above their circumstances to become heroes — individuals who stand apart — demonstrating our capacity for greatness, but we’ve lost so many of late.

Bill Cosby wasn’t the husband and father we thought him to be. David Bowie and Prince, transcendent musicians, had their lights extinguished. Alan Rickman and Anton Yelchin, so large on screen, reminded us we’re all mortal, so we spend millions turning to talking fish or demigods to find hope, fictional characters who choose to do the hard things despite the risk. Risks we’re too comfortable to take.

Has Great Britain divided its kingdom and devalued the pound because leaving the European Union seemed easier than working through political and personal differences with foreigners? Are Hilary and Trump our de facto Presidential candidates because they’re familiar faces we’ve seen via media for the past several decades? Do we cry, “Guns, guns, guns!” when people die because it’s easier to arm ourselves or disarm others when the problem of hatred and fear is rooted within our own souls?

Meanwhile, Jesus of Nazareth ate with “tax collectors and sinners” and encouraged his followers to serve others in love, Lebron James showed us what’s possible when you give your all for the people of your hometown, and upon seeing we had a clog in our rain pipe, my friend Chad gave up going to a cookout so he could make use of his drain snake. You are unique in all the universe, for no other person shares your exact genetic make-up along with your specific set of experiences. A bowl of spaghetti sets off a sensory experience in you and awakens memories like no one else, so make something of yourself by bringing something new into this world. Choose to do what’s right despite the risk and invest in others.

Be the hero this world needs.