Life Comes at You Fast: 2010's

Life comes at you fast.

My most difficult events in order of difficulty: North Face 50k, 7 Sister Trail, Boston Maratjon, Baystate Marathon and Joe English Challenge.

I remember a car accident I had in 1989. It was late spring/early summer: I remember that because this kid was going to his high school graduation. It was raining pretty good and it was mid-afternoon in Needham, Massachusetts. I was leaving my summer job to go to my regular part time gig in Franklin, Massachusetts, so it was rush hour. This kid and his mom driving her brand new Camry was trying to turn left across 5 lanes of rush hour traffic. I was in the left lane and the giant Ford Explorer on my right stopped to let them out from the side street as they made their attempt to cross traffic.

I could see the nose of the car moving into my lane and I stuffed my foot onto the brake as quickly as I could, but wound up driving my 1974 Chevy Nova directly into their left front fender. Hit it so hard that the hood buckled and pulled the other fender in.

I could replay that moment over and over again. Slowest 2 seconds of my life. And yet it happened so fast.

We often fail to see how things are developing, but see it all come together in slow motion. Just like that car accident.

Funny that accident should have happened 30 years ago, a few months before the dawn of the 1990’s. Bill Clinton, Nirvana, Windows 95. 2019 came at me fast, and yet I saw it in slow motion. Not unlike the decade itself.

I knew my work life was set to change, but didn’t know when or how. It came down to the wire, but I not only maintained employment continuity, I think I found myself an even better opportunity I never would have sought out had I not been pushed to it. It took me the entire six months I was given, as my former employer transitioned to become another company, but in the end the stress paid off. It comes with a fair amount of consequences and I wrestle with how long I can keep everything in balance. I’m eternally grateful to have been afforded the time to transition. I knew the change was coming, but not unlike that accident, it was slow to develop and when it hit, it did so with a crash.

That transitional change changed a lot in terms of my plans and expectations. It has caused quite a bit of disruption in my day to day. I have less free time so I have to make it all work. I see less of my running friends, but I make the effort to see them when I can. I’ve experienced this loss of community as an actual loss.

One of the direct consequences has been that I’ve actually done more running than I planned to. Because I leave for work so early in the morning to beat traffic, I get there so early that there’s no one actually there. So I can run. Coupled with the shower, it’s perfect. I can often get 7, 8,9, 10 miles in. It’s time I can use to get right in my head and be ready for my day.

My boy started High School. I’m so happy that he took the opportunity to take the path his dad did and go to parochial high school. I want for him the experience I had. Thusfar he seems to be flourishing, actually played football and is getting A’s. I couldn’t be any more proud of him.

My girl, she’s starting to thrive on her own. I hated to see her leave, because I knew she wasn’t coming back, but she’s building her life and I’m so happy for the time she was here under this roof. It’s funny, life isn’t unlike that car crash. All the little things you don’t notice eventually come together and hit you with impact. I could see it happening, i knew when she left this last time she was striking out on her own. I just wasn’t really ready for that. She’s got herself a career path job and finding her own way. It’s sad to look out and see your job as a parent has transitioned to a much different place than you were ready for.

I can’t believe 2019 is at an end. A decade is at it’s end. Back in 1977, Mrs. Flynn asked her first grade class what they thought the year 2000 would be like. At that moment, 2000 seemed so far away. I was expecting the final Star Wars installment to be released. My mind was blown that I would be 30 when that happened. As it happens, I was almost 50 when Episode IX happened. Hell, Episode I wasn’t released until 1999. (And if we’re being honest, it kinda sucked.)

At the end of 1989, I wanted to make a new start with the new decade, a decade in which I rightly figured I’d graduate college, get married and start a family. I did all those things, but not really according to plan. And in 1999, at the turn of the millenium, I was starting over.

We plan on getting married, buying a house and having a family, what we don’t plan for is that marriage not working out and keeping the rest of your family together. I am a lucky man. I was able to pull the pieces together, and have a vision for getting married, buying a house and growing my family.

At the end of 2009, I was mourning the loss of my dad, and realizing that at some point I’d grown into middle age, questioning so many things. The end of the last decade was really, really difficult. It also set into motion the relationships that helped define this decade, relationships spanning the globe and influencing my family for what I hope is years to come.

The last 10 years have been nothing if not transformative. Trial and tribulation at home. Delivering one child to adulthood, another on his way. Dispensing with bad habits, creating new good ones. I like to think that I’ve embraced mid-life and created the me that I wish I had the good sense to create back in 1989.

I’ve had two jobs in the last 10 years, and I’ve loved them both. How many people can say that? I’ve gone from being morbid obesity to…well, regular obesity but with the potential to run a half marathon in 1:43.

In the latter years of this decade I’ve probably run 200 races. It astounds me that I am that guy.

2019 has been the culmination of so much work. My fastest 3-half marathons were this year. I ran the Boston Marathon, something I never knew I wanted to do until I realized I did. I have an truly interesting and aspirational group of friends; people I can ask to do dumb things with me and they say…yes.

I am thankful that I’m going into 2020 healthy and happy. Something not everyone can say. My family is whole and strong, and thriving. And something I’ve not always been able to say, I actually have a strong social network of people I care about and who care about me. I’m forever thankful for that.

The 2020’s will see their challenges: I lost my uncle – my dad’s classmate – this year, and I’m sure this decade will see more of my childhood pass into memory. I’m hopeful, though, that there will continue to be more good than negative. I hope to see my boy graduate high school and go to college, perhaps marriage and a family for my daughter.

Overall, I’m going to look back at these last 10 years with a significant fondness. The people who have meant the most to me at the start of the decade, continue to mean the most to me. I’ve spent the decade adding to that cadre. That seems like a very, very good thing.

Have a wonderful and safe new year. Happy 2020. Bring it on.

Father’s Day

June 15, 2008 was to be my dad’s last Father’s Day. We tried to take him for breakfast, but he used all his energy walking down the stairs and getting into the truck and just couldn’t get into the restaurant. He was so weak, I had to carry him. It was difficult getting him out of the truck, and we tried to get this to work so much, but just lost sight of the fact it wasn’t going to happen.

We eventually decided to call it, placed an order to go, carried breakfast out in styrofoam containers and ate the now pathetic breakfast back at my sisters. Just a disaster all the way around.

It was a disaster mitigated only by the time we spent with him. It wasn’t well thought out, breakfast was just what we did, so why not take him to breakfast? I should have known he was so weak and made other accommodations. I should have done something different, but I relied on what we always did instead of what would have been more thoughtful. 11 years later, I regret that one of the last days of my dad’s life, one that was meant to recognize what he meant to me, stands for that failure.

I wish I could say I’m better at these things because of it, I’m not. I wish I could say I did something better for him, but I didn’t. Today it was just hanging there in my mind, like the gloom here in New England on this, Father’s Day 2019: 66-degrees, rainy, dark and gray.

I had a chance to visit his memorial this week, spend a few moments with him front of mind, perhaps a prayer. Something I do not do often enough. The memorial park is a peaceful place, quiet – especially mid-day mid-week. The day we laid him to rest fresh as though it had been the day before. It was good to share that time alone with the man.

His dad’s marker is across the memorial park – Dad was a special guy, devoted to his father, and specifically picked a marker within easy eye shot of his dad’s – and I recall as a youngster heading out to the park on Sunday after church, so he could pay his respects. Kneeling on one knee, crossing himself, and praying, I recall the man hurting. I was a child when my grandfather passed away, and although I missed him as much as a child can I didn’t quite understand how Dad could still be so sad years later.

Its now been 10 Fathers’ Days since we buried my Dad, many more than had passed in my recollection above. I get it now, in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten it from the moment I entered the room with his now lifeless body the night he died. I kneeled by the edge of his grave marker on one knee, crossed myself, even prayed a bit and couldn’t help but to cry. Recalling him in the same place, mourning his dad, lets me know that I need to bring my son more often, so he can see that it’s okay and normal and good to feel these things. Even after all this time, that its not a weakness.

I started writing this post this morning. I was really feeling the regret. Today, my Father’s Day was pretty much the routine. I was around family who came together to celebrate the dads among us. I sat around and watched baseball, ate some pulled pork sandwiches, and drank a few beers. No special circumstances, just what we always do. It was good.

And I realized that while Father’s Day 2008 was a mess, it wasn’t because he didn’t feel loved. He didn’t complain that he didn’t want to go, he tried to make it work – perhaps it was just that routine that he wanted desperately to have as much as I did. I’ll never know that, and while I regret that I hadn’t better considered present circumstances and made more thoughtful choices, I need to remember he didn’t feel forgotten. He didn’t feel unloved or ill-considered. I didn’t do my best that Father’s Day, but I was there. Maybe that’s most of what matters: today everyone was just there, we were together.

Today was Father’s Day and despite my attempt at a pity party for myself, my Dad may well have just given me another gift. Perhaps the day wasn’t a disaster mitigated only by the time we shared together, but rather was a cherished time because we shared the time together – even if was eating soggy eggs out of a take away container.

2018

What an amazing year. Over the years I’ve learned 365 days is a long time, plenty of room for things to go badly, unexpected obstacles to get in your way, unplanned deviations to change your course. So many opportunities for a few weeks, or even just one event, to color the entirety of the year. This was not that year.

In the span of a few weeks, we went from celebrating my parents in law’s 50th wedding anniversary with two vibrant people to wondering if we would be planning funerals to watching them both bounce back. My mother in law was in the hospital for weeks with an unknown ailment…My father in law went from having a benign tumor to having cancer and a full round of chemotherapy…doubled up so he could go on vacation at the same time. He now is as in better health 2 months later than men 20-25 years his junior. An emotional roller coaster ride if ever there was one. The man is amazing.

My long time neighbor, in failing health for sometime, passed away, leaving her husband of almost 70 years alone for the first time. Watching him handle his sorrow and find himself through it has given me a measure of strength that despite loss – deeply felt loss – the human instinct is to continue on, push forward, be robust and to live, to conquer, to succeed.

We had the good fortune to host close family friends from France at our home for several weeks…and we have the good fortune to have as neighbors good friends who helped support our international efforts. Such an amazing harvest springing from good will. I’m truly fortunate to have so many wonderful people in my life.

In November the sale of my employer was announced and in December it was completed. I honestly don’t know what the ramifications will be. In a year where we made more, gave more away, enjoyed more time off than we ever have, this was not how the year was supposed to end. Just another circumstance to be understood. Processed. Handled. Meanwhile, we’ve saved money, paid down loans significantly.

With the challenges though were the highpoints. We had the wonderful opportunity to visit England to see dear people we consider our family by choice, and to visit several Caribbean countries over the course of a week and a half cruise with my family. My son got the experience I never did and for that I’m forever grateful. He’ll have memories for a lifetime, and experiences that will make him a much more interesting person. A young man of 13, he’s already been to more than 10 countries (Canada, Mexico, UK, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica…) For myself, I had the opportunity to travel to Florida for a half-marathon, Pennsylvania and New Jersey for Spartan races, and Washington for a marathon.

We saw our football team lose a Super Bowl and a chance at a second back-to-back Championship season. We saw our baseball team rise to the level of “All Time Great” teams with a 4th World Series in the last 14 years….after going 86-years without one.

My fitness goal was to run 1500 miles, 4.1 miles every day for 365 days. As of now I’m at 1637, for a daily average of 4.5 miles. I promised myself I would push my limits, and I think I have. Of my Top 5 5k times, 4 were done this year with a 5th off by seconds. I ran a flipping marathon – I didn’t see that coming last December. I ran 3 ultras this year. 49 races all together – maybe one more tomorrow to end the year as it has the last two, with the last race being the CMS Weekly 5k. If I do that, that would be twenty two 5ks on the year of 50 races.

Funny thing though, by far my most common daily mileage (the mode for you numbers types) was 0. Zilch. Nothing. 94 times this year – better than 25% of the time actually – I woke up and decided I wasn’t going to get a run in. I think about those days and conclude that had I done just 1 mile in those days, just one, I’d be within shooting distance of 1750 and had I accomplished 4.1 every day, I’d be up over 2000. Which is a logical fallacy – you just don’t run the day after running a 40-mile ultra – but I know I could have done better for myself.

If I take those “0” days out of my daily average – making it an average of the miles I ran on the days I did run vs. yearly daily average – it comes out to something closer to 6.5 miles. My second highest daily running total? 3 miles at 28-times, 3.1 at 20-times. My target of 4.1? I did that 19 times this year: further proof that one descriptive statistic doesn’t give you enough information at all. My college Psych Research Methods professor would be proud that I’ve retained that.

I ran races with my kids from 5ks to Spartans to a Marathon relay. I met some amazing people who were in the process of crushing their goals.

On Sunday, December 30, I’m running the last of 3 10-mile legs with a friend striving to hit 2000 miles on the year – accomplished with a day 364 50k in an all-or-nothing gambit to complete an ultra-marathon AND hit 2000 miles. He’s amazing.

I met and was inspired by a marine master sergeant with an insane fitness schedule, became friends with a stage 4 cancer survivor – the man running for 2000 miles above – and supported friends through divorce and the passing of parents. TIme can pass so quickly that it becomes so easy to lose the forest for the trees. 2018 has been an amazing year, one that I wish were more common: more up than down, more good than bad, more positive than negative. The year hasn’t been uniformly positive, but it has been incrementally more positive than negative. The most important thing I’m taking with me from my experience this year is the realization that it is the people in your life that are the most important factor in how successful you will be: how much support do you have, how much support do you give, who can you rely on and who can rely on you?

I hope for you, dear reader, that your 2018 was as positive as mine. If not, then I hope the coming 2019 will be the year you should have.

This is Halloween

Halloween 2018. The end of an era. Well, perhaps Halloween 2017 was and I just didn’t know it. Last year was to be the last year my boy would go trick or treating. He didn’t want to go this year. These things happen: children grow up, stop doing childish things.

It’s the first time in better than 2 decades there aren’t any children in our lives to trick or treat. It’s one of those double edged swords of being a parent, I guess. The job description is to be there and raise them to be independent and strong and self sufficient…and if you do your job right, it stings a little. Maybe sometimes more than sting.

Stings for multiple reasons, really. Some of it is knowing they’re not little any more. Growing. No more Santa Claus. No more trick or treating. No more Easter bunny.  I miss my kids as…well, kids. I miss the Christmas eves tracking Santa on NORAD Santa and getting excited seeing him get closer and racing home. The wonderment. All the firsts. They’re ten years apart; their childhoods intersected, but they were at different stages – always. I’ve had a trick or treater for the majority of my adult life.

And that’s probably the bigger part of it. It’s about me. I’m at an inflection point in my own life. It’s one more indication that I’m getting older. These little people I’ve helped raise, and raise well I think, aren’t little any more. They’re their own people. And maybe they’ll always “need” me, but they don’t need me. My hair is thinning. There’s a few more aches and pains than there has been previously. I’m still solidly middle age – there’s time on the clock – but I wonder if I haven’t spent a good amount of the opportunity I once had. I wouldn’t notice so much if it weren’t for these kids, I’m sure of that. I have a hard time reckoning the passage of time anymore: Something happened 5 years ago, last year, I don’t know. It seems like they’re the only things that keep me anchored in time, and yet because of that I notice how much has passed and fail to distinguish when events have come to pass.

I have an adult daughter. A college graduate no less. When did that happen? I’m thinking back to college visits and those were more than 5 years ago. More than 6 actually. Time is so ephemeral, so fleeting. And now, the boy is too old for trick or treating. He’s becoming an adult. My job is coming to a conclusion, yet not quite over. There’s still more to do, still time on the clock. I just don’t seem to know how modulate it’s passing.

So perhaps it’s just the inflection point. The pivot to what the next stage of our lives will look like, setting that stage. In a few years, the boy will be moving on to his next step; the first he will perceive as being moving on in his life. At the same time, we’ll be moving on the our next stage, perhaps one of the last transitions. LIfe does move fast, in a way I never appreciated until just now.

And so, as I wonder just how to end this, the boy comes downstairs to get a glass of water… My man-size child – now taller than me – wearing his Chewbacca union suit pajamas. So, maybe I’ve got a touch more time on the clock than I may have thought.

Leave Me a Message at the Tone

I found a “bonus” episode of a podcast I listen to occasionally in my feed. It’s about the power of the human voice and discusses, in part, the physiological effects of hearing the voice of a loved one on the body.

Nothing new or earthshaking there, but then it was revealed one of the speakers had acquired a new phone and lost the only message he had from his now deceased mother.

Hearing the voice of a loved one has the same chemical affect on your body as hugging that person. Hugging releases oxytocin and generally relaxes.  According to a 2016 article in US News: The hugging and oxytocin release that comes with it can then have trickle-down effects throughout the body, causing a decrease in heart rate and a drop in the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine.  Just hearing her voice was treated by his brain the same way as a hug, with all those positive benefits, and now, he’d never have that again.

In 2011, I got at first iPhone as an upgrade from my top of the line Motorola Q – the best technology 2005 could offer. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I too would lose the only recording I had of my dads voice.

For the previous 3 years, I had replayed that voice mail often. Just calling to check in, “I love you…” just thinking about hearing that makes me happy. In the time since he passed on, the sadness I would feel has become far less pointed. But man I wish I still had that recording. There are times I could really use that rush of neurotransmitters like the ones awash in your brain when you get a hug. Those times where I can sit and reflect and wish I could ask Dad for his advice.

I remember being incredibly upset about losing that recording. It was an obvious sense of loss, but I never really thought about it in quite the way the biology was presented today. A hug. I was missing the hug from my dad.

This year was the 10-year anniversary of his passing; the passage of that amount of time remains unfathomable to me and I could’ve really used that connection both on the anniversary and at a myriad of other times in the last 7-years or so.

I now know that others have had the same experience and suffered the same loss and I now know that there’s a real, biological effect of hearing that voice. It’s somewhat humbling in that having that recording in the first place was a relatively new phenomenon in human history: I’m sure he would have loved a recording of his father, but alas all we had were photographs.  So in the end, I’ll choose to be happy for having that extra time with his tired, fading voice.

 

Ruminations on a Decade

Graduation from college.  You KNOW it's the early 1990's by the teal necktie.  You just can't get a good teal necktie anymore...:)
College graduation. A proud day for the both of us.

Ten years ago this evening, I was on my way home from having beared witness to my father’s passing. Lost, and more than a little alone, the drive home from my sister’s was surreal.  I honestly can’t remember much of the half-hour drive. Even today, ten years later, I still goof the details.  Like scheduling my remembrance on July 1 instead of July 6 for some reason.

I could get maudlin and tell you about how that flub fits in with just about everything about my dad – despite my best efforts, I always let circumstances get away from me instead of taking control of them. Even at his funeral, the priest almost forgot to let me deliver the eulogy and I didn’t stand up vociferously enough.

Instead, I’m going to choose to focus on what I did do, because I’m pretty sure that’s what he would have chosen to see – effortlessly, doubtless – because he didn’t spend too much time on himself, he did however spend a lot of time on his family.  On duty, and on love.

When I had the opportunity, I asked him to be my best man. I wanted him to be beside me at my wedding.

Honestly, that’s the only thing I can think of. Literally the only thing. Everything else seems disappointing. I didn’t make the speech for him that I wanted to because I let the coked-out wedding DJ blow past it.

I didn’t spend the time with him that I needed to. I don’t think I ever really showed him how much I wanted to be like him from the time I was 12. I don’t know that he ever really understood just how important he was to me. Christ, 24-hours before he died I was telling him that I had something else to do other than seeing him. Why is it that everything I can think of has me failing, why can’t I seem to match up? I’m not at all sure that he held me to that standard, why am I holding myself to that?

So, here I am, ten years to the day, perhaps even to the hour, that I’m ruminating on my relationship with my father on the day he passed. Holding myself to a standard that I’m not sure he held me to. I’m sure he didn’t see his value: his brothers both fought in World War II, he spent the Korean War in military school. He chose a cemetery plot in a direct line from his father’s. He spent a life time trying to live up to his father and brothers and I wonder if because of that he let me off the hook. Perhaps I was the beneficiary of low expectations.

He was a good man, and he deserved so much more from life. I’m proud he was my father, I just hope he knew that. I loved the man and I’m sure he knew that, so perhaps I wasn’t as big a failure as I fear. I just wish I knew for sure.

 

 

It happened yesterday

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Ten years ago today, My father died. A number of years that not that long ago would have seemed incomprehensible.  The expression is cliche: It seems like yesterday and so long ago at the same time. Cliches are overused for a reason: they lack original thought, because so many people experience what they convey.

I know you, dear reader, know and understand what I mean when I express to you I can still viscerally feel that last time I kissed him, held his hand and told him I would see him on Monday. It happened yesterday.

I had told him only the day before that I would see him on Monday; I didn’t know he wouldn’t live another 24-hours never mind the 48-hours Monday assumed.  On that Sunday, I had gone out with my father in law on a deep sea fishing trip we received for Fathers’ Day. My sister messaged me and told me Dad really wasn’t feeling well and can I come by today.  Later, while on my way there, I asked her if I could get him some coffee. I can still feel the blood empty from my face when I learned he was gone. That happened yesterday.

I stopped and bought him a coffee anyway. Black, two sugar. The man loved his coffee and he ought to have one last cup with his kids before his journey. I bought a coffee for my sister and one for me, and we shared them while we awaited clergy and the ambulance. I silently reflected with regret for not having been there sooner, for not having spent more time, for a whole host of short-comings as a son while the Priest granted blessings upon him. I saw his lifeless body slumped in his chair almost as though he were sleeping – I’d seen him “rest his eyes” while sitting in his chair so often over the course of my life, but never once imagined I was being conditioned to witness this moment. So clear it’s as though it happened yesterday.

Then there was my sister. She kept it together, until the Medical Examiner’s office came and packed him up. Out of her living room, they wheeled a sealed plastic body bag out on a two-wheeler, and she lost it. Fell apart. That was the moment of permanence to her, even though she sat with him as he felt his eyes become infinitely too heavy to keep open and slipped out of this life. She sat with him as his blood finally became too toxic for his heart to continue pushing through his body. It was to her he spoke his last words. It was only seeing him as the outside world now saw him that she lost it. I’m quite sure that were I to ask her, she would say that it could easily have been 10 hours ago.

Coming home was a long, hollow drive. Alone with my thoughts. That empty feeling of suddenly being quite alone in the world, that the one person to whom I meant the world was no longer. The fogginess of my thoughts and emotions of that drive home still has no equal in my life; I should be thankful, grateful for that and yet, as I write I’m sobbing as though it really did just happen yesterday.

I remember lying in bed, looking at the ceiling. Emotionally drained and empty. We all knew this moment, this day would come sooner than later, and yet when it arrived there was literally no way to steel myself. Like knowing a lava floe was coming and all you can do is stand there and take it. He knew it. I was with him at the hospital when the doctor told him that the transfusions were becoming less effective – that his body was losing white blood cells faster than they could replace them. I was with him when he told the doctor that he wanted to stop the transfusions because he was using resources better used by someone whose body wasn’t failing in the way his was. I was there when she told him that decision was “not compatible with life.” He knew what his choice was, he knew and still abided. Either way it was a matter of time, but his way meant sooner rather than later. I lay in bed thinking about that before at some point drifting into some degree of sleep. Sad. Empty. Drained. Knowing that the next day held telling my kids that Papa had died.

All of that seems so real and raw. All of that was ten years ago today. All of that could have been yesterday.