Thursday, January 30, 2014

Finding Forgiveness

Three years ago today my mom vanished into thin air. I know that is a harsh way to put it, but that is how it will always feel to me. One day we were joking about my boobs, a few days later she was gone.

In the days immediately following her death, I remember thinking if I just kept moving forward, I would feel better every day. After all, I'd spent the first few moments after I'd learned she was gone curled up on the kitchen floor, hysterical. It could only get better, right?

It took about three days to realize my naivety. I'd been taught in college that grief fit this nice pretty process of stages. I expected to move through them neatly, as if passing a test for each stage so I could reach the next and feel better.

Just in case you were wondering- that is complete bullshit. At least it was for me. Losing someone is so much more complicated than that. While I've never actually revisited the specific kitchen floor I occupied three years ago, I've accepted the fact that some days the kitchen, living room, bedroom or even bathroom floor might be the scene of a meltdown for no specific reason. I found myself nearly tearless at her first memorial, but in the last three years I've bawled my eyes out at the circus, cried so hard I've hyperventilated while running on a trail and sobbed my heart out while a friend walked down the aisle.

I've discovered that grief isn't just yours to move through as you please. It fluctuates as others around you grieve as well, it rises up unexpectedly when you hear a song, it smacks you in the face on nearly every holiday. I've also found that, if you lose someone you love at the hands of another person, accident or not, it is difficult to not let your grief fluctuate with the actions of that person.

The night my mom died, my initial reaction toward that person (I'll call him FC because he was the fire commissioner) was compassion. Perhaps this was driven by selfish motives. Maybe even then I knew that it would be easier to move on if I could forgive him. I wanted to think he'd done something we all could've done- looked down to change the radio, answered his phone, been blinded for a second by the sun. After all, he was the fire commissioner so he must be a good guy right?

Within a few days, I found it much harder to find compassion. We learned that FC had caused numerous accidents in the past few years. In fact, the truck with which he hit my mom did not belong to him. He'd totalled his own in an earlier accident. Compassion was replaced with anger. The kitchen floor called my name.

Four months later, FC was officially charged with vehicular manslaughter. Anger was replaced with relief. Another three months passed and the charges were reduced to "over taking a passing a vehicle." FC received a $1000 fine and a six months suspended license. When I read this on the Manatee County Court Records website I was shocked when I scrolled to the bottom of the page. Where the accident had once been listed as fatal, it had been changed to non-fatal. As if that person he hit had......

vanished into thin air. 

The kitchen floor and I became good friends for awhile.

Five months later, FC was arrested. Eight charges of child molestation and lewd acts, which together held the possibility of life in prison. Sadly, I was relieved again. In hindsight, I would like to change that, but at the time I wanted him to be punished. It didn't occur to me that in order to be punished, he would need to hurt someone else.

After 15 months in prison, FC was released. The children refused to testify. Let's just say, I hope this day was my rock bottom. I had found solace in the fact that this man might be locked up forever. I didn't care what for, I just wanted him locked up so I could never think about him again. I was livid. At him. At the people who always seemed to protect him. At the world for allowing people like him to exist.

A few months later I saw this quote:
I knew when I saw it I needed to apply it to this situation. I just didn't know how at the time. I did what I thought it meant to "forgive" someone- I tried to accept what he had done, all of it, and be ok with it. I tried to understand it. I tried to sympathize with it. The fact of the matter was though- I couldn't. He's done some pretty bad shit. I didn't want to understand that.

I did want that peace though so I decided to change my thinking. I decided that if my idea of forgiveness wasn't working, perhaps I needed to change it. Perhaps, forgiveness isn't about accepting what someone has done. It's not about finding empathy for a particular act. Maybe instead, it's about letting go of wanting revenge. It's about realizing that sometimes, despite what someone has done, you have to hope he will become a better person, by choice.

The fact of the matter is this- FC will not go back to jail unless he hurts or kills someone else. I don't want that to happen. What I want is for him to stop. What I want is for him to be that man I thought he was that day my mom died- a guy who drags people from fires, who pulls people from cars, who saves lives instead of taking them.

My forgiveness, my peace, then, is this- I hope he chooses to be that guy. If he doesn't, I might have to redefine my idea of forgiveness again, but I will keep my peace. Somehow.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Let It Kill You

Sunday afternoon I sat around a garbage can fire in the parking lot of Carver Lake with the boys. My feet were wet and cold, the boys were farting and blaming each other and I was so hungry I could've snacked on my arm. I probably should've been miserable. Instead I was happy, content in my element.

The day had not started well. As we drove to the snow bike race I cried hysterically, caught up in a panic attack. My fear of crowds had co-mingled in my head with my fear of being in people's way on the bike. I'd convinced myself I would be racing with a hundred people yelling at me and the resulting worry had left me a blubbering mess.

Big E tried to calm me down with, "You know you don't have to race."

"But I want to ride my bike!" I wailed. 

Somehow by the time we got to Carver Lake, I'd quit the blubbering and decided my desire to ride outweighed the fear of being in the way.

The day didn't get much easier from there. The warm weather turned the trail to mush. I pushed more of the first mile than I rode. Two laps in I was riding with so much snow stuck to my cleats that I set my bike down, ran to the truck and changed into snow boots. I crashed over a dozen times- slamming my thigh into the stem, taking the handlebars into my abdomen and somehow landing in the fluffy snow with my foot stuck between my front wheel and fork. Regardless, on lap three, when I finally had the trail to myself, I realized something.

I got to ride my bike all day.

A short while later, I heard Red Squirrel yell, "There she is," through the woods. I'd been out there so long that he and Big E had come looking. They rushed back to the near-empty parking lot and held up the finish tape so I could have my own little finish celebration, even though I was the last one in by a long shot.

Not long after, we were there by the fire, with the boys being boys. Aside from the cold feet and hunger, I could've stayed there all night, shooting the shit. (Ok- maybe not the best choice of words considering their bad gas, but you get the gist....)

So how did I get there- from sobbing to suffering to happy in a matter of hours? Well, the obvious answer could be that I'm seriously bipolar, but I'm pretty sure I'm not, so I'm left to wonder how does this happen? The less obvious answer is more complicated, but I believe it has something to do with finding meaning in the suffering, with realizing that you can be terrified or exhausted or battered and bruised and still keep doing something you love to do. It's about discovering that happiness isn't a quick fix that comes with just a single moment or decision, but a much more complicated process that sometimes involves doing something you could never imagine might lead to feeling content.

I have no idea what exactly Charles Bukowski could've meant when he said "Find what you love and let it kill you." Like any quote, we will all interpret it in our own way, letting our life experiences guide our interpretation to fit our own ideals. For me, I don't take the "let it kill you" part literally. I don't want to die yet. So, I interpret this more as, "let it kill parts of you." Sometimes you have to tear out a little part of yourself to grow. Sometimes you have to be willing to leave a little bit of yourself out there so you can end up content. Hopefully, for me, what I left behind was a little bit of that fear and insecurity.

 Either way, I got to ride my bike all day so it was worth it, even if the boys were really stinky.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

5 Signs You Might Love Winter

Sign #1-
Your goggles don't just fog, they ice over.

Sign #2-
You should just go ahead and buy stock in toe warmers....or at least start purchasing by the case.
Sign #3-
This is a turn-on.

Sign #4-
When your favorite wind-proof mittens are in the wash, you get creative with the duct tape so you can ski in when it's below zero.
Sign #5-
You're willing to push through a mile or so of this:
because you know this will make it worth it:

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Year of Good People

The Year of Racing Simply ended on Dec. 28th with Winter Wilder. In hindsight, it was the perfect ending to the year. The Year of Racing Simply hadn't really started at the beginning of the year.  Instead, I realized shortly after Alexander in May that I could just keep this "race for under $10" concept going all year. At the end of that race, likely the hardest thing I'd ever done, there was no medal. There was no big crowd. In fact, the few people cheering were actually cheering for the start of the Wilder Footraces, which coincided with my finish time.  There really wasn't even a finish line that I remember. I came around the corner, saw Eddie and Chris standing on the curb and rode straight over.  I don't remember much about the conversation except for a question from Chris.

"Was it worth it?"

Of course I said yes. I didn't think about why. I just knew it was. I knew those 51 hours had changed me, for the better. I also knew that couldn't have happened without the crazy amount of work Chris puts into his races - all of which are free.

So I decided to keep looking for races like that one - races where, instead of trying to make a buck, the race director focuses on providing an experience.

In the end, there were more amazing experiences than I can count. There were more gravel and mountain bike races, an ultramarathon, a 24 hour mountain bike race, some trail running races, the "6-Hour Round Trip IceBox 5k," and finally, Winter Wilder. (Pretty amazing that a girl can do all that for under $10 a pop.)

Winter Wilder starts and ends at the same spot where we'd finished Alexander. I hadn't even thought about it when I'd signed up. In fact, I didn't really even think about it when we first started running. I ran the first 16 miles with Dustin, the race director, chatting non-stop. When he stopped to wait for others at the checkpoint, I continued on for the last 5-6 miles alone. As I approached town, I came to a turn I recognized. It was the point last May where I'd finally let myself accept that I would finish Alexander. I'd ridden over 380 miles at that point, but I was so worried about another mechanical I wouldn't let myself get too excited about finishing. Finally, with about two miles to go, I'd come to this turn and realized I could walk it in if I had to.

I ran the last two miles, nearly identical to my last two mile of Alexander, thinking about the Year of Racing Simply. I realized it hadn't really been about racing at all. It wasn't finish lines or times or places I remembered. It was moments shared with other people. So perhaps it would have been more fittingly called, "The Year of Amazing Experiences with Good People." 

Of course, the big question lately has been, "What about next year?" To be honest, I don't know. Part of what made this past year so special was that so much of it was unplanned. I took opportunities as they came up instead of spending so much time planning a race calendar and making a training plan. So I don't have a plan for this year, except to keep living outside the comfort zone and keep enjoying my days outside with good people.

Thankfully it only took four days to get started. Nothing better than a night fat bike race to kick the year off!

Hope to see you all out there soon!