Do thy job
And hold my sorry ass up
I mean ass: down
Rest of me: up
You get the picture
Sorry for the silence-- I had no runs to report for a few days, and houseguests as well, and neglected to let you know what was going on.
My lower back is a menace and has been giving me trouble. Doctor appointment next week. I've had years of chiropractic manhandling and it still pops in and out of alignment on a whim. There are days when I feel like I have the mobility of an 80 year-old woman, which is a terrifying thought since I am not yet out of my 30s. It's not going to get any easier. This road slopes sharply downhill.
When I was 19, I was in a pretty crazy high-speed, head-on collision with a drunk driver who came around a blind corner on my side of the road. I was going about 50mph, she was going about 70. No time to brake.
Her Honda Civic hit my little '71 Volkswagen Beetle (named Iris; how I miss her!) dead center, and forced the end of a big, wishbone-shaped tow bar that I kept in my trunk (in the front on old Bugs) up through the steel dashboard, where it stopped right behind my steering wheel. I flew forward with the impact, pressed my knees two full inches into that same dashboard steel, broke the steering wheel with my face, and hit the end of the tow bar with my forehead.
It popped a silver dollar-sized hole in the front of my skull and came less than 1/4 inch from pushing right into my brain. I was saved by the flimsy, after-market shoulder strap that I wore only occasionally and happened to have on that night.
Wear your seatbelts, kids. They really do save lives.
My recovery from that accident was both short and endless. On the surface, it looked great. Physically, I was healed up and back on my feet within a few weeks. I had some very minor brain damage from the impact that was like the affects of a mild stroke-- I had trouble remembering certain words, but my circuits rewired themselves over the next year or two and this went away.
Mentally, I was surprisingly composed and overcame fears of driving within a few months. Life went back to something like normal, and I got some money from the accident and got a new car and a cool stereo and could afford to pay for a fancy private college.
But there was plenty that stayed with me, and remains with me to this day. Because of optical nerve damage, my vision has never been the same. I have a Harry Potter-like scar in the middle of my forehead and another on my chin. My knees are still numb-- they never regained feeling. And my neck and my back have plagued me ever since and will never be completely free of trouble.
That's the physical. It's not a great picture. And the mental stuff was a little scary too-- PTSD is a real problem for survivors of traumatic events, and this was one for me. I eventually began to suffer flashbacks, strange associations between everyday actions and the night of the accident, panic attacks and survivor guilt... stuff that lasted for years.
But it's the emotional part that has done the real damage, I think, over the years. It's the emotional part that I think I still need to face, on some level, even after all this time.
That night on the highway, I lost a lot more than my car and the feeling in my knees. I was 19 years old, at the height of my youthful immortality; unstoppable, idealistic, innocent. I lost all of those things, in a very real sense. I learned that things can happen to you without your participation or consent. Big, terrible, life-changing things. Things that come to define you, although you never chose them. Things that force you to be a different person than you were before, without the gradual life experience that usually makes such transitions feel earned.
A lot of this stuff seems almost silly, now. Looking back on it from the other side of the divide between youth and adulthood, I know these things to be true, now, just as surely as I didn't know then as my 19 year-old self. But to lose those illusions in the space of single, violating second is like a boulder thrown into a still pond, sending waves, then surges, then ripples out in invisible rings through your life for a long, long time. Maybe forever. I don't know.
It's been almost 20 years, and they haven't stopped yet.
So what does this have to do with running, you might be asking yourself. Well, aside from the obvious-- I've got a trick back and need to be careful or my running career will end before it really starts-- I think that one of the ripples from that long-ago night has been a low, steady undercurrent of fear in my life. Fear of risk, fear of injury, fear of the unknown, fear of the unexpected, fear of a lack or a loss of control.
Fear of this sort is a funny little demon. It's not of a "Step back from the ledge--you might fall!" variety, prompted by real circumstance and a legitimate reaction to an actual threat. It's more insidious than that... it's the tiny, clear voice that keeps you from going near the ledge in the first place. And not just that, but anywhere that MIGHT have a ledge. and not just that, but anywhere where people might TALK about places they've been that have ledges.
It's the kind of fear that feels like nothing more than the desire to stay home, or to walk on the paved path, or to order the same thing you ordered last time, or to do the thing you know how to do well, instead of the thing you've never tried.
It's the worst kind of fear there is, I think. It's the kind that seems like it's just who you are.
I'm not saying I haven't lived, now. I'm not saying there haven't been risks here and there, adventures now and then, the occasional pushing of the envelope or leap of faith. But I often wonder what my life would be like if those moments weren't tempered by paralyzing anxiety, or if every step forward weren't a struggle against the four steps backward I had to take to get up the nerve to move. I wonder how many more of those moments there might otherwise have been.
I'm painting this in pretty broad strokes here, and I'm actually surprising myself by how true this feels, even in this extreme rendition. This is true. This happened to me. It is still happening. This is one of the stories of my life. And today, I add this twist:
It is still up to me-- as it always has been-- how central this story will be to who I am.
Running, for me, is a way to conquer fear. Not all of it; maybe not even most. But some. More specifically, it's a way to prove to myself that I DO have control, over my body, my mind, my self. I get a say. I get to act. I get to affect years of impacted pain and loss. I get to alter the person I was, on my own terms, and become someone else through earned moments, conscious processes, deliberate acts of change.
I am now in charge. And I am not letting fear keep me from getting out there and running, no matter how crazy an idea it seems to be. This is my decision: to transform myself in ways I never thought I could. And running is only one of them. And I will do it.
I am as shocked as you are by what I've written here (maybe more-- ha ha. Some of you have a much higher opinion of my character than I do). I didn't know this was in there. I wonder what else I'll find down the road?