Sunday, April 17, 2016

Pre-Run, Present Birthday… Post

Last year, Dad says, was probably the hardest marathon yet. It was really cold and pouring buckets and the head wind was raging. If you stopped for a moment, for a rest or some water, you froze. So really, you didn't even have that rest to look forward to because when you stood still, you just got colder and sorer. And then, there was the first year, five marathons ago, when it was something like 95 degrees in mid April - just for that one day - when I couldn't even stand there *watching* these people for longer than 10 minutes before needing an inside break. And then, of course, there was that year when bombs went off at the finish line and thousands of runners (Dad included) could not finish their final victory mile. There was one year in there, 2014, where there was no real defining characteristic except that we were all still reeling from the year before, cautious in our steps, feeling brave but tentative, unsettled but proud, trying to replace memories from the year before.

I hope this year's race is defined by nothing more than the simple victory of our runners finishing without incident. Dad says this is his last year to run it; he plans to run alongside a couple teammates, one of whom is the Chief of Pediatric Oncology at MGH and the man who founded the marathon team, who will be running his 25th and final marathon this year. Please check him out. There are really people like this.

(The course is just riddled with these kinds of people, who are saint-like in their daily life and God-like in their athletic ability. Also, have you ever seen the people who are like 1000 miles into the run and then raise their arms to the stationary crowd, asking them to cheer? Have you ever felt like more like a sloth than in one of these moments? No offense, real-life sloths.) 

Dad and I used to joke about running the marathon someday. It was a hilarious joke for us ("Can you even imagine??" we'd say. Not even on a bike!! The .1 extra in the 5k is .1 too much for me!"). Not a joke anymore. This team became his response to my mother's death, and it carried him through dark, dark days. He could have been sleeping until noon everyday, shades drawn, cocooned inside his sadness. But he figured out a way to get up before dawn on most weekends, put one foot in front of the other and then spread out his stride, and, ultimately, to run for a purpose beyond himself. I think it's possible that my Dad started training for the marathon all those years ago to run away from something, but his direction has now changed entirely.


His patient partner is now two years in remission. So, holy wow, MGH, thank you.

Today, April 17th, the day before my Dad runs his last marathon, is my mother's birthday. She would have been 69 today. She never wanted him to run a marathon, thought it was just plain insanity, but given what it's done for him, I have to think she'd be okay with it now. My mother herself was never a runner, but she was also never a slouch. She was in such good shape, in fact, that the hospice doctors and nurses stopped giving us estimates on how much longer she had because her body was so strong it was refusing to shut down, defying any sort of medical norms or reasonable predictions.

She exuded energy in life. She danced from age 3 on into her 60s - ballet, tap, casual kitchen dancing, center of the wedding dance floor dancing, talking on the cordless phone dancing, breaking it down with the grandkids dancing. She took core and yoga classes in her 50s, climbed mountains while going through chemo, and walked every single day after her diagnosis.

She had so much to do in life and she had all the energy in the world to get it done. I'd talk to her every day on the phone, and when I'd ask her what she'd done that day, her answer frequently sounded something like, "Well… I did four loads of laundry, washed all the bathrooms, drove to Concord to see Grandpa, made two lemon breads and now I'm doing some ironing." She was a mover and a doer and, at times, impossible to keep up with. Vacations were for lacing up your walking shoes and making sure you saw every damn thing that city had to offer. She was the only person, I felt, who could actually be in two places at once, but when I needed her to be a mom, to focus on me alone, the rest of her world paused and it was only me.

I played approximately 5 billion soccer games in my life and ran in about 7 trillion track meets and, until college, she attended every one. And always, her voice rose above all others, her vibrant voice, earnest, filled with hope and unfaltering support for her kid who was sometimes out in front and sometimes rather far behind. I think I always ran out of steam before she did. Happy Birthday, sweet mama. My God, how I miss you. Your energy keeps us rolling along.

And so I'm led, once again, into Boston's big day of running. Tonight, I attended what will likely be my final pre-Marathon pasta dinner with the MGH runners and pediatric oncology patients and families. It is impossible to look around at this event and not see the larger picture, the largest and most important picture there is. We are all trying to achieve something here. A life that is normal again, a treatment that works, a flat-out cure, a connection to something that is meaningful. At the MGH "base" where I will standing tomorrow with my two children, there will be the parents thinking about the money that has been raised so far, wondering how it will benefit their child, whether enough was made to make a difference and what that difference will be. The runners may be thinking similar thoughts, along with understandable feelings of desperation, exhaustion and bewilderment concerning how the hell they ended up here. They will be surrounded by others running for their own causes or for their personal best or for the simple satisfaction of crossing the finish line. They will be surrounded by officers trying to keep the day safe and EMTs trying to keep them healthy and alive, and folks trying to catch a glimpse and a photo of their loved ones running. Tomorrow is a day filled with hope and a little fear and a hell of a lot of pride.

And as I sit here on my arse, the day that my mom, a woman who had 100 years left of life in here until the day she died, would have turned a year older, and the day that my father, just shy of 70 years old, prepares to load the early morning bus to Hopkinton this final time, I can't help but consider how I'll fit into this complex and goal-driven picture that will be once again created tomorrow. And it seems obvious what I have to do. I think I'll take channel my energy, loudly and obnoxiously, shouting the names I read on shirts and screaming my holy lungs out for as long as I can, with effort, with gusto, no half-heartedness from this lazy out of shape body. So many of these people are running for others who cannot - and who need hope and funds and a voice. The least I can do is grant that a "hear hear!" I do not want to see a runner with his arms out and his palms raised, asking us lemonade sipping, popsicle licking spectators to get pumped for the athletes who have just tackled 20 miles. We all have the advantage of being here now. We might as well do something with it, even if it's from the sidelines.

We love you, Dad/Grandpa!

We love you, Mom/Grammy!

We do so love you, MGH

With you in spirit though not on the course: Go Dad, Jen, Nicky, Derek, Sarah, Melissa, Robbie, Frank, and Howard.