Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Embracing Uncertainty

 "When someone tells me, "I'm not sure how I feel. I'm sad, but weirdly I'm also relieved," -- my first thought isn't Yikes. They have no idea how they feel! Or Hmmm, they don't have a lot of self-awareness. My first thought is normally Oh man. I get that, and I get how those feelings can coexist. That makes sense. The uncertainty feels like self-awareness to me."   

- Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience

What a relief to read that paragraph, as I try to decipher my many emotions. Happy that William was home and Aden safe and living her best life in Italy on a college-related trip. Sad that I couldn't fit more hours of coaching into my schedule, guilty for letting down the head triathlon coach. Exhausted from going back to long workouts in record-breaking hot weather (read: climate change), relieved that my CPR recertification class was one hour instead of three.

To survive headlines and bad news I have limited myself to thinking about one day at a time, or at most a week ahead, and trying to be grateful for all the small mercies and occasional joys that crop up. A walk with my son, a phone call with my mom, a blooming jasmine. And I try to take challenges in stride, like crazy allergies, unexpected hot winds and fire danger, William's need for knee surgery. 

That plan has served as a sturdy life raft through some turbulent times, but what it's NOT is a steady, long-term path pointing toward a certain horizon. So many days I feel directionless, ready for anything but not holding on to anything. It's like riding the commuter train and trying not to touch any of the dirty surfaces: I can stand for a while but any sudden movement and I'm stumbling toward the back of the car.  

Of course some things are steady - my family, friends, home / yard / work. I plunged into a spring cleaning frenzy this week, hiring professional window washers for the first time ever and getting the carpets deep-cleaned. Allergies are killer with early heat, endless wind and evergreens spreading clouds of yellow through the back yard. Desperate to eliminate dust and allergens from the house, I'm also replacing rugs and scraping fur off the cat's favorite chairs, much to his chagrin.

Reflecting back on the school year, I survived the first year of two kids in college by taking on a lot of extra work and not thinking too deeply. Unfortunately, reading and writing habits drifted away like rubber duckies escaped on ocean currents. My faith has suffered in relentless activity as I've not taken the time to sit with questions, meditate or even do yoga. "Move, move, move!" is the mantra I reach for when uncomfortable with grief, sorrow, loneliness or loss.

Brown's comforting words about humanity's inner conflicts metaphorically sat me in a deep armchair with instructions to think and feel more deeply. I may not know where the ship is going, but I can be much more in tune with how I think and feel as we journey. I'm sure there will always be inner turmoil- as sure as I am that the cat will always throw up on the white carpet the day after it's cleaned - but I will try to slow down and sit with my feelings before I clean up the mess.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Reunions and Relays in San Antonio

Just returned from US Masters Spring Nationals in San Antonio, reeling from the effects of travel, racing and reconnecting with friends and family. Swimming signifies so much more than fitness, than times, than athletic ability. Meets do show off the athletic ability - mostly in other people, former D1 stars, even Olympic athletes - but the majority of swimmers go to challenge themselves, to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. I know that's what brings me the most joy as I get older and wrestle with my body to get a few short bouts of speed in the pool.

My 50-yard races and relay stints were the most fun, while the 100s felt like long-distance slogs with a piano on my back. The relays were the best, as our teams were composed of men and women from all parts of Colorado, some of whom I had met and some I hadn't. On my 200 free relay we had an Olympic triathlete from Athens, a wonderfully kind and unassuming athlete of tremendous talent, and that foursome won the National Champion title for our age group (45+, but who's counting?) 

If the relays were the athletic highlight then reunions brought the most joy. I ran into my roommate from my freshman year at Harvard - Kirsten - sitting behind the blocks on a hot Friday afternoon. I heard, "Oh my God, no way!" and turned to see my old friend, instantly recognizable in her swim cap. We were swim teammates as well as roommates, so recognized each other just as well in swim paraphernalia as we would in street clothes, if not better. To top it off, we were wearing the exact same tech suit! Still sale-shoppers cut from the same cloth.

I had known that Kirsten would be in San Antonio, as she lives in the area, and Facebook (both bless it and curse it) had at least kept us minimally in touch over the past 32 years. I messaged her to ask if we could try to connect, and we managed to find time over the three days to talk about families, work, parents, and - of course - swimming. I was brought to tears several times and was grateful to have the chance to tell her that I wished we had been roommates at a different time, when I wasn't miserably homesick, overwhelmed, and generally depressed. She of course, had had no idea, because I didn't let on to anyone that I was unhappy, just cried in the shower, skipped meals and kept myself to myself. The blessing of it is that we don't need "ifs" anymore; we have another chance. I'm so grateful and somewhat awed that our paths crossed again at this point in our lives and can't wait for the next reunion, swim-related or otherwise.

I also got to see a drove of Dravenstotts in the stands and at Ron and Kelley's lovely home in San Antonio. Bill and Connie came via minivan, John, Rob and Daniel via plane. I had spectators each day and was able to eat delicious barbeque and baked potatoes en famille before rejoining swimmers at the hotel. So while my body struggled and I skipped my last 100 in deference to last-day soreness and overall dazedness, I couldn't be happier with the trip and more grateful for the community given to me by my sport.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Tragic Optimism

The BBC posted a link that I followed earlier in the week explaining "tragic optimism," a phrase first coined by Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. It means "there is space to experience both the good and the bad, and that we can grow from each." Embracing tragic optimism, we can acknowledge the pain and suffering in the world and in our own lives but move forward regardless with a firm grip on hope.

The writer positioned tragic optimism in opposition to what she termed "toxic positivity," an attitude that suppresses negative emotions or - worse - labels them as weaknesses. After two years of significant societal change and personal hardships, suppressing feelings of anger or sorrow seems like a short road to emotional turmoil.

Even as I recognize blessings of good health and resilient children, food and shelter and comfort of friends and family, I've struggled this week to support William moving toward an ACL surgery and finals, to read the headlines in the morning, to help buoy Daniel over the results of some poor choices. I'm exhausted and certainly not feeling particularly lucky, so I'm also a tiny bit gloomy over getting a crown at the dentist today (see previous post).

On this sunny spring day, when we need rain but will embrace the sunlight anyway, I plan to wrap my arms around some tragic optimism, finding meaning in  life's setbacks and sorrows and maintaining a firm grip on that slippery eel called hope.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Snakes and Crowns

 I went to the dentist for the first time in over six months and sat in the chair with some trepidation. Of course the technician wanted x-rays, and I took a long hard think before allowing her to go ahead, even explaining the moment of silence as "trying to think of a reason why not, but I couldn't."

After that propitious beginning, I stared ahead at the world map in front of me, the now-familiar cities of Ukraine directly before my face. I made another ill-considered stab at conversing by mentioning how much I now know about that country. The hygienist raised an eyebrow over her mask and said she didn't watch the news, then lowered the chair back so I could stare up at the TV mounted to the ceiling. 

The dentist's TV was playing Natural Geographic-style videos of animals in far lands. While being poked, prodded and scraped for tartar removal, the screen above me showed a desert vista, where a knot of snakes pursued an ungainly lizard across the sand. Lizards aren't normally sympathetic-looking creatures, but I cheered for that lizard to evade the horrid group of snakes and had to turn my head away when the poor guy lost his battle and got squeezed to death. (The hygienist quickly turned my head back to where she wanted it.)

Adding insult to injury, the dentist came in at the end to inform me that I have a crack in a molar, surrounding the old filling and pushing through to the outside. He asked me if I was feeling lucky, then said I could make it a long while without needing a fix or my tooth could crack tomorrow, in which case a crown might not save it. I wasn't feeling lucky, so put off making a decision about the crown.

I did encounter my good friend at the dentist, and later celebrated her fiftieth birthday with other friends at a celebratory dinner. It was lovely to be out, even as a new wave of COVID creeps into Colorado, even as my own daughter sent me a picture of her positive test result. Today I head to Boulder to take her some groceries and to take our son to the orthopedic doctor who will hopefully tell us how to repair the torn ACL. Still not feeling lucky - guess I will postpone the crown decision for yet another day.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Beautiful Mistakes

 "Life is more like a spiral than we realize" said a wise friend, when I complained about making the same mistakes over and over again. Big mistakes, not forgetting to take out trash from our upstairs bathroom but running myself ragged until my body falls apart. I wanted to ask if life always spiraled down, but backed away from the grimness of that question and decided to assume upward movement. Over time, perspective is gained even if our application of lessons learned is imperfect.

In this state of mind I welcome an email from another wise friend, whose reflection on mistakes borrowed the following from author Ellen Grace O'Brian:

"Think of an oak tree. If a tree had no obstacles or mistakes in its growth path, it would grow completely straight and tall. Everywhere we look, trees would be straight as an arrow, with every branch uniform. But instead, when we look at the oaks on the hillside, their beauty comes from their curved branches, their response to every obstacle they encountered. Every place they turned was a 'mistake' from their original growth path, but every turn ultimately became their beauty."

The comparison to an oak tree serves me better than almost anything else. I called myself a "big dumb animal" last week in a disservice to much smarter animals everywhere, but I prefer the tree analogy. It's fascinating how each individual tree grows according to specific stimuli that affect it, but still manages to be part of a forest community where each organism helps to nurture another, or others. It's a model that human communities might aspire to follow.

My good friend ended her email with this lovely poem that I share below from Antonio Machado.

Beautiful Mistakes

...and the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures...