Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The power of community

My friend and neighbor has a new knee and I have a new appreciation for the value of community, or is the word simply friendship?

From Saturday through Friday nights last week, I stayed at my friend’s house as she began the road to recovery following her Thursday morning knee replacement surgery. All went well and she was able to put some weight on her knee that very day. But getting back to a normal routine, doing the things that need to be done to keep body and soul together, takes some time and a bit of help.

That’s where her friends came in. One person organized a “meal train” and every night a lovely meal appeared. Other friends volunteered to take her to physical therapy every other day. Still others provided a whole array of medical equipment ranging from a stationery bicycle to a slick little plastic envelope that made it much easier to put on a long supportive stocking—and everything in-between. A fat envelope came from her church with a stack of get-well greetings.  People called on the phone, sent emails and stopped by to check on her.

Much has written about the positive effect created by having a sense of community. This week I saw it in action. My friend is a giver and she has been helping others in big and small ways for a long time, never with the anticipation of getting anything in return. People notice and they remember. And when it is their turn to step up, they do.

My friend has enough good food in her house to last her for a long time. And for the next several weeks, she will have a free and friendly ride to the physical therapist. Every little gesture is contributing to her healing and lightening the task of getting her new knee to function normally. I predict that, because of her friends, it will happen sooner rather than later.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Getting out the door

After a couple of surprisingly warm February days, cold, damp and, gray set in today with the temperature hovering in the 20s. It was a day that I found myself wanting to stay inside my cozy house, but I could not. I had an interview scheduled for the morning, at noon a plan to visit my friend who had her knee replaced yesterday and, early in the afternoon, a reporter from the Rocky Mountain Collegian was to interview me about my White Shadow book.

So off I set, opting to drive instead of walk to the offices of No Barriers, a national organization based a mile from my house that I’d never heard of until last week-end. In casual conversation at a church-related event on Sunday morning, I had questioned a woman sitting at my table about what she did. “I’m the education director for No Barriers,” she explained.

“What’s that?” I asked. “I’ve never heard of it.” When she explained that it was a non-profit organization with a mission to change the lives of wounded warriors, those with physical disabilities and youth through organized outdoor experiences, I got curious enough to ask if I could interview her for a North Forty News article. I had no idea what I was getting into.

After an hour, I learned that the organization employs 35 people and offers diverse experiences all over the world that not only change the lives of those who participate, but encourages participants to give back to others as a result of what they have learned. The article will not be an easy one to write. There are too many amazing stories to tell. One no-barrier example: founder Erik Weihenmayer was the first blind person to summit Mt. Everest.

At the hospital, my friend was laughing with her physical therapist, had already mounted a stationery bike and was about to walk back to her room. Really? Just a little more than 24 hours after getting a new knee! She was busy ordering chicken marsala for lunch and planning to watch the Olympics on television in the afternoon when I left her.

On the other end of the interview this time, I tried to explain why I’d taken more than a decade to write about Janet Mondlane’s courageous and challenging life. Not so easy to do without spoiling the story for a reader.

It turned out to be a good way to spend an otherwise dreary day.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Touching base on the road

This morning I went for a run with a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time. As we cruised around the dirt path at Grandview Cemetery, we began to catch up with each other’s lives. We realized that we have a whole lot in common.

We talked books and writing.  Alene Nitzky has recently published Navigating the C: A Nurse Charts the Course for Cancer Survivorship Care. In it she shares knowledge gained from many years of cancer survivorship care as a nurse and as an advocate for cancer survivors. She has devoted a great deal of time and energy to producing this guide to help cancer patients and caregivers navigate in ins and outs of diagnosis, treatment and after care.

Outside her writing life, Alene is an ultra runner who has completed the 135-mile Badwater and in the last few weeks did a 24-hour event where she clocked nearly 70 miles. Long-term, she’s gearing up to do a six day event. “It’s on my bucket list but it will take a few years to build up to it,” she said. I cannot imagine what that might be like!

So. We both like to write and we both like to run, though I have never attempted anything longer than 26.2 miles and honestly don’t think I’ll ever do that distance again. My current focus, which I shared with Alene is compiling a series of running columns into a little book I plan to call, Are You Still Running? in order to answer a question everybody asks me these days.

When we got back to my house, we shared a cup of tea and jabbered on about these things we love to do and have in common. We agreed that we are not at risk of suffering from boredom any time soon. What we’d both like is to be granted a few more hours in each day.

And soon, no matter how busy we think we are, we’ll find the time for another run and a chance to compare notes on our lives.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Safety Seat

A few days ago I went, for the first time, to the new incarnation of The Lyric, a funky, artsy, local movie theatre. The new building features an industrial-looking lobby where you can buy food and drink along with your movie tickets. You can eat at stand-up tables or take your goodies to enjoy in one of three small theatres. Once inside, you can relax on a comfy couch or choose a more traditional seat to watch the movie.

As it happened, the small theatre that was showing The Darkest Hour, was quickly filling up at noon (!) on a day between Christmas and New Years. A theatre employee encouraged people entering the theatre to forget about “the safety seat” and fill in each row.

I’d never heard the seat that so many of us often leave vacant when it is possible to do so when we enter a movie, concert, or church service referred to as a “safety seat.” It’s the one we subconsciously perhaps, protect ourselves by, leaving the seat adjacent to an occupied one vacant. We choose instead to sit down leaving a vacancy next to us.

Safety seat, I thought, interesting term.  I gave it no more thought. But it must have been in the back of my mind when I went to a Martin Luther King-inspired church service this morning.  Ordinarily I  would have chosen to create a “safety seat” next to me, but today I plunked down in the first empty seat I came across.

The service included several powerful readings by people of color, giving the basically all-white congregation an uncomfortable glimpse into the reality of another world. 

Perhaps it wasn’t logical, but it dawned on me that eliminating “safety seats” and sitting down--or standing up--close to people in one way or another different from us, might be a small gesture toward achieving racial justice. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reliving the running life

It started off as nothing more than a vague idea. Between the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2016, I contributed to a weekly column called The Running Life for the Fort Collins Coloradoan, my local newspaper. Four of us runner-writers each wrote a piece once a month for the Explore section of the paper. It was great fun and all of us enjoyed hearing from our readers. The paper liked it because we did it as volunteers and we obviously had readership.

Then the newspaper powers-at-be announced a change of format. For a reason I don’t understand, they got rid of the Explore section, its talented editor, and the four of us. It wasn’t really as if I’d been fired, I reasoned. After all, I didn’t get paid in the first place. About that time I began to blog more frequently, quite often on the topic of running.

By the end of 2017, I’d finished writing a novel, White Shadow, mostly probably the only work of fiction I will ever attempt. I was ready for a new challenge. Compiling and revising the 53 pieces I wrote for the Coloradoan seemed like an interesting idea. It wouldn’t be too tough, and it would put me back into the world of non-fiction where I belong.

A few weeks ago, I began reviewing the articles, sorting them into sections such as people, events, advice, accessories and personal experiences. I began with the articles about people I’ve gotten to know through running.

Before long I realized that these people were still around, still running and that I’d need to update the articles about them. I have been truly amazed by their responses. They’ve been climbing mountains, riding bikes across the country, running up to 100 kilometers at a time and are full of plans for 2018. It has been a delight to add to each of their stories.

I am on number 13, so it will be a while before I finished this project but I am not sure I want to. It is so much fun!