Letting Go

Life is a balance.  A delicate one at that.  After decades of aiming high, how does one gracefully readjust one’s sights?

Just last June I was flying high.  I had qualified for the Boston Marathon, along with my son Erik, his wife Katie and her cousin Brendan.  Conditions at Grandma’s Marathon were nearly perfect, propelling each of us down the shore of Lake Superior to cross the finish line with good margins to secure us a spot in that most prestigious of marathons.  Swept away by the tide of our victory, our quartet vowed to run Boston.

Boston Bound foursome

Plans were made.  We found housing and received our confirmation emails for the race.  All looked good for a spring run.  Until it didn’t.  Pain, injury, arthritis and bad running habits all linked arms to throw a wrench into my training.  Weeks of rest and cross-training turned into months with no improvement.  Winter stepped in and obliterated the Lakewalk with snow while temperatures plummeted deep into the negative range.  I knew from experience that training for Boston in the midst of winter was a challenge, but this was ridiculous.

The ambiguity hung over my head for months.  One week I’d feel hopeful and set my sights on “just finishing” in Boston.  The next I was pragmatic and knew that the time to adequately prepare was waning.  On one hand I’d done it all before.  Twice in fact.  First on my own, to celebrate turning 50.  The second time I crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with my daughter, Karen.  On the other hand, this was a chance to run it with my son and his wife and share in their joy.  To prove I could still do it.

Boston finish 2005

Boston finish 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my journey, I sought plenty of advice.  Confiding in my daughter, I poured out my dilemma, that I was considering dropping out of the race.  “Oh Mom!” she sighed.  “That means admitting you’re getting old!”  It wasn’t what I expected at all.  But her uncensored sentiment revealed something else.  She perfectly mirrored my own mother’s unwavering belief in me.  I smiled to realize that the generations had flipped, and the void left by my mother eight years ago had just been filled.

Oddly enough, just as I felt I was turning the corner through physical therapy I also knew the answer.  This wasn’t about proving anything.  It wasn’t about getting old.  It was about the long run.  Literally.  It was about healing, gaining strength and building myself back up in order to continue to do the thing I love.  Running.  For years to come, not just one day.

It’s not easy conceding to reality.  Come Boston Marathon day I know my heart will twist as I follow Erik and Katie out there on the race course from a distance through text alerts.  I’ll wish I was there, doing it.  But if it means running with my grandchildren and staying active into my real old age, then I made the right decision.  It’s not giving up.  It’s letting go.  There’s a difference.

On Location

Donning every possible layer of outdoor clothing I own, I pull on my mukluks, fling a camera around my neck and grab my notebook.  It’s time for the start of the Arrowhead 135!

At the 7am start, it’s -9 degrees with a touch of snow falling in International Falls MN.  Bikers, runners and skiers line up and head down the Arrowhead Trail as fireworks light up the inky sky.  The race takes its heritage seriously, ranked as one of 50 toughest races in the world.  The finish line is 135 miles away.Skier in Arrowhead 135

These intrepid athletes will endure up to three days on the trail, with temperatures predicted in the -22 degree range by morning.  My role is far easier.  And warmer.  I am here to cover the race for the Lake Country Journal, a beautiful glossy magazine that covers all things related to our northern lakes area.

Teaming up with Rich, we have created a new niche for ourselves – find fun events that interest us, sell the idea to a magazine, attend and experience them, then produce a story.  I write, he takes the photographs.

Today we leapfrog the trail, catching the racers at intervals along the way.  Rich looks for unique photo opps, I make mental notes of what I see – the steadfast determination in the racers’ eyes, the thick boots, the ice encrusted beards and fanciful antler hat.  We have time to warm up in the car.  The racers have only their energy to heat their bodies.

Biker in Arrowhead 135I would never be here if it weren’t for my writing.  Seeing folks pursue the impossible.  Following the Holiday Train.  Leaning the ins and outs of sled dog racing.  Attending a home grown radio show.  Then bring them to life for others.  New horizons, unique adventures, a break in my strict daily routine.  It’s a privilege to be able to write about topics of my own choosing.Runner in Arrowhead 135It wasn’t always this way.  Getting here has a been a seven year journey of my own.  I got my humble start in writing with Lake Superior Magazine, which accepted my first cold submission.  Editor Konnie went on to gently mentor me year after year, offering me more stories as my skills improved.  Just seeing my work come out in print was a big thrill.  And it remains one of my favorite magazines to write for.

As today’s racers doggedly push on toward the finish line I remain vigilant as we chase them down the trail, composing lines in my head, shaping the story to share with my readers.  It’s already been a memorable adventure, and we haven’t yet seen them press on through the dark of night.  But when they do, I’ll be there.  With my talented photographer husband at my side.  On Location.Molly and Rich at Arrowhead 135

The Rest of the Story

This time it was Sarah who granted me permission to use an image.  Following our amazing cyber connection forged by my photo of Crisp Point Lighthouse, her parish magazine is ready for distribution.

Crosstalk parish magazine with Crisp Point LighthouseThis weekend, Crosstalk – and Crisp Point Lighthouse – will be making its way into three Church of England parishes near Durham, England.  In addition to the usual church news, promotions for upcoming events, schedule of services and useful contact information, it carries a wealth of stories, trivia and well researched facts centered on the theme of “Light.”  This is more than your weekly church bulletin – it makes for great reading and even includes a recipe!  No wonder this publication has won awards.  As a writer for regional magazines, I am impressed and even more pleased to be a part of this issue.

Sarah and I continue to discover mutual connections – bell ringing, her brother-in-law who may in fact have been my Economics professor, cyclists in Scotland and bad memories of old fashioned “stockings.”

A return to Durham to meet Sarah just moved up my travel wish list.  I hope that will be part of the rest of this story.

Cyber Magic

Urging my laptop to life, there were no inklings of the magic it would soon dispense. No hint of the hidden connections that lay within. Nothing to reveal the memories it would unleash.

The usual plethora of overnight emails swarmed my inbox, parading up the screen as they entered. Sifting through the usual jungle of unwanted solicitations, the day’s local news headlines, and legitimate email exchanges lay an unassuming subject from a sender I didn’t recognize. “Using an Image” it said. Once I had dispensed with the known correspondences, I opened it. And smiled. Then smiled even more.

A five year old photo of mine had caught the attention of a stranger. It was part of a blog post from our first year as lighthouse keepers for Crisp Point Lighthouse, when each day brought new perspectives for photographing that magnificent structure. In this image the day’s lingering light illuminated the lighthouse against a gloomy background, behind it the arc of a rainbow stretched skyward. It was the light that attracted Sarah’s attention.

Crisp Point Lighthouse with rainbowI have no idea how she found the photo. I dug through blog posts from six stints of light keeping before I spotted the picture she described. I was tickled that she wanted to use it and immediately granted permission.

But the magic still lay within. Sarah’s email began, “Good morning from a rather gloomy north east England.” That was the first smile. She went on to describe her interest in the photograph, to use for a monthly parish magazine she produces called Crosstalk. The theme of the next issue was “Light,” and she felt it would make a fitting cover image. She described the magazine’s circulation as “around 300 copies across three parishes in and around the City of Durham.” That was the second, bigger smile.

I spent my junior year in college studying at the University of Durham. As one of only 40 Americans immersed in a university population of over 4,000, I relished the opportunity to live the life of a British student, embraced the unique college system and relished the beauty and culture of that historic city. The best feature of my dorm room was the prominent view of the majestic cathedral through its single window. I made lasting friendships and developed a love affair with Britain that I have sustained through frequent return visits, including another stint to do a master’s degree at the University of Bath. Fond memories came flooding back.Durham Cathedral

What are the chances? That Sarah would find my photo. That she would be from my favorite city in Britain. And that she could so easily reach out to me directly.

A rapid-fire email exchange ensued, in which we uncovered more connections and interests in common.  The warmth of the new bond filled my soul.

The internet often gets a bad wrap. But in this case it made my day. Through cyber magic.

Music to my ears

The sterile white tomb-like cavern awaits.  Enshrouded in voluminous hospital pants and gown I succumb to the platform, and allow myself to be strapped on my back in a motionless state.  One final question from the medical professional, “What kind of music do you like?”

Nagging hip pain has brought me here.  My running regime interrupted for months as I nurse the overuse injury, cross-training with cycling and swimming.  But with little improvement.  Seeking answers, I return to the clinic and this time the doctor orders an X-ray and then an MRI.  Now we’re getting somewhere, I think.  Even if I don’t like the outcome, anything is better than this uncertainty.

The MRI machine is very loud, the attendant informs me.  I will need the music in my headphones turned up high.  “Classical” is my response.  My bed travels into the cylinder and the noisy rat-a-tats begin.  So does the music.

It happens instantly.  Suddenly, I am transported back to an elegant living room and a Steinway concert grand piano.  I know that music intimately, my fingers can follow it up and down the keyboard.  I listen to hear if the top notes “sing” as Mrs. Blair insisted, if the melody comes through and the running passages glide evenly and gracefully underneath.  She would approve of the phrasing, I think.

The piece that follows is equally familiar.  And the next.  If I didn’t play them fellow students did.  I know them by heart from Mrs. Blair’s “musicales” when we performed for one another frequently over the six years that I studied with her.

Mrs. Blair accepted only select musicians.  I always wondered how I got in.  I remained in awe of my fellow pianists, who mastered sonatas and concertos and played them flawlessly.  A constant source of inspiration, I toiled to measure up.  But it was really Mrs. Blair that I sought to please.

She was of a different era.  Always beautifully dressed, in a perfectly appointed second floor apartment in an elegant old house, she carried herself regally despite her advancing age.  I never heard her play the piano, her fingers were too gnarled by then.  Instinctively I knew she was a master, her knowledge of music unbounded.  To me, she was an icon, firm but kind.  Loving.  I never wanted to let her down.

The pinnacle of our years of study was to present a senior recital at the end of high school.  It took place in her living room, with fresh flowers adorning the gleaming length of that Steinway, a corsage and formal gown.  Folding chairs formed neat rows between the upholstered furniture, and fancy finger foods awaited in the dining room.  I played for an hour in front of my parents and our closest friends.  It would be the peak of my musical prowess.

Molly at the pianoFor forty minutes I am steeped in these fondest of memories.  Not even the machine’s thumping can suppress the music and magic.  I am sorry when the tests are complete and I scoot back out in to the real world.

I asked for classical music.  I got piano masterpieces.  It was divine intervention.  And music to my ears.

 

A Fitting Memorial Day

It is far too easy to treat the day as just another holiday. Spring’s long weekend. The traditional date that signals the start of summer.  A sign that school is about to let out. I am guilty on all accounts. Not having family members who were lost in our country’s wars, I have no personal remembrances to honor.

By all appearances, this Memorial Day would follow suit. It was cabin opening weekend, and I alternated play with spring chores at our treasured retreat on the lake. For Memorial Day, Rich and I planned an early morning bike ride.

Up before dawn, we were treated to a beautiful red sunrise reflecting in the calm waters of the lake. It was still shady and cool when we started our ride, with high hopes that the early hour would yield some wildlife sightings (me) or birds (Rich). We saw neither but were privy to the woods awakening, streams calmly wandering and copious bird chatter. A rendezvous with friends at the Effie Cafe for breakfast allowed us to catch up, share some camaraderie, and to investigate their new e-bikes.

Rich with Galen and Shiela

Whittling down the miles back to our car, we spotted a congregation of cars parked up ahead on the quiet farm road. At Fredheim Lutheran Church, American Legion members from Effie along with family and community members were gathered for a Memorial Day service. In the warm summer air and sunshine, we passed by. Then thought, why not? Returning to the site, we parked our bikes and were heartily welcomed by the assembled folk.  The 1907 church – the first in the Bigfork Valley – felt like a most appropriate backdrop for this occasion.

Friedheim Lutheran Church“See the woman with the color guard?” a bystander asked. “She’s 95 and served in the Marines.” I looked on with awe. “She’s still the organist at our church.”  I was humbled.Memorial Day ceremonySeven men in uniform lined up with their rifles. Amidst instructions from their leader and some good natured banter they practiced their moves. What they lacked in precision they more than made up in earnestness.

The ceremony was short, to the point and moving. From the Pledge of Allegiance to the strains of the National Anthem, it was the intimacy of the gathering that made it poignant. The message delivered by one of the veterans was simple yet brought the message home. He challenged one and all to live our beliefs, starting that very day.

As the final shots of the 21 gun salute echoed into silence, I couldn’t help but think long and hard about the names that were read and what they had sacrificed. I felt grateful for what they had given for our freedom. And thankful that we had stumbled on this ceremony.

Memorial Day 21 gun salute

It wasn’t just another holiday after all. It was a most fitting Memorial Day.  For a change.

Holiday Cheer

Amazon packages arrive by the truckload.  Wrapping paper flies off its rolls.  The sweet scent of once-a-year cookies wafts through the house.  Christmas meals fill every nook of the freezer.  Carefully crafted holiday greetings travel far and near.  It’s easy to get caught up in the trappings and “must do’s” of the season.  I should know – I’m a prime target for succumbing to holiday stress.

But the season has a wealth of feel-good experiences as well, and this year I happily overindulged my love for music and theater.  All in the name of Christmas.

Ben and Mya at the GrinchIt has become an annual tradition to take our older grandchildren to see a Christmas play.  This year we hit the big time, taking Ben and Mya to the Children’s Theater in Minneapolis to see “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  It was Dr. Seuss to the core, and so very true to the book with a very green Grinch whose mouth sparkled redness.  I knew the experience reached the kids when Ben leaned over to me mid-performance, and whispered, “This is really good!”  He took the words right out of my mouth.

Just two days later, Rich convinced me to go see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train.  Although it travels through the Twin Cities, he insisted we needed to experience it in a small town.  A four hour drive took us to Plummer MN, where indeed we were treated to an energetic community that rallied around the arrival of this brilliantly lit train.  At 6:00pm the train slowly approached the crossing, its holiday colors reflecting against the local grain elevator as it passed.  Once stopped,Holiday Train a draw-bridge like door came down with fog pouring out and laser lights pulsating.  The country music performers where already in place and performing by the time it was fully open.  Pressing against the stage, the crowd bounced to the music, performers hand-bumped the kids up front, and we all sang “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with the musicians.  Thirty minutes passed Holiday Train Concertquickly, then the train resumed its journey – on to the next town.  Its whole purpose is to support local food shelves, and indeed the evening’s take from locals as well as a generous donation from CP covers half their needs for the whole year.  My heart glowed as brightly as my face in the glimmer of the retreating train.

Returning to Duluth the following day, we turned to home town entertainment.  That very night we had tickets to “A Christmas Carol” at the Duluth Playhouse.  No matter how many times I see that show, it always delights and conjures up the goodwill of the season.  Topped off with wine and Christmas cookies with friends in the light of their decorated tree, it was an evening hard to beat.

East Holiday ConcertOur finale involve another tradition – a school Christmas concert.  This year I insisted on revisiting my past, attending the East High School Holiday Concert.  Memories of my years in choir and the Choralaires came flooding back as I watched from the balcony.  But even more pronounced was the depth of talent and commitment of the young musicians and their directors.  The performance underscored what an amazing opportunity these youngsters have to participate in such excellent ensembles.  I know now that it’s something they may never experience again in their lives.  Shivers ran down my spine as the entire assembly of students closed the evening with “Carol of the Drums.”

Quite a blitz for one week.  An abundance of holiday cheer, certain to propel me through the remainder of the Christmas season.