Last week, appropriately enough, I was reminded that I have a lot to be thankful for. As a starting point, I was thankful to have a few days away from the craziness of a workplace undergoing organizational sea change. I went largely off the professional grid over the four day weekend, though I admit to checking my work phone once or twice to see if any provocative emails had arrived. I was pleased to find that my colleagues had also gone radio silent in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday. It was reassuring to know that bureaucratic insanity can go dormant from time to time.
I also gave thanks for my body. Not only was I able to consume large quantities of avian protein and complementary carbohydrates without any ill effects, I managed to go for an eighteen-mile run on Saturday morning. For some reason, I am training for a marathon that takes place at the end of December. I have told many people in no uncertain terms that I am retired from running marathons, and I’ve stuck to that declaration for almost three years, but I have a friend who somehow convinced me that running 26.2 miles in the Seattle winter would a great idea. She’s like a long distance running drug dealer whispering, “C’mon, it will be fun.” I don’t remember saying yes, but I have spent the last few weekends running increasingly long distances. After each long run, I spend the rest of the day sitting on the couch, nursing my tired body and wondering what happened, like, I imagine, how it feels to wake up from a three-day drug fueled bender.
On Saturday, I spent more than three hours running the streets of Olympia, Washington. Instead of being annoyed that I had yet again succumbed to my long distance addiction, I marveled at my body’s ability to travel that far without the aid of a motorized vehicle. As a recovering asthmatic kid who, I kid you not, grew up with an exercise allergy, I am grateful for the ability to remain upright and moving forward for such long stretches. I chafed, and my right ankle started to lose structural integrity towards the end, but I kept going, running through it all. What a wonderful machine the human body is.
Of course, the real test will be the marathon itself. I’m not sure I will go on any training runs longer than eighteen miles before the event, which is not my typical training regimen, but my drug dealer thinks it’s enough. On one hand, it seems crazy to me that on race day I will have to tack on another eight miles after the first eighteen to finish the race. On the other, my body has been there before, five times, and I know that I can go 26.2. Yes, it will hurt, and it may involve a lot of walking, but I know I am capable of it. I know this, in part, because I won’t be alone.
I’m at a point in my life where I have no interest in running these absurd distances by myself. When I first started training for a marathon, I did it solo. It was a personal test of will. As I approach my 50th birthday, I have much less interest in personal tests of will. I’ll take all the help I can get, and, on Saturday, I ran with my dealer and another friend who also suffers from the long distance affliction. I wouldn’t have made it without them, and that reminded me of something else I am thankful for: the human voice.
When Sally, Amanda, and I met up one mile into our trek, I took position behind them on the sidewalk and listened to their lively banter as we ran. Mile after mile, they talked about family and friends, about races they have run, about aches and pains, and about nothing much at all. I occasionally offered a comment or question, but they did most of the talking, and it kept me going. Instead of succumbing to my own inner dialog of misery about how much my ankle hurt and whether I really needed to pee, I listened to them. They kept talking, and we kept running. It sustained me through three hours of forward motion, and, for that, I am thankful.
Theirs weren’t the only voices I was grateful for last week. On Wednesday night, as I lay in bed, I also heard voices that moved me. My wife and I had retreated to our upstairs bedroom, which is situated directly above our living room. That feature of our house’s floor plan has been problematic over the years, as the big screen TV is in the living room, and when our children stay up later than we do, the sound of whatever show they are watching carries into our bedroom. We developed a simple method for quelling the noise, which involves stomping on the floor, sending a clear signal to turn down the damn volume.
Wednesday night, as my wife and I were cozying up under the covers, we heard muffled voices rising up through the floor. However, these weren’t the usual voices from the cast of The Big Bang Theory. Rather, these were the voices of our kids talking to each other. My son had returned home from college for the holiday, and this was his first chance to hang out with his sister and talk. The thought of stomping on the floor occurred to me, but I decided to listen for a little while. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could tell that it was a happy conversation. They were enjoying each other, even laughing. The beautiful voices of my full-grown adult babies lulled me into a peaceful sleep, and for that, I am thankful.