Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Precious Collection

As long as I can remember, I have been a collector. One of those people who save everything. Now it is race bibs, shirts and medals. When I was younger, it was sports cards, ticket stubs and coins. I have always felt the need to hold on to mementos from the past, small things that gave me tangible reminders of places, experiences and people.

As my siblings and I have gone through our parent’s house this week, I have come to realize that I must have gotten this habit from my mom. My dad never saved much of anything. I suspect that he had no desire to hold onto memories of a painful childhood that included the death of his father and constant challenges from a difficult mother. My mom, on the other hand, saved everything. We have discovered old photos, birthday cards, postcards and coupons so old that the issuing company no longer exists. We have laughed as we have looked at old drawings and things we wrote, and cried while reading birthday cards our parents exchanged.
We have also struggled to come to terms with the fact that we will be selling the home we grew up in, the only place I have ever lived that truly felt like home. With that in mind, I went for a run to collect some memories from a neighborhood that will, soon, no longer be mine.

I ran through Flushing Meadow Park where I used to search with friends for cans and bottles, each of which brought a treasure of five cents. I ran past the pitch and putt, where my best friend and I tried to learn to play golf. I felt sad as I saw Citi Field, the Mets new home, built to look old, in place of Shea Stadium where I had come many times with dad. I ran across the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge, a bridge that once seemed so long, that we used to cross after using our local wisdom and parking in nearby Flushing instead of the crowded and overpriced stadium lots. From there I continued on towards the building where my maternal grandparents used to live. I passed the store where my grandmother used to buy me Garbage Pail Kids, cards which served as proof that I would go for anything if I couldn’t get sports cards. I passed my grandparent’s building and thought of the cookies my grandmother used to make, cookies that I can still taste, even now, almost 30 years later. I was surprised to see that, in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly Asian, their synagogue still stands. I thought of their friends who used to pinch my cheeks as my grandparents showed me off. On the way back home I passed the hospital where my father died (how easily I could write “was killed”) almost four years before. As I ran past, I felt the illusion of youthful strength that will always be there, knowing at the same time, that one day, like all of us, his fate would be mine.

I have no old chest in which to store these precious collectables, no album in which to preserve them. Still, I know, that although they will never be discovered and held by future generations curious to know who I was, they will endure in a way that no coin, photo or baseball card ever could.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Joke

A joke is told of a rabbi who decides to wake up early on Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the year), while all of his congregants are sleeping, to squeeze in a round of golf. There is a great tumult in heaven as the angels urge G-d to smite the rabbi on the spot. Much to their shock and consternation, G-d decides that the rabbi will get a hole-in-one. The angels are beside themselves and ask G-d where the justice is, in giving him this once in a lifetime shot. G-d replies “Who is he going to be able to tell?”

I thought of this joke last week as I debated whether to run the marathon I had scheduled on the day the shiva (the seven day intense mourning period) for my mom ended. What if the rabbi committed his sin not out of placing golf above G-d, but out of a sense that in golf he saw a connection to G-d? It certainly wouldn’t get rid of the sin, but might it not mitigate it somewhat? Or at the very least, put it in a different light?

What if I had qualified for Boston at the marathon last week? Would the pride in my achievement have pushed me to publicize it, despite feeling guilty for having run?

I do not dismiss the very real possibility that running was the wrong decision. If my running was a poor choice, I hope that G-d, who knows me better than I know myself, sees it differently than other sins I have committed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Remembering My Mom

My mother is gone. She died last Sunday. On Mother’s Day, of all days. It is hard to write about running right now. It feels inconsequential. It is like focusing on the place settings at a wedding. My mind is not there. It is not that I am not running. Far from it. After much soul searching and discussions with friends, I ran the marathon that I was scheduled to run yesterday. I am not sure that I did the right thing. Either way, my mind is somewhere else.

I will not be writing a race report. Usually I give a recap of each mile with a mixture of humor (or at the very least attempted humor) and poignancy. I don’t have it in me. I suspect my feelings about my mom will be there in my writing for a while, consciously at the beginning and subconsciously afterwards.

I don’t know if she was “with me” while I ran. There are different views in Judaism about what the dead are aware of. I don’t know what to believe. Either way, she was on my mind for much of the race. When I struggled during the last six miles, I thought of her fighting spirit, and kept moving my feet.
Whenever I would call her after running a race, she would tell how proud she was. She didn’t really get the whole racing thing and would have been proud if I would have run a 5k in five hours. Still, she got the mom thing and was encouraging in all that I did.

I miss her.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Finding Your Race

I was not very fast when I was younger, particularly in shorter distances. Let's be honest, I was slow. Not just, turtle slow, or even rhinoceros slow, I was glacier slow. The only highlight of my early running career I can think of was beating my friend Arie during tryouts for some team in the gym. Even then, I probably only won because he went slowly at first, not realizing how desperate I was to win. For many years I didn’t run unless I had to, rushing to catch a bus or avoid getting hit by a car. Then I discovered marathons. Although I lacked speed, I had the ability to run through pain and push hard for long distances.

Each year, I have students in my classes with whom I connect and others with whom I don’t. I can usually tell fairly quickly who will fall into each category. There was one boy this year that was different. He didn’t seem interested in the subject I was teaching, or at the very least, in the way I was teaching it. It wasn’t that he didn’t try. It was just that, at a certain point, his eyes got that glazed look and I knew I had lost him. I felt badly, for him and for me. For him, that he was stuck with me as a teacher and for me, in the way I always do, when I am unable to reach a student. Then I noticed something. Each time that I took a break from the subject I was teaching and got into a discussion involving philosophy and life, this same student came to life. He was involved in a way that I wished all my students would be. A gentle smile would appear on his face, an indication that something I said had reached him, even touched him.

In running, learning and life, it is rare that one size fits all. Given the chance, we all discover the race we wish to run.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Role Model

Many runners have role models. Whether it is the Olympic champion who inspired them to reach for greatness, or a coach who challenged them to reach their potential, there is someone who helped them achieve. My role model is a bowler.

I frequently think back to my first marathon. Tired and dehydrated, I wanted to quit. Still, I would not. I knew that whatever it would take, I would reach the finish line. I found myself counting steps. I told myself to just keep on going and to make it to the next mile marker. From whom did I learn the idea of always taking the next step, no matter how exhausted? From a woman who has never taken part in anything more athletic than bowling; from my mom.

A weaker person would have given up a long time ago. Getting the same disease that ravaged her mother’s body and then killed her, wasn’t enough to stop her. When it came back a second time, she fought it with everything she had. She doesn’t just fight it. She refuses to slow down. She keeps working as a teacher, a profession she loves. She continues to travel at a rate that would tire a Secretary of State. She dotes on her grandchildren, both our kids who live nearby, as well as my brother’s children who live in Israel. She receives incredible support from friends because she is always a friend. She is never too busy to help another person.

Now she is called upon to fight once more. The cancer has spread. I know she is tired. I know that she is beat up. I know that she will fight it with everything she has. It is her way. Who can ask for a better role model?