Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thoughts On Boston

There are so very many reasons the Boston Marathon bombings are detestable.

And maybe I shouldn't be writing this now because I'm bouncing back and forth between rage, tears, and that feeling of distance I assume in order not to be consumed by the emotions I feel after inexplicable and inexcusable actions.

The Sandy Hook shootings happened on my birthday, and outside of being or knowing someone personally affected, I didn't think acts-of-violence against innocents could feel more personal than that.

But for me, this feels so much more personal.

Here's why:

Do you see this little girl?

She is my favorite person in the world.

Although there are a handful of people who come within inches/seconds of being my absolute other-favorites, for now she holds the gold medal.

We're really close.

And just like Luke Skywalker and R2D2, we've been through a lot together.

I know that for years this blog was solely about Bridgette and her challenges.

As she started mainstreaming, it morphed into a more typical family blog, about the things we were able to do together despite her challenges. While lately, it's been morphing again into my training journal.

In a way, this entry is a combination of the three.

After watching my friends race in the St. George Ironman, I went running for the first time in ___X___ years (where X = something ridiculous). I wasn't overweight, but I was WAY out of shape. I couldn't run 1/4 mile without stopping. My heart wasn't ready.

But my will was.

I've worked hard since last May to get where I am. The last 6 months especially I've had to put in plenty of time and heartbeats and sore muscles.

I'm acutely aware of how much more I'm going to have to ramp it up in the next 7 months before I try my legs at my own Ironman in Arizona. I'm nowhere near ready.

But more than that, I'm quite sure I know why I'm doing this.

(For those of you who have wondered.)

I was planning an entry about this soon anyway, but today seems appropriate.

It's about that little girl.
The one in the picture with me.
My daughter.

I want to be the mom who, through example, helps her understand that nothing is impossible. Even when, trust me, it feels like it.

I rarely see the scars on Bridgette's belly anymore because I get so distracted looking at her giant smile, or her strong body, or her dramatic expressions and gestures.

She is vivacious, sweet, and curious. She is happy. She's playful.

She is every bit the kind of person I want to be.

And I never want her to feel limited.

Now here's the thing.

We're ALL limited.

There's not a person walking this earth who doesn't have challenges.

Challenges come in all sizes, shapes and colors.
  • They come in our bodies. 
  • They come in our minds. 
  • They come in our families and our friendships.  
  • They come in our surroundings: the places we live or work. 
  • They come when we travel. 
  • They come when we stay still too long. 
  • They also come in the form of what we lose along the way, the spots where we're raw and exposed, and the parts of us that naturally become calloused and hard over time.

Here's my theory -- the stories from which we draw inspiration aren't about people who overcome their challenges.

No. That's not it.

Instead, the people who inspire us are the people who work with their challenges to overcome obstacles and reach their goals.

My friend, Sam Jolley, who recently posted:
"I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say, 'Because of you I didn't give up.'"

Keyword: work.

It's the people who do what it takes to do what is most difficult for them because they want something. They work in their minds, in their bodies, in their bad situations and hard circumstances.

They find a way to accomplish something amazing, finding a way to-
  • feel happy after a tragedy 
  • leave an abusive spouse
  • get an education when all odds are against it
  • handle being injured or sick
  • learn and master a skill
  • lose that literal or hypothetical weight
  • forgive the unforgivable
  • or, run... run a marathon 
They take step after step after step toward something positive.

What they do, they rarely do alone. There's a whole cadre of helpers: doctors, coaches, friends. And in the most random times and places, strangers can make the biggest impacts of all.

When someone comes from behind, it's easy to feel their potential and to hope and dream on their behalf.

Like my daughter.

If you can't see Bridgette's scars in the pics above, you can certainly see them here:

An inspiring person doesn't have to accomplish a great feat in the scheme of history.

For a person working with a challenge, every step, every word, every thought, jump, or movement forward IS a feat. And it's inspiring to watch.

They step into and out of themselves. They let loose on their perceived limitations.

Bridgette is a rock and a fire. The truth is that I don't think she needs me to succeed in life. But, as her mother, if I can do anything to help her, I will.

One of her biggest challenges has and will continue to be physical movement. At first it was because she couldn't move.

For whatever reason, when other children were starting to crawl, pull themselves up, and toddle around, she sat very still. She did that for a long time.

Forcing her to move during therapy was one of the biggest battles and sorrows of my early time with her. We were both constantly frustrated. She was angry. I was sad. My patience got a rehaul.

Now she walks, jumps, and climbs.

Bridgette falls down hard then pops up to say, "I okay." She runs fast, and she throws hard and straight. She watches me train. She's aware.

At any given time on any given day, she will come into the room, and say, "Mom! Let's EXERCISE!"

She'll pick up her toys like she's curling weights, and say, "Mom! Look at my MUSCLES! I exercising!"

As we drive down the street, she watches others through the car windows, and when she sees someone running, says, "Mom, look! That woman running. She a runner, like you! And me!"

Unreal, isn't it? She thinks I'm a runner.

And while I continue to think that I'm not a runner (not yet), this is exactly why I'm in a transitional state of becoming.

Someday, I want her to look at what I've worked for, and know that I've WORKED for it. And that it was hard. Really really really hard. And that she can do hard things too, if she works at it, really hard.

I want her to know she can become anybody she wants.

Running will be hard for her.

Bridgette's had some body parts removed that are pretty critical to running (TCHD). Long-distance events are as much about nutrition and hydration as they are about muscles and resolution.

The major function of the large intestine is to absorb water.
Hers is gone, along with portions of her small intestine.

I think about her future (because that's what I do). When I think about her playing sports and being involved in outdoor recreation like hiking/biking/etc, my maternal instincts get wrinkled up into worry-lines.

Not that she won't enjoy herself, but she has challenges -- challenges that will surely prove inconvenient at best, life-threatening at worst.

I don't expect her to follow in my footsteps in anything, let alone hobbies or goals. But if she wants to run, I want to help her.

So let's get back to the Boston Marathon.

Here are a lot of details & videos, as of one day after the event, April 16: CNN: Boston Marathon Explosions

Why does it feel so personal to me?

Here's a list:
  1. I've just started training for long-distance events myself.
  2. All the runners I've met in the process have been friendly, hard-working, encouraging & supportive people.
  3. There's a runners' bond. It's unwritten & unspoken, but highly unifying. Like the way Texans lift two-fingers in salute as they pass each other on desolate back-country roads. It's just the way it is.
  4. I know runners who were there (300+ from Utah raced).
  5. I know volunteers who were there.
  6. I know spectators who were there.
  7. Jeff's sister ran it two years ago. She qualified to run this year, and almost did. And would have been finishing around the 4 hour mark.
  8. The race itself represents the best of humanity: perseverance, achievement, service, celebration, love, strength, and community.
  9. Like me and like my daughter, every racer there had a story. Of commitment. Of challenge. Of courage.
  10. And then there's Bridgette.
Because Bridgette says she's a runner! 

One day, one day before the Boston Marathon began, I signed Bridgette up for her first race.

There's nothing on this green, brown, and blue Earth that could be more poignant to me.

My four-year-old, the one I didn't know if she would survive until her 4th birthday, is going to do a 1-mile kids fun run at the end of April.

And she's SOOOO excited.

It's not like it was hard for me (her emotional, overly-descriptive, and highly-imaginative mother) to connect a whole lot of quantum dots hovering in some alternate space-time continuum, and take the Boston bombing personally.

Could have been my daughter.

The one who, in order to run Boston, would have had to overcome more than I can possibly understand, even though I'm trying my best.

What do I do? Tell her not to run? Tell her not to travel? Tell her to avoid crowded places and groups of people and venues of accomplishment?

It could have been her, who -- after losing organs early in life -- might have lost her legs moments before or after crossing the line. Or have that day of triumph cut-short. Or look back and realize she only just avoided the catastrophes that others took in full brunt.

It could have been her on the sidelines, cheering me on. It could have been me on the sidelines, cheering her on. No, it would have been. No question. Unless of course I'd been running it with her.

It's simply very personal. I can (maybe too easily) transfer my alternate reality to the actual reality that occurred. I can feel the pain.

Certainly, I'm not alone.

The reactions to Boston are not universal, but there are striking themes. My favorite so far is resolve. After all, they're messing with runners here.

My friend Mike Arabia, who is training for his own Lake Tahoe Ironman, posted this:

"As much as I am not a Celtics, Red Sox, or Patriots fan, I am a fan of the human race. The tragedies that occurred earlier today in Boston anger me to no end. It was  a senseless crime against the whole global running community, the global community of sports, and to the non-political human race. I refuse to believe (and jump on the bandwagon) that it was a crime against the USA. I feel horrible for the victims and their families, and hope that their lives find peace soon. My faith in the good in people was confirmed in hearing of countless stories of runners going to donate blood, Bostonians opening their homes to those displaced, and the acts of first responders running into buildings that had just exploded. This act of violence could only have been committed to break the spirit of those who want to achieve great things... to kill the dreams of average people that they, too, can qualify for and compete in the most prestigious running races. Well let me tell you something. It didn't kill my spirit. It fueled it. My new found goal is to qualify for Boston. I'm going to run that race, and I'll run it to honor the people who died today."

So in answer to my own question, do I tell Bridgette not to run? 

Of course not.

Do I shelter her so she never sees the destructive bits of humanity? 

Unrealistic and unproductive.

Can I help her be the good we need in the world? 

I hope so.

Being grounded and scared is exactly the opposite of everything I want for her and her life. It's the opposite of what I want for anyone, anywhere.

Patton Oswalt wrote the following (excerpts) in the Huffington Post:

"I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem -- one human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths. 

"But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. ... This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in a while, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

"But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evildoers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

"So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, 'The good outnumber you, and we always will.'"

It's a challenge. It's one more challenge.

And in my household, we have a tendency to work with our challenges toward freer living.

It's time to pop back up and say, "I okay."

Bridgette will be one of the youngest, smallest (and cutest) runners in the kids race in two weeks. And I'll be by her side like I've always been by her side.

And she and I will take on the world, so stand back or come along.

Let's run.


HappYness said...

I adore you, Kelly Hoose Johnson.

Lore said...

I, too, felt the events in Boston very personally. As you said, and I could also, "It could have been my daughter." But, I can also add, "It could have been my granddaughter," too.

Having been aware of Bridgette's registration in and excitement for her first race immediately prior to the bombings in Boston, the poignancy did not escape me. Knowing your work towards your own races, and the friendships and bonds being forged, knowing of the excitement of the families and friends of racers as they wait at the finish line (which could be any one of us, my loved ones) - it tears at my heartstrings.

Yesterday, I watched one video, with sound off (seeing was enough, I didn't need to hear it too, and one video was all I could handle), and cried all the way through it. Oh, such needless, senseless violence! And, oh, such extraordinary acts of caring, heroism, service, and compassion that followed. Immediate evidence of "the vast majority stand[ing] against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evildoers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak."

Humanity is, will be, must be "okay."

Love you.

Kristin said...

You Rock...I want to be you when I grow up!!!

mjj321 said...

When is Bridgette's race? Let us know. Grandma will be there! Love you lots.

Unknown said...

Nice. Beautiful.

Marilyn Bunderson said...

Nicely written.

Lore said...

Happy racing tomorrow, Bridgette! Please write a post to let us know how it goes, Kel.