I try to run every now and then. Or, really, to jog. I don’t have much interest in a flat-out run. Even when I played competitive sports, I was the last to the line in every sprint. When I first started attempting to put jogging into my life on a regular basis as an adult, a friend told me to never waste a downhill – to always run a downhill to get a breather. Here in the southern Appalachians, there are a whole lot of hills. There is one really great flat run in town by the French Broad River, and I always feel like such a better runner when I get the chance to follow that path. But the more accessible run – the one that is just outside my front door through the streets of West Asheville – that one has hills. Today was a day I got a couple of hours to myself, and so I went out my front door in my running shoes and began to do my meandering jog. It felt great. As I reached my turn around point, I realized why – I had pretty much been running downhill for 25 minutes.
Like thousands of other people, today is a complicated day for me. Full of angst and grief at not being the mom I had always wanted to be for my Abigail, feeling her absence more keenly as parades of moms and daughters walk past me at church, and stand in line for brunch at the neighborhood eateries and the long stretch of hours until Tuesday afternoon and I see her again. She taught me, and still does, that I can be a mom despite – and maybe because of – my multiple levels of baggage and failure. And at the same time, as I sat with tears streaming in church today, there are acres of gratitude for my Marley, an unplanned for and completely unexpected gift of a child who I get to love and parent and learn from in a hundred ways each day. She, too, reminds me that it is not my failures that define me, but instead the expansive grace and love that forms me in my very real and messy and chaotic humanness.
I think there are probably not many downhills for very many folks that do their best to show up, in all of their humanness, for life. Certainly there are not for me. It’s when I am going uphill, I realized today, that I pay a whole lot more attention to what is around me – ‘cause I need every bit of it to make it to the top. A spot of shade, a more gentle span of road, an encouraging smile from the guy mowing his grass. A second chance, even, at love and marriage and parenthood in the climb out of the ashes of other dreams.
And the 25 minutes uphill to get back home today? Well, I walked the last 15. And was grateful for every step.