We Hope To Enjoy a Few More

The other night my family went out to dinner. Shortly after we were seated, the hostess ushered an elderly couple to the booth adjacent to our table. The gentleman pushed his wife in a wheelchair, helped to gently lift her thin frame into the booth, folded the wheelchair, and then wheeled the chair to the waiting area to clear the restaurant aisle. When he returned, he carried a cushion that he tucked between the wooden back of the booth and his wife's back.

I didn't want to stare, but I couldn't help but notice that her hands visibly shook as she held her utensils. I was somehow happily surprised to see that she ordered a rack of barbecue ribs -- a full rack, at that. He ate a hamburger. They talked quietly, and I noticed how they both periodically looked over at our kids, smiling as my youngest daughter held up an especially long French fry as it were something really special, and my middle daughter pretended to bite it in mid-air and snatch it from her dangling grasp.

When we left the restaurant, I felt the urge to stop at their table and say something, even though I didn't quite have the words to express that I somehow felt drawn to them, their togetherness, their collectively kind demeanor, their decision to order ribs and a burger.

So, instead of eloquently articulating any of those thoughts, I offered a friendly, if generic, greeting, and told them I hoped they were enjoying their meal. Then I tacked on, "How long have you been married?"

The man smiled and said, "Sixty seven years."

But it was his next sentence that made the entire night worth it: "And we hope to enjoy a few more."

We hope to enjoy a few more.

That's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. 

I Can Do Hard Things

I signed up to run another half-marathon. Part of me wants to tell you that I made this choice in a moment of weakness, but that would be inaccurate. It was a moment of ill-perceived strength. You see, a few months ago I accompanied my husband to the marathon he was running and got caught up in the celebratory atmosphere -- runners lifting their arms victoriously as they crossed the finish line, the shiny medals, the supportive crowd holding encouraging signs, the free bananas.  

Although it's been nearly three years since I ran a race of any legitimate distance, I thought, "I should do this again."

So I signed up for a race in early October. This seemed like an excellent idea until last week when I was running a 6-mile route in 85 degrees weather and (I'm pretty sure) 112% humidity. My thoughts were a bit muddled, but they followed this vein: Wait one moment. What am I doing exactly? Why have I willingly paid actual money to run 13.1 miles? Am I some sort of masochist? Why would anyone ever do this to themselves? Are my wrists sweating? How is it possible that even my wrists are sweating?

Then I proceeded to inelegantly blow my nose on my tank top and contemplate dying on the side of the path.

But somewhere in the far recesses of my mind, another thought surfaced: I can do this. I can do hard things.

From that point forward with each step I took, that mantra kept scrolling in my thoughts. You can do this, Robin. Keep going. Sure it's hard, but you've done hard things before. You can do hard things.

Now, I'd love to tell you that my pace quickened, I found newfound cardiovascular reserves, and my final mile was one for the record books, but that's not the case. The rest of the run was pretty ugly. My eyes stung from sweat, my ankle felt funny, and I had sections when I slowed my already-slow gait to a pace that might best be described as glacial.

But I did it. I covered the distance, even if it wasn't pretty. I'm really proud of that particular run.

When I think back on my running -- these seven or eight other times over the past years when I've had either the grit or stupidity to sign up for these half-marathons -- I realize that the runs I'm most proud of aren't my fastest and best. In fact, they're normally not even the actual races themselves, but rather the nondescript training runs when I struggled, but continued on nonetheless.

Something shifts inside you when you remind yourself that you can do hard things. The physical process of running reminds me of this in highly visceral ways, but the general principle is apt for all facets of life. I think about the motto that our local elementary school principal has taught my daughters over the years: "Get grit. Don't quit." I think about how rewarding it is to work -- really work -- for something, how important it is to have mental toughness, how resistance invites growth, and even how it's necessary to teach this lesson to the next generation and coach my children to cultivate resilience so they're not crushed by challenges and setbacks.

If signing up for a half-marathon is what reminds me of this, then bring it on. I can do this. I can do hard things

So can you.

Going Off The Grid

You know that moment when you exit a highway and, accustomed to moving at 70 miles per hour, you find it strange to acclimate to a slower speed?  That's how I feel in July. You see, late one evening I was surrounded by papers, rubrics, and end-of-semester spreadsheets, looking like this:

And early the next morning -- quite literally fifteen minutes after uploading final grades -- we loaded our family into a minivan that looked like this:

And five hours later we arrived at our destination (Bethany Beach, Delaware) where we encountered views like this:

It was lovely. There's nothing quite like ending a semester by putting 270 miles between you and campus.

Now we're back home again, and I'm falling into the rhythm of July, the one month that I don't teach. There's no real rhythm to July. My days are loosely structured. I drive my kids to places. I clean. I gather things for our annual garage sale. I cross off items from my to-do list as I complete small projects around the house. I read books. I drive my kids to even more places. I slowly try to build some running stamina again. I sometimes go a full 24 hours without checking my work email. I go off the grid.

July reminds me what it's like to be, not just to do, while also daily reminding me that my hair and humidity don't get along well. It's a quirky kind of a month -- a bit slow and sticky, speckled with moments when I feel unproductive and off-kilter because I'm not used to downshifting. I almost feel guilty.

But I'm learning. Yesterday afternoon I took my kids to the pool, and although it had been hot and humid, I sat on the side while they swam. Finally, after finishing the chapter I was reading and tucking in my book mark, I walked to the deep end and jumped in -- no hemming and hawing, no slow wading into the shallows, no deliberating whether I should get my hair wet.

I just jumped, at first shocked by the contrasting cold, then entirely refreshed.

It reminds me: when life opens up and refreshment is there for the taking, whether a dip in a pool on a scorching day or a few weeks when I'm relieved of my teaching schedule, it's okay to embrace it. It's okay to yield, to let go of the structure, to relinquish control, to forgo the urge to always adhere to a productive routine. Because, Lord knows, the break is only temporary.

Sometimes it's smart to jump in without overthinking. When refreshment is there for the taking, just take it.
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