Go Until No

The Steeple Chasers, 2015

It’s September, which means it’s Ragnar Relay time for me. Ragnar is an event in which teams of twelve people take turns running for some two days straight, through day and night, rain and shine, cold and heat. As I write this, our team is preparing to run next weekend from Cumberland, MD to Washington DC, a distance of 200 miles. Each of us will run three legs for a total of thirteen to twenty-plus miles. (I’m somewhere in the middle at eighteen.) As each runner completes their leg, vans carry the other runners to the next checkpoint, along with a considerable amount of gear. When the previous runner reaches the checkpoint, that person passes along the metal bracelet to the next runner, and off they go.

This is my fourth year to captain a Ragnar Relay team, and as I prepare this year, I can’t help but remember two years ago, when we made our race preparations with one eye on the Weather Channel. Hurricane Joaquin was wreaking havoc on the Bahamas and threatening the mid-Atlantic—exactly where we’d be running in a few days’ time. Forecasters were having a hard time predicting exactly where Joaquin would go, but it was looking more and more like we were in for a soggy race.

Rain we could handle, but what about winds? Flying debris? Flash floods? One member of our team was blunt: “I have serious concerns about doing this race.” Another quickly jumped in to agree. Others weren’t sure. They were willing to try it, but this is a team event, and they didn’t want to appear to be strong-arming the reluctant folks. Besides, wouldn’t Ragnar personnel cancel such a large endeavor if it were unsafe? They were certainly watching the weather at least as closely as we were!

Finally, as captain I felt I needed to make a call. “Anyone who feels uncomfortable with moving forward is welcome to back out with no hard feelings,” I said. “We’ll miss you, but we’ll muddle through. But as a team, we are going to proceed until it becomes clear we shouldn’t. We don’t have enough information to make the call to cancel. Things could work out fine. Or we may reach a decisive point at which it’s unsafe (or no longer fun), at which time we will stop. I trust that we’ll recognize that point when we get there. Until that time, we are moving forward.”

So we packed our vans, just like we’d planned, and we headed to Maryland. Only one of the 36 legs ended up being canceled due to water. The rest were soggy, and some were cold. But we completed the relay. One foot in front of the other, one runner at a time, with a van leapfrogging our path, we did it.

I have since come to call this approach “Go until No.” It happens often in life, that we have to make a decision without having the whole picture. My natural inclination is to stay put until I work out all the details so I can make a risk-free decision. Or I pre-emptively say no to an exciting possibility if there’s a chance it won’t work out. But sometimes we don’t get the full picture until we commit ourselves and take a step forward. As has been attributed to St. Augustine, “solvitur ambulando”: it is solved by walking.

Go until No requires you to trust that your intuition will tell you what you need to know even if it hasn’t yet. It requires you to have faith in the future—not that the future will work out the way you hope, but that it will provide the clarity you need to either keep going, change direction, or turn back.

We’ve had plenty of people come and go on our Ragnar team over our four years together. But I think it’s significant that of those twelve runners in 2015, fully seven of them have been back every year since, and an eighth one is only missing this year’s race due to a family conflict. Certainly, doing something crazy under adverse conditions—and living to tell the tale—bonds a group like few other things do. But I also like to think we grew closer because of our commitment to “Go until No.” What we did was take a leap into the unknown together—and we not only survived, but we thrived. For 200 miles.

Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. If you’d like to receive twice-monthly reflections right to your inbox, subscribe.

Here are my recaps about the 2014 and 2015 Ragnar experience.

Ten for Tuesday: Fight Back with Beauty. Also Mom Jokes and David Brooks TP

The links are suuuuper random this week. And maybe that’s OK, in a week of hurricanes and earthquakes and 9/11 memories and more more more. Give to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance or the organization of your choice. Write a letter. Reach out to a neighbor.

Read. And yes, laugh. Onward:

1. In 8 Words, Uber’s New CEO Gave a Master Class in Leadership

Those 8 words:

I have to tell you I am scared.

Love it. As the article says, “Vulnerability is an underrated leadership skill.” Indeed.

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2. Moms with a Sense of Humor

The other day I asked if there was a difference between mom jokes and dad jokes. No conclusions reached, but there is some silly, funny stuff here. Nothing particularly high minded, just enjoy:

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3. David Brooks Toilet Paper

This is similarly silly, but I’m sharing it because my disdain for NYT columnist David Brooks is so legendary that several friends sent me a link to this product. (It’s all in good fun, folks.)

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4. If you’re right about your fat friend’s health.

I just finished Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, which was beautiful and painful to read. This blog covers similar territory, in short form.

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5. A boy told his teacher she can’t understand him because she’s white. Her response is on point.

“We studied the works of Sandra Cisneros, Pam Munoz Ryan, and Gary Soto, with the intertwined Spanish language and Latino culture — so fluent and deep in the memories of my kids that I saw light in their eyes I had never seen before.

Empathy, empathy, empathy. It’s just that easy and just that hard.

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6. I Saw His Humanity: ‘Reveal’ Host On Protecting Right-Wing Protester

Speaking of empathy:

About 150 members of anti-facist groups — also known as antifa or black bloc protesters — also were there, marching in formation with covered faces. Then a couple of people from the right-wing did show up.

That’s when Al Letson, host of the investigative radio program and podcast Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, saw one right-wing man fall to the ground, and some left-wing antifa protesters beating him.

Letson jumped on top of the guy to protect him, because, he says, he didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

“And you know, in retrospect, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t see my humanity, what matters to me is that I see his. What he thinks about me and all of that… my humanity is not dependent upon that.”

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7. The Confederate General Who Was Erased

Some years ago, I went to a conference in Charleston. During a free moment, I strolled down to an old marketplace where I browsed the shops — all of which, it seemed, specialized in Confederate memorabilia. In search of a small gift for my son, I wandered among stacks of toy rifles, piles of Confederate belt buckles, and displays of battle flag bumper-stickers. At some point my eye caught a large framed lithograph of Robert E. Lee and the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia entitled “Lee and His Generals.” Inspecting it, I saw that something — or rather, someone — was missing. I was looking for a tiny, bearded, Major General, a divisional commander who was with Lee at Appomattox and who shared in the decision to surrender that April day in 1865. I was looking for General William Mahone of Virginia, and I did not find him because he was not there.

A native Virginian, a railroad magnate, a slaveholder, and an ardent secessionist, Mahone served in the Confederate army throughout the war. He was one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s most able commanders, distinguishing himself particularly in the summer of 1864 at the Battle of the Crater outside Petersburg. After the war, Robert E. Lee recalled that, when contemplating a successor, he thought that Mahone “had developed the highest qualities for organization and command.”

How did such a high-ranking Confederate commander wind up missing in action in a Charleston gift shop? Not, I think, by accident.

Read more about this fascinating figure, and what his lack of prominence among the statues of the confederacy might say about the motivations behind their existence.

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8. Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg re-enact sensual ‘Ghost’ scene (with cake!)

More silliness… BUT the friendship between these two gives me a giddy sort of hope for humanity.

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9. Huntsville woman fights hate left in disturbing driveway deliveries

This week’s Fight Back with Beauty story. If I’d written the headline, I would have put “swords into ploughshares” in there somewhere. Here’s a Facebook post about it:

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10. Top 10 Suggestions for Being Human

A top 10 list to close out a top 10 list. Thank you Jan Edmiston.

Be late for that next meeting if it means helping a stranger in trouble.  I love this story about the bus driver – risking his own job – who ensured a little girl wouldn’t be late for her first day of school.

 

Be Someone

For the past two weeks, I’ve been mulling over something I wanted to share with you.

That will have to wait for another time, because the city of my birth is underwater.

Houston is where I was born, where I went to college, where I met Robert, where we were married, where I felt the call to ministry, and where I was ordained as a minister. Those are the big life moments, but as I see pictures of submerged landmarks and read stories of heroism, I think about the countless ordinary memories that made up a pretty great life there: Humid Friday afternoons at picnic tables on the patio of the Gingerman pub, shaded by live oak trees. Heaping bowls of food at Lai Lai’s Dumpling House, with bags of leftovers at the end. The carefree joy of hopping in the car and, 45 minutes later, being on the sandy shores of the Gulf.

I’m heartened, but not surprised, to read stories of Houstonians coming together as a community. As heartbreaking as the devastation is—multiple dear friends of mine had to flee their homes clutching a backpack of possessions—there’s also something comforting in these stories of neighborliness. Our culture seems so rife with rage and rancor these days; I wonder sometimes whether we can ever be whole again. (Were we ever?) Yet as singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer likes to say, “The things that have always saved us are still here to save us.”  

One of the things that saves us, again and again, is ordinary people stepping up and doing hard things. I read a story of a pastor who was stopping at every submerged car he encountered to make sure nobody was trapped inside. Recognizing the parable of the lost sheep when I see it, I shared it with the comment, “Friends, meet Jesus.” 

We crave such stories. But here’s the thing. We’re in the story too. Sometimes we’re the ones needing rescue. Other times we’re the ones offering a hand. One thing we cannot afford to be is on the sidelines. Not now, not really ever.

Many Houston friends have been sharing the photo of the beloved graffiti above I-45:

I don’t know whether the message is visible in the wake of Harvey, or if it is hiding under slowly receding waters. But it’s a good reminder. There will be no superhero rescue. Yes, it’s valid to expect our leaders to be more courageous, to uphold the values we hold dear. At the same time… we’re it. We, the cranky and the capable; the MAGAs and the bleeding heart liberals, the fearful and the hopeful.

How will you be someone today? May I suggest one small action? My dollars are going to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, an organization with good transparency and a record of effectiveness. It offers resources that are practical, non-sectarian, and inclusive to all—and their work persists for years as they help communities recover and rebuild over the long haul. If not PDA, give what you can to the relief organization of your choice.

Houston proud.

MaryAnn

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Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. If you’d like to receive twice-monthly reflections right to your inbox, subscribe.

What Matters?

Happy August, friends!

Three weeks ago I was in the Collegeville Institute for a week of writing. It was a beautiful and restorative week, and I made some headway on book project #3.

Although the schedule in Collegeville was mostly unstructured, the group did get together in the evenings to talk writing: art, craft and business. One recurring theme was imitation–the tendency (conscious or unconscious) to emulate writers we admire. Consensus seemed to be that imitation was an inevitable part of the process of finding one’s own voice.

One morning I listened to a podcast in which Brian Doyle read from one of his novels. A character, close to death, was asked, “What mattered to you?” He proceeded to offer a litany of ordinary and extraordinary pleasures. I decided to imitate that format as a warmup exercise later that day, and here’s what emerged. I offer it to you unedited.

What Matters?

The crinkles around my husband’s eyes.
The shower as hot as I can stand.
The thin pink insole that slides into every brand-new pair of running shoes.
The dimple on my oldest daughter’s cheek.
The rainbow-colored array of cat ears sported by my middle daughter.
The color blue on the walls in my study.
The coarse earthiness of my son’s tousle of hair.
The hot sun slicing through a cold breeze.
The plop of almond butter into the smoothie.
Real butter melting unapologetically on the muffin or biscuit.
The word “Yes” from my mother’s mouth.
The assurance that we get better.
The bounce of patio chairs.
The words that come, sometimes haltingly, but reliably.
The sacred text that will never stop revealing something new.
The clank of the race medal placed around the neck.
The unrelenting comfort of the training.
The grunt that’s required to get out of a sweaty sports bra.
The grapefruit half, gleaming like a rose window.
The acoustic dampening of a layer of snow.
The comforting heft of a lead apron at the doctor’s office.
A row of canoes and kayaks.
The snap of a swim cap.
The text messages that pick up again no matter how much time has elapsed.
Shade.
Sugar.
Mint.
Surprise.
Any green-blue body of water.
A boarding pass.
Long shadows.
Fireflies.
Maple syrup.
Books, and books, and books.
The new New Yorker.
Sunrise on the Lincoln Memorial.
The good question.
The Perseids.
Rambling stories.
The fragrance emitted when the bread is broken.
Surprised tears.
Views from any high place.
Waterfalls.
Crawfish.
November, which begins with a riot of color and ends with subtle brown beauty.
The weathered Dutch oven that never leaves the stovetop.
Simmering spices.
The crowd in airport baggage claim clothed in hijab, dashiki, sari, turban, flipflops, tattoos.
A dead tree, splayed open in an autopsy of decomposition.

What matters to you?

Peace, Joy and Yes,
MaryAnn

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This reflection was sent to my email newsletter last week. To receive pieces like this straight to your inbox, subscribe.

Photo taken in Collegeville and posted to my Instagram.

Ten for Tuesday–I Have a New Website! Edition

Back from my epic trip, and it’s been so good to sleep in my own bed, run on familiar streets, and make oatmeal just the way I like it.

Onward!

1. ZOOM! Coaching has a website!

My side hustle of personal and professional coaching and running coaching has a web presence now. Check out zoom.coach — yes, I got one of those funky new domains. It’ll be a work in progress, but please share it with any interested folks you may know.

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2. Why We Fell for Clean Eating — The Guardian

Long but interesting article:

For as long as people have eaten food, there have been diets and quack cures. But previously, these existed, like conspiracy theories, on the fringes of food culture. “Clean eating” was different, because it established itself as a challenge to mainstream ways of eating, and its wild popularity over the past five years has enabled it to move far beyond the fringes. Powered by social media, it has been more absolutist in its claims and more popular in its reach than any previous school of modern nutrition advice…

It quickly became clear that “clean eating” was more than a diet; it was a belief system, which propagated the idea that the way most people eat is not simply fattening, but impure.

I have a friend who did one of those Whole-Whatevers that included the elimination of gluten, and now that she’s done with the challenge, she can’t eat it anymore. I have another friend who has legit celiac disease. So what do I know? I eat as many colors as I can, consume good percentages of protein, carbs and fats so I can run well, and try to manage portions and frequency on junk calories, because life’s too short not to eat an occasional Butterfinger.

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3. The International Space Station just pulled off the photobomb of a lifetime

SO COOL:

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4. Hymn by Sherman Alexie

A raw, fierce poem of resistance following Charlottesville.

Why do we measure people’s capacity
To love by how well they love their progeny?

That kind of love is easy. Encoded.
Any lion can be devoted
To its cubs. …

But how much do you love the strange and stranger?
Hey, Caveman, do you see only danger

When you peer into the night? Are you afraid
Of the country that exists outside of your cave?

Hey, Caveman, when are you going to evolve?

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5. Resist and Persist

Speaking of the above, my friend the Rev. Yena Hwang preached this sermon full of love and power on Sunday. Wish I could have heard it. She had me at Brene Brown and Voldemort.

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6. What Obligation Do White Christian Women Have to Speak Out About Politics?

Speaking of the above again, I wish I’d had this interview to hand over to every parishioner (and now, every friend on Facebook) who wants the church to stay out of politics. I agree we should avoid partisanship whenever possible. But if you want the church out of politics, you need a new Bible.

I suspect that [the silence of evangelical women] their silence doesn’t just emerge from a place of fear, although I think it’d be crazy to say that’s not true. Being on the wrong side of the evangelical machine is terrifying and punitive. But I suspect that most of those women in leadership simply don’t want to alienate the people that they’re trying to lead. If there was any check in my spirit, anything that would’ve held me back, it would be that. At the core of our work, we want to be able to lead women spiritually. When we enter into fragile spaces like [politics], we are going to rock the boat, and we’re going to lose some people, and we’re going to make people upset or defensive or confused or disappointed.

The problem is that politics and controversy are inherently human. At the end of every policy is a human being. So I almost don’t know how we stay out of this—it’s actually a luxury of the privileged to stay out of it.

I honestly believe that being uncomfortable is a great deterrent of the church in our generation—that, for whatever reason, we have elevated the majority’s comfort over justice. The truth is, those days are behind us. If we are unwilling to stand by our friends on the margins, then we have no business being leaders.

Boom.

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7. Nick Ulvieri’s Chicago

I love Nick’s Instagram feed, and he has some great shots of the air show in Chicago this weekend:

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8. A controversial California effort to fight climate change just got some good news

If you, like I, needed some good environmental news.

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9. Michael Wardian becomes the second runner to complete the Leadville 100 and Pikes Peak Marathon back-to-back

This guy is a DC local and… wow. Just… I can’t.

Pulling off this rare double entails running 100 miles with an average altitude above 10,000 feet of elevation around Leadville, Colorado, and finishing it quickly enough (about 22 hours or faster) in order to have time to get into a car and drive two hours to the quirky mountain town of Manitou Springs to reach the starting line of the Pikes Peak Marathon at 7 a.m. Sunday morning.

…the Pikes Peak Marathon, of course, is 13.1 miles up… and 13.1 miles down. A mountain. THE mountain.

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10. Adam Hillman’s Geometric Obsessions

One last Instagram feed I love. His work is whimsical and satisfying… and frequently delicious.