Tag Archives: identity

Monday Runday: On (Not) Being a Runner

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m recovering from a stress fracture in my tibia. It’s my first running injury in almost five years of running.

Three important things have happened recently:

1. This weekend I missed my first scheduled race as a result of this injury. I hated it. And there will be many many more.

2. I reached the halfway point of my 12-week recovery time last Thursday. I am now closer to the next time I will run (November 5) than the last time I ran (August 13).

3. After several weeks with zero pain, my leg has started hurting again. It comes and goes and is a 1 on the pain scale, but still–it aches.

Obviously #3 may impact #2. And that sucks.

My current theory is that I’ve been walking too much. “Every step you take will set you back,” the doctor said ominously when he gave me the diagnosis. I’m certainly not walking for exercise, but come on. I chase around three kids and just moved to a four-level townhouse in a walking-oriented suburb. We walk our kids to school and back. The commercial center is pedestrian-friendly and ringed by parking garages. There’s Target and the grocery store and Costco.

I may be the only person in the market for a Fitbit so I can limit the number of steps I take.

I’ve been doing too much.

That’s the thing about recovery–whether it’s from injury, illness, childbirth, maybe addiction recovery too.

You don’t get to decide how much your body or spirit can take.
You don’t get to decide what you can get away with.
You don’t get to decide what “too much” is.

I loathe that.

Meanwhile I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a runner. I have friends who run but don’t claim the name because they think they’re not fast enough / dedicated enough / knowledgeable enough. I used to be that way. I ran, and that was enough. I didn’t need the noun, the verb worked just fine for me.

But at the heart of it, I agree with those who say “If you run, you’re a runner.” There’s no entrance exam or minimum pace or uniform. If you lace up shoes and hit the road or trail or track, you’re a runner.

A runner is one who runs.
Except now I’m not running.
Therefore…

Lots of runner friends jumped in to reassure me. You’re still a runner! You’re recovering from an injury, but you fully intend to get back to running. You’re doing everything in your power to be back out there again! (Including pool running, which is the most ridiculous-looking exercise that doesn’t involve Sweatin’ to the Oldies.)

My friends are right. I’m doing everything I can so I can resume this unexpected passion of mine. And I love them for those affirmations. But I finally figured out something important: I wasn’t needing reassurance that I was still a runner. I was wanting to try on the identity of not-runner, at least for this 12 weeks.

Because while I expect to make a full recovery–in the universe’s timing, not mine, dangit–there’s a possibility that I will not be able to run as much as I did before. Or I won’t run at all. That’s not the injury talking. That’s life talking. No guarantees, folks. That’s what item #3 above has reminded me–you can do the best you can and still, the hand gets dealt to you.

So rather than find a way to continue to claim the title runner for the next six weeks, what’s exciting me more is to let a beloved part of myself go and realize that the world doesn’t end. There’s great freedom in trying on new things. Swimmer. Biker. Spectator. Cheerleader. Person who sleeps in on the weekends instead of lacing up shoes at 5 in the morning.

Let me be clear–I’m not saying other injured or sidelined runners are no longer runners. I’m saying for me it’s been fun to live my life independent of that identity I jumped headlong into five years ago.

I ran into this Roald Dahl quote recently:

RoaldDahl_01

As a high school senior I had a teacher for AP English that I absolutely loved. I remember asking her to sign my yearbook at the end of the year. I secretly hoped she’d write that I was her star student, the best student she’d ever had. Instead she wrote, “It’s rare to have a student who loves the class as much as I do.” In retrospect, that affirmation has probably served me better.

Go at it full speed, even if it’s swimming speed.
Embrace it with both arms, even if “it” is a set of handlebars.
Lukewarm is no good.

“Will You Kiss the Leper Clean?” — On Ebola and Our ‘Tribes’

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President Bartlet: Why is a Kundunese life worth less to me than an American life?
Will Bailey: I don’t know, sir, but it is.

-The West Wing, season 4 episode 14, “Inauguration, Part 1”

Yesterday I attended a workshop led by Brian McLaren, author of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?*: Christian Identity in a Multi‐Faith World.

McLaren likes to mix things up in his work, blending Bible, theology, history and anthropology. He talked about our evolutionary history as a species—a story of expansion and migration from the southern part of Africa to all of the world’s major land masses in about 130,000 years. What allowed this expansion to happen? Our identity as tribal beings, McLaren argues. We cohere into groups. We put on our “tribal paint.” Sometimes that’s literal identifying marks—gang signs? hipster glasses? tricorn hats and NRA t-shirts? Sometimes it’s a religious or political doctrine to define who’s in and out.

And we band together against common enemies and threats. “When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves,” he said, quoting this article by Jonathan Haidt in the New York Times, called “Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness.”

There’s evidence that this tribalism is hard-wired. Young children naturally gravitate to people who are like them, racially and socially.

Jesus, by contrast, breaks down this tribal identity in the gospels, constantly lifting up the dignity of those on the margins and outside of the club. It’s interesting to relate this posture of Jesus to the idea of his being “without sin,” or fully divine as well as fully human. Is there something about our tribal, with-us-or-against-us mentality that is fundamentally flawed, even sinful?

Sure, it’s the evolutionary mechanism by which we expanded and thrived as a species. But now a new evolutionary shift is necessary—because our tribe is the whole human race. Globalism means that what impacts people across the world will inevitably affect us here, sooner or later. Just look at climate change. Yes, more vulnerable populations will feel those effects sooner than more affluent ones. But we will all be affected, no matter what our tribe.

Or take Ebola. This past summer, when the death toll was confined to West Africa, I heard lots of genuine concern and sadness expressed… often followed by the sotto voce comment: “I just hope it doesn’t come here.”

Well, Ebola is on our shores now. How could it not be thus? As David Wilcox sings, “There is no more far away.” We may still have our tribes, but these tribes mix and infiltrate and bump up against one another on a massive scale, the likes of which we’ve not seen in those 130,000 years. Our ability to survive and thrive will depend on our ability to transcend our own tribalism, in effect to go against our own evolutionary wiring.

As a Christian, I see Jesus as the model for that work, though there are other models as well. But we know it when we see it—stunning examples of people going beyond their own self-interest and those of their immediate tribe. Sacrificial love. Love that costs something.

Consider this heartbreaking story from StoryCorps about nurses in Sierra Leone, and how difficult it has been not to offer basic human expressions of care to those who are grieving. Imagine not being able to hug someone who’s lost 10 members of their family.

One day, an Ebola-infected mother brought her baby into a hospital, Purfield recalls. The mother died, and the baby was left in a box.

“They tested the baby, and the baby was negative,” says Purfield. “But I think the symptoms in babies and the disease progression in babies is different than adults.

“So the nurses would pick up and cuddle the baby. And they were taking care of the baby in the box,” she continues.

Twelve of those nurses subsequently contracted Ebola, Purfield says. Only one survived.

“They couldn’t just watch a baby sitting alone in a box,” Dynes says.

The title of this post is from a popular Christian hymn called “The Summons” by John Bell. It’s been going through my head since the Ebola outbreak began. Those nurses who cared for that infant, refusing to let it just be a baby in the box, “kissed the leper clean.” But it may have cost them their lives. I hate that it did—I want such heroic love to be rewarded. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s not helpful for the good ones to die—we need their like to propagate. And I want nurses and doctors to take appropriate precautions.

But perhaps such stories can live on, to tug at our humanity and to inspire and direct us to seek out the path of sacrificial love, regardless of tribe.

~

*Why did they cross the road? To get to the “other.”

photo credit: Dietmar Temps via photopin cc

Friday Link Love: Tickling, Ambition, Funky Geometry, and More

Away we go!

~

Mrs. Melissa Christ — New Yorker

I tweeted and FBed this but if you missed it:

Then Jesus came over and introduced himself and we chitchatted about everything, from keeping the Sabbath to how we both felt really sorry for the lame. Then I asked Jesus about his family, and he said, “My father is a carpenter,” and I could feel myself getting all flushed as I immediately thought, Hello, new coffee table.

~

I Giggle, Therefore I Am — Slate

How tickling helps us know we exist:

“When you look at the evolution of the development of tickle, you’re also looking at the evolution of the development of self,” he says.  What’s at work in tickling, he argues, is the neurological basis for the separation of self from other. After all, as Provine noted so indelicately, you can’t tickle yourself. Your body knows that you are you; you can’t fool it. “Otherwise you’d go through life in a giant chain reaction of goosiness,” Provine says. “You’d be afraid of your own clothing if you could never distinguish between touching and being touched.”

When a baby senses a foreign hand lightly brushing his bare feet, he’s experiencing something that is recognizably other—which means that there’s something that isn’t other, too: There’s himself.

So if you don’t like being tickled, does that mean you aren’t self-differentiated or something?

~

What God Can Do — Rachel Hackenburg

A friend and I talk a lot about ambition—how does this work in a Christian context which emphasizes virtues of cooperation and humility? Pride is one of the deadlies, eh? Rachel provides some good fodder as well as some blunt honesty:

I want to be great. I want to be great at everything I do, and I give myself a hard time for not being brilliantly excellent 100% of the time — as a pastor, a preacher, a mother, a writer. I long to be stellar … and not just to be stellar, but to be known for being stellar. It’s entirely vain of me, and I want to repent of it as soon as I see it glaring in front of me. But the desire always returns. I’ll see news on Facebook about a clergy colleague’s invitation to the White House, or about another mother who is teaching her children how to cook five-star meals after they finish their homework each day, or about a writer friend who’s on his fifth book … and the demon wells up again: “I want to be great too! I want people to see that I’m great.”

~

Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing — 99U

Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

~

Meet the Hexaflexagon — io9

And it will indeed blow your mind:

First discovered in the 1930s by a daydreaming student named Arthur H. Stone, flexagons have attracted the curiosity of great scientists for decades, including Stone’s friend and colleague Richard Feynman. Here, the ever-capable Hart introduces the folding, pinching, rotating, multifaceted geometric oddity with her signature brand of rapid-fire wit and exposition. She even shows you how to make your own.

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Eternal Clock Could Keep Time after Universe Dies — Scientific American

I can’t speak to the science of this, but the idea of such a clock makes me feel all fizzy inside.

The idea for an eternal clock that would continue to keep time even after the universe ceased to exist has intrigued physicists. However, no one has figured out how one might be built, until now.

Researchers have now proposed an experimental design for a “space-time crystal” that would be able to keep time forever. This four-dimensional crystal would be similar to conventional 3D crystals, which are structures, like snowflakes and diamonds, whose atoms are arranged in repeating patterns. Whereas a diamond has a periodic structure in three dimensions, the space-time crystal would be periodic in time as well as space.

Too bad Madeleine L’Engle is no longer with us.

~

Hacking Habits: How to Make New Behaviors Last for Good — 99U

Seems very sound to me:

Habits consist of a simple, but extremely powerful, three-step loop. Here’s Duhigg:

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is areward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop… becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.

The first rule of habit-changing is that you have to play by the rules. That is, there’s no escaping the three-step loop (e.g. cue, routine, reward) because it’s hard-wired into our brains.

~

I will be off the next week. (Gasp!) I’m spending the weekend with friends, then attending the Presbyterian CREDO Conference at Mo-Ranch. I am very psyched to be there, having heard universally positive things about this gathering. I also have many dear friends who will be there too.

If I blog, they will be photo-blogs, which I sometimes do as a spiritual discipline when I’m away on retreat, to get myself beyond the words that so often fill my days.

Or I may not feel guided towards that at all. We will see.

Breaking in Interesting Ways

My friend Keith Snyder, a music geek, recently tweeted a line from Brian Eno: “Analog synthesizers break in interesting ways. Digital synthesizers just break.”

Keith has made that line into a prayer:

May I continue to break in interesting ways.

That may be a strange place to start talking about a beautiful change, but stick with me.

I hit two personal milestones recently. First, I ran a 10K race. That was big for me. Until a year ago I had never run for more than a few minutes at a time. Ever. I was the smart one, you see, and the musical one, but never the athletic one. My body was the thing that carried my brain around. Aside from the occasional mountain hike while on vacation, and an intermittent practice of walking to stay in basic shape, I was a sedentary type.

But at 40, with a father who dropped dead from cardiac stuff at age 56, getting in better shape felt non-negotiable—the reasonable thing to do from an actuarial standpoint. That’s how the running started. Of course, it’s become something deeper than that.

Before I ran the 10K (6.2 miles for the metrically challenged), I’d never run farther than 5 miles in training. When I reached mile 5 at the race, I thought, This is as far as I’ve ever gone. Beyond this point, it’s all new. That’s a wonderful thing.

Indeed, my whole life feels that way in this, my fifth decade. I’m not a rookie in ministry anymore; I’m not the mother of little ones anymore; as of this fall I will be a published writer. Lauren Winner talks in her latest book about reinventing oneself every ten years. That’s happening, through my own volition and beyond it.

Among other things, running for me means embracing a blessed mediocrity. I’m not a fast runner; Robert has described my gait as “a bit loping.” I’ve never experienced a runner’s high. I like races because the crowd and the music provide a boost that my body chemistry seems unwilling to muster. I love the feeling of having run, but running itself is frequently a chore. At last month’s race, I was second to last in my age group, and way down in the bottom third overall.

Yet I do it. And there’s something liberating about doing something badly by most objective standards. I’m a perfectionist, you know. I like setting a goal and reaching for the top, and if I’m not good at something, eh…easy come, easy go. With so many luscious possibilities in this life, more than I could ever undertake, such a standard may not be the best way to discern what’s mine to do, but it’s what works.

Or has worked in the past. Something in me had to “break in an interesting way” for me to start running—to do this thing that’s never been part of my self-understanding. Something shattered in my brittle, do-it-well-or-don’t-do-it exoskeleton.

And thank heaven it did. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, in more ways than one.

I now ask myself: What else could I do badly for the sheer satisfaction of it?

~

The second health-related milestone happened a few days ago. I hit my weight-loss goal of 40 pounds.

I’m no numerologist, but there is significance in the numbers. James weighs about 40 pounds, so every time I pick up his stocky four-year-old frame I think to myself, This is the weight I carried around all the time nine months ago. It seems fitting somehow: in another year, James will be in kindergarten. There are no babies or toddlers in my house anymore. It feels right that as I move into another phase as a mother, my body would look different.

Also, it took me nine months to lose the weight. Is it an exaggeration to say that a new person has been born? Perhaps. But as with the running, something in me had to break in order for this change to occur. Caring for myself—I mean really caring, not punishing myself until I shrink down into some “acceptable” size—requires a certain vulnerability. I can do all the right things, as many people do, but there will always be aspects of our health that are beyond our control. Life is a genetic and environmental crap shoot. That’s an uncomfortable truth to face. Denial feels easier sometimes.

Another thing that had to break: a rigid expectation of what I would look like as a 40 year old with a normal BMI.

Hint: it’s not like a 20 year old.

Don’t get me wrong, I look different than I did when I was a new mother, with all my ample post-pregnancy curves. But as I’ve left 40 pounds behind on so many jogging trails and city streets, I’ve been amazed at the parts of me that haven’t been magically transformed. There is still…a thickness. A settledness. This body will never be that of a college student. Or a newlywed. Or a non-mother. As that great philosopher Indiana Jones says, “It’s not the years…it’s the mileage.”

And I’m grateful for every one of those miles.

On (Not) Being a Runner

This is a re-post from several months ago on the RunRevRun website. It’s been on my mind lately, because my thinking is shifting on this topic. Being and doing, doing and being…

– – – – – – – –

I began the Couch to 5K program a few months ago. I wasn’t exactly starting from “couch”—I’ve been doing brisk walking several times a week for more than a year—and my fitness goal is not really to run a 5K, but to hike Mount Washington in New Hampshire this summer. I’ve hiked big mountains before, in various states of fitness, but it’s so much more enjoyable when you’re not wheezing your way up and stopping every ten yards to massage your charley horses. And since there’s no “couch to Mt. Washington” program, Couch to 5K is getting the job done.

Although I started this program to get myself up the mountain, I can see myself continuing it indefinitely, maybe even graduating to the 10k version. I’ve been an evangelist for this program on Twitter, Facebook and in real life. I’m grateful for the impact it’s had on my health and want to share it, but there’s also a selfish motive: I’m telling people far and wide to keep me accountable to continue. Along the way I have been very insistent with folks: “I run, but I’m not a runner.” This has been an oft-repeated refrain:

Oh, MaryAnn’s a runner now.
Actually, no I’m not.
But aren’t you in this running program?
Yes. But I’m not a runner.

What’s that about?

Why am I so reluctant to call myself a runner?

First off, I wonder what it means to be a runner. What exactly is a runner? Isn’t it simply “one who runs”? I think I have an image in my mind of a perfectly toned body, or a person obsessed with getting the right shoes, entering races, and reading Runner’s World, a magazine I wouldn’t even know existed were it not for the cover photo of Sarah Palin that emerged during the 2008 presidential election. I’m not really interested in running as a hobby. But is that really what it means to be a runner? Or is that just stereotypical stuff that’s not real?

Maybe I feel like I haven’t been doing it long enough to claim the identity of runner. I’m OK with the verb form—I run—but not with the noun—runner.

Am I giving myself an easy out by being Not a Runner? We are stuck with so many identities that we can’t shed in this life. I will be the daughter of my parents and the mother of my children forever. Maybe I resist calling myself a runner because I need to be free to have something in my life that I can quit without angst. Or that I can do badly. Intermittently.

Maybe I’m reluctant to call myself a runner because I’m playing old tapes about myself that aren’t helpful anymore. I was the slow kid on the softball team, the one the coach (my dad) would position at second base. It was a good fit for me because I had decent eye-hand coordination but couldn’t run very long without tiring. The best hit of my life would’ve been a home run with anyone else rounding the bases, but instead I was tagged out at home. By my best friend.

So, no. Not a runner.

My teams in school were theater/speech and Academic Decathlon.

But maybe that kind of baggage isn’t healthy. Over the last nine weeks I’ve been getting faster (slightly) and stronger (definitely). My endurance is increasing. Our bodies are for much more than brain housing and transport. Our bodies are built to dance, kneel, eat, love. Some of our bodies are built to grow other bodies and to push them out into the world. I get that in ways I didn’t understand when I was a kid.

As a pastor, I wonder about all this. I sometimes meet people who want to find a new term for “Christian.” They feel that the “brand” is fundamentally corrupted by people they see as judgmental, rancorous, loudmouthed. I’m not sure I agree that the word is irredeemable, but I sympathize with their struggle to find a label that fits.

I also know plenty of people who don’t identify themselves as Christian but whose behavior sure looks Christ-like to me. And I know Christians who are Christians in name only. I like it when people say they are seeking to follow in the way of Jesus. I can relate; it sounds like “I run but I’m not a runner.” And yet, belonging to Christ isn’t just what we do. It’s who we are; it is an identity.

I don’t know where all of these questions will lead me. Maybe someday I will consider myself a runner. Maybe I will continue to run and never take on that label. Maybe I will stop running and move on to some other physical activity. I expect that whatever I do, it will be in that strange space where action and identity intersect, where doing and being reside together.

Meanwhile, I pound the pavement.

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Image: Map of the 10K I ran last weekend. Funny, it looks a lot flatter on paper.