Clarity of the Unknown

Maybe it’s the Jeep with its top down, whipping thru the wind on the highway.

Maybe it’s the music playing…a combination of new and old. Of fast and imploring. Of slow and restrained.

Maybe it’s the caffeine from my first cup of coffee in a week starting to work its way thru my veins to my heart and brain.

Maybe it’s the race, that has been front and center in my brain for a month now, finally coming to fruition.

Maybe it’s the actual connection between Chicago and Madison. More than I-90, but where my past and present continue to intersect. The innocence (and obliviousness) of my seventeen year old freshman self on Madison’s campus, to a departing graduate four years later. Or the somewhat irregular path of preparing for this race that leads me to the hills around town and the comfort of nights at the Union Terrace, mingling with friends old and new.

Maybe it’s a combination of the above. All coming to a head. Causing my thoughts, floating, fleeting in my mind’s eye. The solace of this drive, on this night presents itself as a break. From the pager, the phone, the office, the ICU, the emergency of the day… And it’s in this absence of distractions, that I am able to focus in on these flashes of thought. And with focus, the blurred edges in my head evolve to form clarity, but not necessarily comfort.

It’s late Thursday evening on September 8th. Just a few days before the Ironman. Number six. Six times I will have gone down the path of training and preparing. Each year different with its unique set of challenges and pitfalls. Currently the pain in my left foot is this year’s concern and I wonder what is in store for me. An Epic fail on race day with pain too much to bear?  Or will it be controlled and have a potential for a personal best?  The possibilities for the race and its outcome are all there in front me.  Mixing with my fears and pessimism are moments of hope and optimism.  But there is something comforting in knowing there is an end point. That the unknown will become known.  The training, the preparation and now the worrying. There is a definite point in time where this will be over. Specifically sometime during the day of September 11, 2016, I will know the outcome.  It will end. And I will deal with the joy / frustration / pain / excitement / embarrassment of whatever that outcome brings. And I will move on.

But most of life is not like that. More often than not there is no date on the calendar that demarcates the end of one journey and the beginning of the next. Where the potential paths of possibility merge to form a distinct and definitive reality. And as the wind whistles by my ear in the last warmth of the summer, with Bob Mould setting the tempo and the caffeine enhancing it all, my thoughts turn to my family.

It’s been a long and challenging year. That will come as no surprise to those around me. There have been many things I have wrestled with over the last 12 months and I’m sure many will end up being fodder for future blogs. But my focus this night turns to my kids and my relationship with them.  Images of them years ago are so crystal clear on this night. Reading to them in the big chair in their bedroom.  Maya with her curls, Madison with his head buried on my chest, while I read Harry Potter out loud. Playing catch with both of them from the front yard to the back yard and eventually to the park. Exciting Jeep rides in Moab and snorkeling in Hawaii to the mundane early Saturday mornings forcing them to come with me to Starbucks for my morning coffee.  But they are not little anymore. The memories are there but those days are long gone. And what used to be the blank empty canvas of their future is starting to be filled in. Not by the projections of their father,  but by their own passions and dreams and worries and fears.  They are taking the beginning baby steps of finding their own way… I find it ironic that I, at my age of 46, am still struggling to find my own.

They are so different, Madison and Maya, along with their similarities.  My chest is heavy under the weight of their future and infinite potential paths.  The clarity this night brings is just reinforcing the comprehension that there is no ultimate “Race Day” that will put an end to this perpetual downhill rollercoaster feeling in my chest and around my heart. And it is this weight that hits me, overwhelms me, anchors me, drowning me.  And out of the hundreds of thoughts going through my mind as their parent, one rises to the top.

“Am I present in their lives in a meaningful way, to help allow them be the best people they can be?”

And the humbling and painfully honest answer is ….

“I don’t know.”

My foot eases off the accelerator and I direct the Jeep to a stop on the shoulder. The burden I feel right now is overwhelming. But I don’t want to be distracted by cars or lane lines or the wind whistling in my ear. I don’t want to be moving. I need to be still. I  want to be with this for a moment. Because I feel I have been running from this for too long.  And on the side of the highway under the stars, in the middle of nowhere I feel so small and so weak and so alone. I start to shiver.

I, like most people, am flawed in many ways. I am not immune to pride and ego and its close cousins, stubbornness and obstinance.  Rational thought leads to an appreciation that no one knows in real time how to be the right type of parent at the right time for their kids at any given moment. Even looking back it is hard to tell or appreciate the “wins” from “losses” or how to take advantage of lessons learned. But this doesn’t mix well with my sense of self.  As a fixer, a doctor or healer, as a prideful male,  I am at a loss without a plan or knowing the right way to help. What is a more important role in this world for parents than being the best guide for your children? And I say this unabashedly as physician who cares for the critically ill.

But what feels like isolation slowly gives way to reality. I am not alone in figuring this out. Never have been. I have been blessed with a partner on this journey of raising our children together. Individually this would be impossible and even together it feels at many times daunting. The sum of our joint efforts though is way more than the impact of our individual roles. And I no longer feel lost under the night’s sky but together and connected with Becky more than if she were sitting next to me in car right now. Along with this amazing woman, we have not been alone. Over the years my appreciation for our families (although not often expressed) has grown as they have played such an active role in helping all of us not fall off the path, while adding to and enriching our children’s and our lives in deep and meaningful ways.

I am not a religious man by any means, and my musing on that will be saved for a another day. But if ever there was evidence of a higher power, it has been in meeting and connecting with an amazing group of people. People who have not just been dear friends, but who been able to, in such crucial and thoughtful and unexpected ways, impact and support this fallible parent. From the neighborhood and workplace, to my diversions of water polo, triathlons and concerts, I have had opportunities to develop these amazing circles of friends. The impact they  have had on me and my children is difficult to qualify but has been profound and heartfelt. And with these thoughts, the chill in the air is gone and find I am shivering no more.

I take a deep breath and sit a bit longer. Let the waves of this all roll through me.  My inward gaze turns out.  And I am back in my jeep with my sore foot and a really long challenge in front of me.  Much longer than the Ironman on Sunday. Pressing down on the gas pedal, I am again ready to move forward.

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