Solitude and Connection

bikecourse1

Two friends (younger than me by more than two decades) are training for the Ironman and I decided to join them for their first of two 40-mile loops. I had already decided to defer my own race entry to next year due to a combination of aches and pains, along with maintaining life-balance, which led to my bike lying dormant in the basement. About four weeks ago, I finally brushed off two years of dust. The few rides done between then and now felt like brief tentative coffee dates after a prolonged break up. So, I impulsively jumped at the chance to join these guys and recapture a bit of pride and youth.

Currently I feel neither proud nor youthful. But I am definitely feeling my age and rather stupid.

First, I spent all of last week barely able to move with a locked-up neck and back. Last weekend’s combination of ICU call and a Midwest water polo tournament did not treat me well. High doses of Motrin and a session with a chiropractor got me the go-ahead to start exercising again. But I might have neglected to mention I had the hills of Madison in mind for this weekend.

Second, I have been on my bike only three times this summer. The longest ride was two hours and covered thirty-two FLAT Illinois miles. Not hilly Wisconsin ones. This was like going from a lazy six-mile run on level ground to a hilly half marathon.

Third, if I was going to do this, I should have ridden at my currently slow own pace. These guys have been training all summer. Their youth, combined with the handicap of my age, makes their current speed out of my league.

Nevertheless, after waking up at four AM and driving to Madison under the backdrop of the morning sunrise, I am now in a world of hurt. Having been dropped relatively quickly by my faster friends, I find myself alone with my thoughts. My wheels spin over the rolling hills; mid-summer length corn lies adjacent to the road on either side. Soon, the corn soon gives way to an open field and a gentle breeze, a nice relief to the morning’s rapidly rising temps. I feel sweat from my brow trickle down symmetrical tracks on the sides of my face, reuniting at the tip of my chin before gravity finally pulls the salty drops from my skin. The wind drones in my ears as it flows through my helmet’s vents. The drive train of the bike generates a soft and subtle background noise with a pattern and cadence matched by my pedaling. Discomfort and stupidity no longer my focus, I am freed to look inward and reflect; an infrequent opportunity these past two years in the absence of long runs and rides.

Thoughts have been fluttering around in my head for a while. Why do I continue to create pain and discomfort through bikes rides and long runs? Why put my body and face between a water polo ball and the goal? Why am I going back to school? What do I want to achieve? In the relative solitude on my bike in the middle of Wisconsin farmland, I can stay and linger with these thoughts for a bit and connect some dots.

My daughter moves like me. She has never been able to sit still. She has learned over the years to channel that boundless energy into dance. Finding within the movements her passion and focus. My own need to swim, bike and run parallels her need for constant motion; my comfort in the pool surrounded by teammates mirrors her happy place in the dance studio. Her desire to make dance part of her life in college reminds me of myself at seventeen using water polo to connect and help find my way as a freshman.

My son is struggling with his future like me. He is in the process of figuring out what he wants to do moving forward in his life. What does he want that to look like and how will he actually make that happen? He reminds me not only of myself at the age of twenty-one, lost and scared about an uncertain future. But also myself now, at the age of forty-eight, asking similar questions all over again. I am probably not the only family member lying awake at night wrestling with the vast openness of the unknown. We both have our own paths of growth and discovery that we are navigating and working through.

The landscape keeps changing. There is a dairy farm now on my right and a field of alfalfa to my left. The bike route this time of year is usually quite busy and for most of the ride there was no shortage of riders around me. But currently I am alone, except for some Holstein cows huddled together, relatively motionless but for their tales whipping through the air. My bicycle and I start to battle a mild but increasingly uphill grade. My breathing turns more forceful and labored, moving the late morning humid air into and out of my lungs. The grade again increases, forcing me to grab the brake hoods, increasing my leverage on the pedals. I have some rough miles ahead of me, both on my bike and off. But instead of feeling stupid, I am filled with gratefulness and connection. To an observer, I am riding slowly up a hill in relative solitude. But in reality, I am not alone. Madison and Maya are right by my side.

There Are No Words

Picture Credit (John Moore/Getty Images)

“…if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.

“we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

“When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must- at that moment- become the center of the universe.”  

Elie Wiesel 

Over the last few weeks, I read the news. I saw the pictures. I agreed with the outrage expressed in op-ed’s, evening news and twitter feeds. I shared and voiced my thoughts and opinions on the heinous actions of my government, separating in traumatic fashion children from their parents. My thinking brain has been shocked, horrified and outraged and did not have to stretch far to appreciate the parallels to the Japanese internment camps.

But my heart remained protected, wrapped up and insulated using the same tools I use to manage the emotional burden of caring for the critically ill.

And then I heard the tapes from Pro Publica.

I can only imagine the trauma that those children and their parents are enduring. I’m sure it falls far short from reality.  Although I cannot draw a direct comparison,  I do know how I felt when I was separated from my child in a way I never hoped to be.

I ached in a way I had never ached before. The weight of worry in every breath. Fear of the unknown fueled racing thoughts. My vision blurry and tired from holding back tears. My hand constantly drawn to my chest near my heart, pulled by a force from my core. A place I have felt only a few times before. This place inside, beneath skin and bone, ached with such weight and depth that it often forced me to the floor in attempt to ride out the waves of pain rolling through me.

I was overwhelmed and felt helpless. Yet I knew where my child was and who they were with. I knew those people cared.

Now, imagine you’re five years old in a foreign country with a foreign language. Cold concrete floors partitioned by chain link fences all around. No parent to squeeze hard and cling to. No family member to hug and hold, to feel their strength and resolve as an answer to your overwhelming fear. Only uniformed strangers with weapons at their side or tin foil blankets to turn to for any potential warmth.

There is no insulation from their cries. And there shouldn’t be. If you have not heard the tape, I ask you to listen.

Immoral. Unconscionable. Heartbreaking. Traumatic. Terrorizing. Those words, as strong as they are,  are insufficient to describe this current horror. There has already been too much rhetoric and not enough action. So I am going to do what I can do.

I am writing. I am donating. I am calling. I will vote in September and will help as many others in my community and neighboring states to do the same.

There are plenty of organizations that need your help. There is a need for lawyers, translators and donations.  Here is a link to a website at SLATE written by Dahlia Lithwick and Margo Schlanger. They are continuously updating the page with places that are helping in this battle.

Not much more to write. It’s time for me and my family to act. I’m asking you to act as well and share what you are doing. I’ll be sharing here over the next few days what my family chooses to do.

Together, we can be better than this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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