Fifteen years ago, today, I became a parent. Twelve days later I cradled my daughter as she took her last breath. During those twelve days my DNA exploded, realigned and in time reassembled itself into an even more complicated double helix that I still don’t pretend to understand or comprehend. What I do know is one part of the helix is about pain and loss, and the other is about embracing life and its renewal. I also know that somehow I lived on. I survived. I eventually thrived. Perhaps that is why today, of all days, a day that shines on me with the bright face of summer, yet tinged with the familiar taste of loss, is the day I choose to start my blog: Running Without Toenails.
The idea for the blog started via an email exchange with a friend as I was trying to make the case that training for a marathon was not a sign of a midlife crisis. I recounted to my friend that I had lost several toenails after completing a half-marathon, and it really wasn’t that bad. In fact, the many stages of toenail loss were in its own right fascinating and didn’t need to stand in the way of continued training. I was finding I was quite good at this long-distance thing. Who knew? Perhaps it is related to my reconfigured DNA: intertwining pain with life affirming action. If I hadn’t embraced the thought of “I wonder?” I would still be repeating the familiar repartee I had memorized when I met people who ran. It went something like, “No, I don’t run. I guess I could if it was my last resort, but I’m just not built for it, and quite frankly I prefer the more artsy forms of movement, like dance, ballet, you know – the creative arts.” My toenails: pink, blue, purple, black; made beautiful by darkening the hue of my toenail polish; have become the symbol of roads traveled. And my running: an icon of the person I didn’t know existed.
So, I set up a Facebook group called “Kelly’s Countdown to 50” (Facebook Link) where I told the world that as I faced my 50th birthday I was “looking to do 50 things that may change me as a person. (Who says an old dog can't learn new tricks!)” I even went as far as to ask for suggestions and recommendations. But the true motivation for “Kelly’s Countdown” is about embracing what I’ve learned, continue to learn and hope to learn rather than a reaction to a common fear that people my age have: that the creative, risk-taking phase of life may be coming to a close. What is curious is that after going live, my “friends” didn’t have very many ideas to share. I set up discussion boards, posted questions, and asked for advice. After an initial flurry of activity, all went silent. I expect that thinking outside our comfort zone is increasingly not normal fare. Try rejecting the “okay” and “just fine” rhetoric we all give one another when asked “How are you?” and try telling people how you really are, what you’re really thinking. It can be exhilarating, perplexing, and quite frankly, a touch lonely. It takes blind courage to be authentic and honest rather than presenting the image that is safe, polished and often calculated. So this blog was born out of the realization that posting update comments to my Countdown group didn’t give justice to the journey I have had and the journey I was about to embark on. Reflection is important. This blog was also born from the realization that the thought of clicking the button marked “Submit” made my palms sweat and my stomach churn. I have learned that particular “fight or flight” response is a sign that I am on the right road.
Posted in memory of Jenna Elise Tweeddale, who taught me more about parenting than any person or book and that running with or without toenails is just the beginning.