Doing the Impossible

Doing the Impossible

I am not a runner.

When I was growing up, the southern humidity made me sound like I had asthma when I tried to run, and I had doctors’ notes to get me out of PE running requirements through college.

Seriously. I’m not a runner.

It took my seminary boyfriend (who’d finished the Chicago Marathon himself) surprising me with a visit to a running store and an adamant, “We’re not leaving until you buy running shoes!” to get me to give it another try. And if I was going to spend that much money on a pair of shoes, I was at least going to try.

I was in my mid-thirties. It was January in Chicago. And a few blocks at a time, it worked.

At first, I really couldn’t run more than those few blocks, but he would run backwards in front of me while I walked and caught my breath, and then coax me into a few more blocks. In the freezing air, I felt like I could breath, and slowly but surely I built up to a whole mile, then two.

I still wasn’t a runner.

When he broke up with me (taking my post-graduation plans with him), running helped me survive him. In the gym or on the pavement, I could funnel the energy of hurt and anger and frustration through my feet until I was exhausted. And I began to realize that running regularly – five or six days a week – was giving me an ability to handle stress I’d never had before. I could stay focused on work and studies, and things that felt impossible to handle weren’t overwhelming me.

I wasn’t a runner, but I kept running.

A few years into two or three mile morning runs, a friend, Josh, who was new in town overwhelmed me with his enthusiasm and I agreed to register for a half marathon. That’s 13.1 miles, and the race was the third week of July in Chicago.

It was clearly impossible, ridiculously unthinkable. An absurd decision.

But I’d paid the registration fee (races are expensive!), and Josh kept telling me I could do it. Keep running three miles each morning before work, and start adding one mile at a time each weekend. And if I was going to spend that much money on a race, I was at least going to try.

And one week at a time, I did.

By the time I was up to seven miles, it felt impossible. It was getting warmer out, and I knew I couldn’t make it. But…maybe I could run to that tree up ahead? And then to another one… And then to the cross street… And then… I’d run seven miles. It wasn’t possible, but I had!

And then it was eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Every week I was doing what felt impossible, and by the time I ran that half marathon with my friends, I’d started wondering what other impossible things I could do. I joined a dating service and went on first dates with strangers. Found a new church. Met remarkable people doing amazing things to change the world. Eventually changed jobs. Moved into the City. Adopted a grumpy old man of a cat.

And kept running, even though I’m not a runner.

I never enjoy running. I enjoy the being outside part – the sun, the breezes, the Lake, the people and dogs. But I don’t enjoy the running part. It never feels good, sometimes it just feels less bad than other times. But life always feels better when I’m running regularly. Even when it’s hard and I don’t know what to do, I can go for a run and know I can do the impossible.

Running isn’t about running for me, it’s about living.

This past Sunday I ran the Chicago Marathon – all 26.2 miles of it. I did it in memory of my father, because I’m living years he didn’t get. I did it for friends who’ve lost people they love to ALS, the same disease that took his life when he was just 31. I did it because I love this City, and running through its neighborhoods with the sun and the breezes and the Lake and the architecture and the people felt like a celebration of that love. (Chicago was showing off Sunday!)

And I did it for me. Because it was time to do something else impossible – gloriously, ridiculously impossible! And now I’ll see what other impossible things I can do.

I’m not a runner, but I run because it’s taught me not to be afraid of impossible things. And I run because there are more impossible things to do.

Loving the Cubs

Loving the Cubs

I don’t have a long history with the Cubs. And I don’t have much of a history with baseball at all.

I moved to Chicago twelve years ago, and was largely amused by my new Cubs-fan friends. (Hi, Dan!) If the Cubs were winning, “Don’t worry, they’ll get over it!” I’d assure them. And I told them, “Going to a game at Wrigley Field is on my Chicago bucket list, but if they win, can I get my money back? I want the real Chicago experience!”

I’ve been cheering for and with those friends this year, and particularly the past few weeks during the post-season. As game seven approached the 9th inning, I began to make my way down to Wrigley with thousands of other fans, and I’m thrilled beyond words to have celebrated with them after we watched that final catch peering through bar windows to try to follow the action in Cleveland.

For so many of my friends, loving the Cubs goes back generations. Following the Cubs and always hoping for “next year” is the stuff of family rituals and memories.

I realized this week that my affection has similar associations.

My daddy died just after my third birthday. He had ALS – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. As a young girl, I watched Gehrig’s own story, The Pride of the Yankees, with the intensity of a detective looking for clues to who my father was – and would have been. And Gehrig was a worthy designated hitter.

The feel of vintage baseball became inextricably associated with Daddy, with a warmth and goodness and affection that only comes with the memories and associations of childhood.

I didn’t feel it when I went to a game at the concrete behemoth the White Sox call home, but it was there the first time I went to a game at Wrigley Field. One of only two Major League parks left where Gehrig played, it’s a place where vintage baseball lives. The joy and disappointment and hope of decade upon decade echo in its confines.

And there’s something about the fans. They waited their whole lifetimes to see the Cubs win the Series, and when they finally did, they covered the brick walls of Wrigley Field with the names of those who didn’t live long enough to see it. The walls have become a memorial to those the fans wanted to share this day with. Loved ones who taught them to love the Cubs – who shared so many games. But not this one.

This city that I love has been filled with the aroma of history this week. History shared together – every player who wore the uniform in the past 108 years, and every fan who cheered. The Cubs are about that continuity. It’s something that’s as big as and bigger than baseball.

I was here when the White Sox won the World Series, and blessings on my Sox fan friends, but it was nothing like this. Even the joy that a Blackhawks championship brings the City is totally different.

Nobody was writing names on walls.

I will never be a life-long Chicagoan. But in an accidental and convoluted way, my Daddy taught me to love the Cubs. And this week has taught me that I belong to this City.

Maybe I should go write his name on that wall.