Happy Birthday, Joni!
Thirty-two years ago today my independent-minded daughter attempted to leap into the world feet first. However, the good doctors and nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital determined that would be too dangerous, so she was delivered by emergency Caesarian Section on the afternoon of January 4th, 1984. Since then, few people have had any luck preventing her from leaping into new worlds, no matter how strange or unfamiliar.
It seems silly now, but at the time I thought that having a child would mean the end of my running. In fact, it made running — not to mention everything else about my life — infinitely richer. This was true from the early days when I pushed her around town in a baby jogger. It continued as she and Loren grew old enough to attend races and meets as spectators, or wait by the side of the road to cheer me and all the runners passing by. It evolved when Joni was in high school and she discovered cross country and track for herself, and I got to come to her meets and cheer for her and her team. And it endures now that she lives far away, but we keep in touch about our running and coaching experiences, and look forward to the few times a year when we get to do long runs together. It seems crazy to recall how I was afraid that the arrival of my infant daughter meant the end of my running. Instead, she became my favorite running partner.
On Joni’s birthday, I’m grateful for Joni. And because her birthday comes at the beginning of the year, it’s a reminder that the most important resolution I can make is to be actively and consciously grateful for all the people, places, and activities that sustain me through the year.
I admit that I’m not always the happiest person at this time of year. Like many, I really struggle with the holidays, especially with living up to expectations that I should feel and express merriment and joy, according to the carols playing on every sound system at every store in the mall. I don’t think I’m a grinch; I don’t want to spoil the party for anyone else. In fact, I want nothing more than to get out of the way of people who really do love Christmas, really do enjoy the revelry of New Year’s Eve. But while others find renewal in the traditions and comfort in others’ company, I mostly struggle to find clarity amidst the clutter and commotion, the bounty of ornaments, decorations, packages wrapping paper, and cookies — so many cookies.
And yet, if joy is elusive, coming and going as mysteriously as the holiday spirit, gratitude is not elusive. One can practice gratitude.
And that’s why the only resolution that I care to make is this: to turn away from the screen more often, lift my eyes from the paper more promptly, and find the faces of the people I care about to tell them how immensely grateful I am for their presence in my life. And when I’m alone, as I often am by my own choice, to do my best to feel grateful for myself, in other words, to suspend the feelings that I haven’t done enough, accomplished enough, thought of others enough, and simply be grateful for my own messy but precious existence.
One of my closest friends, a woman who has plenty of reasons to wish 2015 a good riddance, offers me wishes for another year of what she calls ‘amazing life’ — life that sees its share of loss and grief, a few horribly unfair breaks, and too many examples of people behaving evilly — but life in which those things never quite succeed in drowning out the sheer astonishment of it all.
So I wish the same to you, a year of gratitude because somehow, we’ve made it through another season of this mixed-up, heart-breaking, heart-healing, crazy reality show we call life. We’ve suffered losses along the way, but we haven’t given up.
And on my daughter’s birthday, I wish you a happy birthday, not for her only, but for all of us, revelers and grinches, extroverts and introverts, believers and atheists. If running is your way of being grateful for this amazing life, I wish you a good run. If running isn’t your thing, or if you’re too broken to run today, I wish for you an equal measure of the satisfaction and fellowship that I’ve found in running.
Happy Birthday, everyone!
[Don’t worry, Kevin. The Tanzania journal will resume Wednesday.]