Toe the line . Stay on the straight and narrow. Onward and upward. It’s what we hear from a young age. Life is about pushing forward in a straight line. That’s what we are raised to believe. If we keep our ‘eyes on the prize’ we will attain our goals.
For a runner, the straight line is to add miles to your distance training while getting faster in your race times. It’s a simple formula–train more, train smart and you should progressively get better. Unfortunately I seem to be moving in the opposite direction. Lately my runs have become more and more difficult. The bones in my legs have been aching and the bottoms of my feet are sore. I have noticed over the past few races I have participated in, that my times are getting progressively slower. I used to run in the 7-minute mile pace, now I am crossing the finish line just under 9. And I noticed today on a training run that my gait was much more labored than usual. I considered cutting my long run short that day because I was so tired. I have been making many excuses over the past few months; Maybe I’m coming down with something? Overtraining? Not getting enough sleep? These all may well be true but I am convinced now that it’s something else–a combination of age and medication and the final result of what my body has been through the last few years finally taking it’s toll. Try as I may to continue on that straight line, life keeps pushing me off making me zig and zag and adjust my sightline to my goal.
Last week, my 17 year old son had surgery on his knee –the fourth in 3 years. This kid who loved hockey and baseball and committed himself to both sports since he was a toddler was told that he not only needs a bone transplant but that his knee is degenerating and will need a full knee replacement in the near future. He will have to re-adjust his goals and reinvent himself. He will need to step off that line for a while and take a different road through life. He faces a choice at this point in his life–to give in to self pity or get back on the line.
And it’s not just the physical changes and injuries that sideline us. Recently, I attended the funeral of a friend’s husband. Instead of listening to the priest, who seemed determined to read us the entire bible front to back, I focussed my attention on the 14 year old son as he sat in the front row staring at the coffin of his father. I watched this boy, uncomfortable in his dark suit, arms crossed, his skater sneakers thrust in front of him –I imagined this boy hardening like cement. I knew he would be forever changed from the boy he was the week before when his father was still among the living. Thrown off his straight line of childhood and shoved into adulthood before he should have to be.
We could all list a dozen incidents that happened in our lives that changed us permanently. Sometimes they aren’t cataclysmic but could be as simple as meeting a particular person–someone who changed the course of your life forever–maybe got you involved in an activity you would not have done before like fishing or biking or feeding the homeless. Something that switched you to another track. Or it could be the death of a parent or sibling, a move, a divorce. You could step off a curb and break your ankle which makes your lose your job and therefore discover some other career path you may have missed if you stayed where you were. So many events beyond our control that continuously push and change us, reform who we think we are or should become.
How do we keep moving forward when life’s circumstances are determined to undermine us? When outside actions change who we are or what we believe is our own lot in life? How do some people forge ahead while others lay down and give up? My friend Gina says that no matter what happens to us, the straight line is always there–in your heart. I believe she is right.
You have to keep your own personal line way deep down where nothing can touch it. The line that defines who you are and what you stand for. Because if we keep our straight line in our hearts and know with clarity what we believe in and who we are and continue through the pain or boredom or frustration that surrounds us at every turn, then I think eventually whatever is crooked in our own lives will straighten out.