Yesterday I found out that one of the women in my running group passed away from complications of pneumonia and leukemia. I’m stunned. She wasn’t even 40. She had beat cancer once before. I didn’t know her very well, having met her only once at a run before she got sick. She seemed like a lovely person, though, and the homages on her Facebook wall and others’ remembrances attest to her lively and funny self. And I can’t help but feel that I missed an opportunity to meet a genuinely kind soul. Those are too often too few and far between.
This isn’t the first time I’ve lost people in my life connected to me in some way or another. My most recent discovery was the death of some of my high school classmates as I wrote about before. I’ve also known a number of people who died as a result of addiction. Fortunately, with the exception of one (whom I’ll call B), none I was very close with. Each time, though, it feels like a small rending of the universe. The winking out of a light that could have shone brighter. One of the greatest sorrows of people dying before old age is the loss of possibility. Of all the “what if’s” and “could have been’s.” Even B, who had so many struggles and horrifying traumas, created beautiful art and had an amazing sense of humor. She tried so hard to piece her life back together over and over, and in the end, she just couldn’t do it anymore. I still think about her sometimes and how she no longer has to be in pain.
All of these things make me realize that all my sense of malaise and angst about running, my ruminations and obsessions…none of that really matters. I am able to do something that none of those people can do anymore, and many people alive today can’t do. In the big scheme of things, the upcoming race is just another run in a lifetime of runs. Whether I make my goals or not, it won’t bring about world peace or its destruction. It’s just a run. If, God forbid, I were to drop dead tomorrow, no one will talk about me as “that girl who tried to qualify for Boston.” THAT is not what is most important about my life, even as I try to make it seem that way. What WILL matter is what kind of life I led and how I treated people. What kind of parent, spouse, friend I was.
Even in my job, I obsess about wanting to be some kind of rock star scholar, so that two people will read my article in some obscure academic journal one day. But it’s the day to day teaching and personal interactions that count most often for me. My rock star dreams are more about personal ego rather than trying to create true change in the world. And I had entered the teaching profession precisely to create change (this is by no means to say that academics or researchers can’t create change, but more about what i am personally invested or able to do) in whatever small way, and I’ve started to lose sight of that.
So, today, I have to keep perspective. I have to remember what I’m here for. And I have to remember to celebrate and appreciate all the things I have and get to do that others can’t anymore. I have to remember what my purpose is. And to stop and breathe. I don’t follow Buddhism, but I can’t help but think of how it teaches that life is suffering. Suffering that is often self-created. We must “detach with love” from our obsessions and fixations, our personal tornadoes. Take the opportunity today to think about what’s important to you, to recognize/acknowledge those loved ones in your life, and try to shine a little brighter today for those lights that have gone out from our lives.