She was there in the coffee shop where we met, nearly dumbfounded at the ability of a running friend to go knock out 10 miles like it’s nothing. I bit my tongue and just smiled. She wasn’t there at my second 1/2 marathon in Chicago, but she wanted to be. We were together the day I returned. She was there at my very next race, a 10k in which I took first place…I figured I made a good impression. She was there at every race that followed, supporting me through my training and racing, indulging in her photographic interests by documenting my efforts. She was always there.
She was even there when I decided to quit my job…she didn’t blink an eye. She was there when I was then laid off from my next job at the worst possible time. She was there when we searched for the body of a friend who drowned in the White River on valentine’s day. She was there when my sister’s cancer got worse. She was there when my sister died. It almost seems like she has always been there.
We spent the last spring break driving down to Brown County every day to spend time in the woods, she riding her mountain bike while I run the trails. I would get so lost in my thoughts on those trails and one particular run I began thinking about Michelle and our relationship. The trail was perfect, I was feeling jubilant and although there wasn’t a soul anywhere in sight I didn’t feel alone. I knew she was somewhere out there twisting and turning, navigating the roots and rocks and just having a similarly awesome time. It struck me how amazing it was for each of us to be pursuing such an important and innate interest of ours, completely separated, yet completely together all the same. There was no guilt, no need to be joined at the hip, no need to compromise our interests for the sake of the other. We were each our own person, but so close all the same. Our lives and our interests meshed so perfectly that we made each other stronger. It then became so deeply apparent that I couldn’t imagine not having this in my life. I knew we would be in it for good, forever. Right then I knew I would ask her to marry me someday, maybe even that day. And like predestination I came barreling around the corner only to find myself face to face with her as she squeezed the brakes hard. In such excitement and fueled by the adrenaline only experienced on a 2 hour trail run I almost blurted out, “Hey! Let’s get married!”……But I didn’t. We exchanged some excited words and then took off in our own directions yet again, promising to meet back soon. I tried to kick myself in the ass with every step the rest of the run. I missed the most purest of opportunities, the most honest expression I could hope for. No cliches, no down on one knee junk, no none of that, just primal emotion and expression. But I missed it, and I ran on alone, still contented that it was only a matter of time.
Time went on, a lot of it, and she was always there, always supporting me through my efforts, no matter how much they might take me away from her and Noah. Sometimes I got too wrapped up in my running and it began to wear on her, a few times boiling over into frustrated debates, but never a deal breaker. Not even close. I still try to make changes and accommodate her all the same, but it isn’t easy and it’s a process that’s for sure. Still, she is always there…and I am grateful.
Then while out on a run just a couple months ago it hit me. I wouldn’t have it any other way…ever. I’ve made my mistakes in my life and regret some decisions I made, but what’s done is done and here I am. But what if. Just what if I had the opportunity to go back and do it all again with the knowledge I have now…..what would I do different? No matter what I might change, the underlying fear would be that any change, any positive decision I would make might direct my path away from Michelle. What if I did move to Seattle that time I promised I would? What if I decided to stop going into the coffee shop on my free time? What if I broke up with the mother of my son before he was born? What if…what if I never bought that computer that came with a free ipod that was the conversation piece that started our relationship?!! But what if. I realized something then and there, that no matter what decisions I would change, what destiny I would divert, no matter where I might be, no matter where she might be….I would go find her. Above all else, beyond every other opportunity that lay in front of me, I would ALWAYS go find her. THAT would be my priority. THAT would be the one thing I would do again and again and again. And so the decision was made.
The proposal was a mere formality.
I know, I know. It sounds dismissive and anti-climactic, but rest assured it wasn’t. I surprised the hell out of her and got her good with how I “popped the question”. In practice though, it was a mere formality, but only because love is not an agreement or a ceremony or a promise. It’s the act, unstated and undefined. It’s zen. It just is. It’s the comfort you feel in your own thoughts, but with your love in proximity. It need not be legitimized. It is simply the unexpressed understanding between the two of you, the two of us. So the proposal was just to get the logistical ball rolling.
Now let’s get nerdy.
Love is like running. A marathon even. The act of love is not defined when you propose to your loved one, that holds no more significance than registering for a marathon. Seriously….it truly is a formality. I mean, it’s not like you WEREN’T going to register were you? Awhile back you decided to give it a try and you found you enjoyed it. Then as time went on and things progressed and got better and better, you realized you actually loved it. You didn’t know what to do if you weren’t running. At some point you looked at the marathon and said, “Yeah, let’s do it. Of course. It’s the next logical step.” And you continued to put in the joyous work towards that end. You continued to enjoy and appreciate and love the effort it took to progress. It wasn’t work. It was great. It was life. So you registered for the race. Just like you proposed to your loved one. It was a mere formality. Of course you were going to register….you had to. I mean, sure, you could run the marathon without registering, going bandit, and the act itself would be no less legitimate than if you did register, but then you wouldn’t be eligible for the prize money in the end. You know, tax breaks, health insurance. So although the appeal to avert “the system” and go bandit feels more pure, more honest, full of a greater integrity to the act…the monetary benefits are still pretty enticing no? And why not? So you register without much fanfare, though you might make a big deal of it to your friends, expressing the cliche, “There is no turning back now!” But of course there is, but then again, why would you? You love this. And finally, you make all the necessary preparations for the race, down to your very outfit. And you are nervous as hell the big day comes, though you don’t know why. There is no reason to be scared. It’s always going to turn out great, simply because you are THERE. You found the love, you enjoyed the process, you did the work, and now you are simply acting out the symbolic representation of all that time you put into it. Sure, you could trip on your face, or forget your gu, or any number of things, and yes, they might be disappointing, ruining the vision you had for the day, but when all is said and done, you’ll be relieved and glad to have it over with. You will have completed the act you’ve built up in your head with such great importance for the longest time. It will feel great, and then you will realize the party has just started. It’s everything that comes after that really matters….you’re in it for good. You’ll, of course, run more marathons, but they won’t be like the first. Some might be better, some worse, but ultimately they will be celebrations, mile markers, ANNIVERSARIES if you will. Each one will be a significant marker to the relationship you started and developed so long ago. But through it all, none of that really matters. The registration. The big day preparation. The marathon. The subsequent marathons. Through it all, the ONLY thing that will matter is that you’ve found something you love and you continue on with it every day, finding the joy each time and appreciating what it has brought to your life. You only hope to add something to theirs. And, of course, over time things will change. The anniversaries will wane in their intensity, the runs may become less competitive, you may feel driven to slow down, you may turn the runs into hikes and the runs may turn you into something else, but you will never give it up. You may transform and be transformed, but once a runner…..you know how it goes.
And she’s still here, just like she always was, just what I needed. She added to my life in a way I can never fully express my appreciation of. She is truly the greatest thing that has happened to me….and were still just starting. It feels like a warm up. I can’t wait until we really start moving….there’s no telling what we’ll do.
I love you Michelle and am honored to be your future husband, partner, teammate, etc.