Everything was going great, the type of run we seek, when the body feels smooth, the legs strong, lungs relaxed, and you can just tell your form is fluid and powerful. I turned my legs with a perfect rhythm, flicking past each other in a way trained over years of countless miles, moving in memory of what seems has always been their only purpose. Everything was going great, aided by a drop in humidity that brought an ease of effort I hadn’t felt in quite some time, so long in fact that I started to doubt it ever existed, or that maybe, tragically and finally, it was long lost to the degenerations of age. But it wasn’t. Everything was going great, as it once always had, a road of expectations laid out before me. And then I heard the train whistle.
It was close, but the tracks were in sight, and there was a chance it wasn’t THAT close. I hesitated, debating the playful excitement in racing to the tracks to see if I could beat the train. I thought about my old teammates and knew, without a doubt, we would race towards the train to see if we could beat it to the crossing and stay on course, more out of the challenge and danger than the need to keep on track. I debated doing the same, giving the now idling cars a bit of excitement for their mourning commute…but didn’t.
I saw the train coming and could tell that if I did make it, it would be close. Real close. Too close. And I turned 40 today, so maybe, just maybe, if this wasn’t a conscious act of maturity and compromise and settling, then maybe it’s the more inherent, unavoidable outcome of the process. If you don’t mind, I’d like to believe I realized I couldn’t make it in time and resigned myself to backing off out of survival and not age.
I waited at the crossing for a couple seconds, bouncing in place, when I counted three engines roll by and looked down the track to see an endless line of cars turning around the bend. Rerouted.
Not wanting to lose the fluidity and strength I was feeling to this point, I instantly turned and ran a new direction along the train cars rolling past me, the string of idling commuters deciding to do the same (weird, I guess they WANT to make it to work). Normally, I would feel a sense of tension and discomfort with a route change, now unable to determine just how off my mileage I would be for the day. I could estimate, sure, but the Type A dictate in me would be eaten up by the lack of PRECISION. What if I only ran 7.84 miles instead of a complete 8 miles?! This might ruin my entire path of progress I’ve worked for years to build! At least, that’s sort of what goes through my head. This time though, without consistency, without a defined goal, without the need for progression, I just went with it. And it was real, real nice. In fact, everything was right back to great again. I ran down a stretch of road that, I quickly realized, I hadn’t run since just before I was diagnosed when I pulled a really strategic move, my favorite to date, during a small 5 mile race and left my competitor desperately seeking more oxygen as he dropped further and further off my back, securing me a solid second place just a few seconds behind the winner. It felt great to put myself back into that space, partially physically and partially mentally.
The stretch of road ended, however, and I needed to decide my next reroute, which I quickly sketched to a turnaround and back home. And isn’t that an apt analogy for my life now, being rerouted and having to adjust for some sense of security and expectation. Going for a run on your 40 birthday will do that to your thought process, make something like a simple change in course help you analyze your life trajectory.
That is precisely what happened to me just before diagnosis, when all the expectations I had for myself were suddenly met with a metaphorical train blocking my path, forcing me to reroute, well, everything. And it wasn’t just one train really. First there was the divorce train, then the unemployment train, then the financial train…and finally the cancer train. It was like a full train yard of endless cars passing in front of every goal I had set for myself down the road, leaving me no choice but to either lay down and wait for them to pass (whenever THAT would be) or to turn left and keep going.
I turned left, but to be honest, I’m still trying to figure out where this current road is going. For awhile, during treatment, it was like I was running around the same few blocks, seeing a lot of new stuff I hadn’t seen before, but really getting no closer to completion. Then after my oncologist told me to essentially live as if I didn’t have cancer, I might have found my way back to the route I was initially running before all the trains blocked my path. It even seemed like I might get to the end of my run, or at least remember where I was going, but to be honest, I’m not quite convinced of all that. I’m not convinced because right now I’m still running that route, but it’s not as easy as it once was, and I’m not even sure why I’m running it anymore. Maybe I’m not rerouted. Maybe I’m lost.
A friend of mine asked me at my birthday party, “So, what’s your ten year plan?” It was impossible to stifle a laugh.
This reroute became so long that although I found a part of the original course, I’m not entirely convinced it’s going where I want it to anymore. So a ten year plan? I’m not even sure I have a ten MONTH plan. I’m just trying to find my way back to objectives that are simple, sustainable, and enjoyable. Then again, maybe that has always been my ten year plan now that I think about it, to find that sense of a good, simple life, and hold onto it despite all the reroutes I encounter along the way.
But, of course, easier said than done. With all the necessary responsibilities of taking care of my son, financially, there are other obstacles I must overcome, that don’t necessarily lead to a simple life, and turning 40 maximizes the pressure of meeting those responsibilities exponentially. I can hear the unstated admonishments from here. “Shouldn’t you have figured this out by now?” “What have you been doing for the last 10 years?”
But all this flagellation makes me feel rather absurd, as if I’m succumbing to the cultural standards of turning 40 and wondering why I haven’t made anything of my life at this point, when up until now, I’ve always rejected the idea of what counts as “making something of your life”. I’m actually quite excited with what I’ve experienced and overcome and accomplished, while still knowing I’ve made mistakes, gone off route, or was forced to take a different course. I don’t actually FEEL 40….at least not in the ways our society pretends 40 year olds are supposed to feel.
I remember quite vividly when my dad was thrown a surprise 40th birthday, complete with gag gifts, black balloons, and weird “over the hill” cards. I might have been 12 at the time (I actually don’t remember), but now I can’t help but wonder how he actually felt. Did he feel old? Did he feel mature? Did he feel bored? Admittedly, having two daughters (before ME) must have taken it’s toll on him, so he could be excused for feeling old (yeah, I know you’re reading this dad).
But, holy crap, if anyone tried to throw me a party with black balloons and gag gifts…I don’t even know how I would take that. Actually, yes I do. I’d probably challenge everyone in attendance to a 5k race.
There is something else though, that is keeping this post from being a triumphant, call-to-arms, spit in the face of expectations of aging type of manifesto. Cancer rerouted me 3 1/2 years ago and although I’ve found my way down a different course, I know I’ll never shake the worry that I’ll be rerouted again, no matter how far I can see in the distance. Maybe this is what prevents any sense for a ten year plan. And lately, the worry of that reroute has come back in small, nagging, physical ways that I’m trying not to fret out of proportion. The hard nodule around my belly button is protruding, which was a primary point of concern the first time around. A sickness a few weeks ago lingered and lingered and lingered. My eyesight has been compromised from the sickness in the same way it does after my surgeries, blurring everything I try to read or focus on for more than a couple seconds. And an MRI scan is scheduled for September 1st.
These worries are expected, as any cancer patient will tell you. Nothing is minor or can be “waited out” after a diagnosis. So add all these little physical abnormalities, to a persistent diagnosis, coupled with a birthday that society marks as a point of degeneration, and the considerations become more difficult to rationalize. All that will be dealt with later, however, and yet this all continues to reiterate the rerouted course I’m continuously forced to navigate.
But that’s ok. We all get rerouted through life. We all have expectations that shift, change, or meet unavoidable obstacles not of our own making. What would our existence be if we found a path of least resistance, if we had nothing to overcome, a routine that never ended and became as predictable as the rising sun? That’s not a life I want to lead. The challenge, as always, is encountering obstacles in our course, and making the decision to either stand in place and wait it out or take a turn and see what’s down the road. Maybe, just maybe, there is a better course. Maybe there are new epiphanies, new relationships, new experiences…and maybe there are more obstacles, more hardships, more trains blocking your path. But, for me, at least I’ll find out.
I don’t know where this course is taking me yet, no matter how long I stay on the path, whether that is 30 years or 40 years or more, but I still don’t see the point in hitting a train and sitting down to wait it out. Hell, I haven’t even given up on racing it to the crossing.