Tonight, I started a Couch to 5K app. In 8 weeks, I will be able to run a 5k (which, for those less metrically-inclined is 3.1 miles). It’s a modest goal in this town of hiking/kayaking/rock climbing/biking junkies. And it’s one I’ve attained before, back in vet school. Over the past twelve years, I’ve been in and out of gyms, cardio dance classes like Zumba, pools, and on treadmills. I have loved being fit, the rush of endorphins, the clearness of thought. And I have loved the times when I have been, shall we say, less active.

Some might think the current impetus is my lack of weight loss since Gemma was born and my weight gain since Hazel’s diagnosis. Thank you post-partum pregnancy hormones, stress eating, COVID-19, and Lexapro for your gifts. I won’t lie and say that vanity doesn’t play a role. It does. I’ve been small and relatively slim my whole life, even when I thought I was “fat.” It’s hard to watch my body change as I age and accept that I am getting older.

But it’s more than that—much, much more.

Every day, I see reminders around me that our lives can change in an instant. Everything we thought our lives would be can go up in smoke. All of us have magical thinking of one type or another, and it informs how we view the world. Mine was that if I just did it all “right” with my kids from the start—natural births, minimized sugar, limited TV time, frequent library trips, and gentle loving parenting, then everything would turn out ok. My life would proceed down a predictable path.

James’s diagnosis and subsequent death blew that belief out of the water. Hazel’s diagnosis exploded the remaining shards. A friend’s horrific accident while on vacation, another friend’s child loss to a tragic drowning, they all opened my eyes to what we’d all rather forget. Life isn’t always joyous and easy. Mostly, it’s hard and painful. For many people, the world over, it’s ALWAYS hard and painful. Yet, the human spirit persists.

I persist, even though I am terrified of the future. Even though I am virtually locked in my house, struggling to cope without babysitters, working minimally to protect my family, and cut off from people that could make this bearable.

What does this have to do with exercise, you may be wondering?

The thing is, James’s body couldn’t do things. Hazel’s is weakened by the chemotherapy drugs that are saving her life. My friend, only in her early 30s, was told that she will likely be disabled for the rest of her life. My body is strong and capable. Treating it poorly is not the answer to my sorrows. In fact, it seems like an insult to those who yearn to use their bodies but cannot.

I am not on a quest to be a bionic woman, as my friend recently told me she was. I don’t want to live forever. Sometimes, I don’t want to live for another day with all the sadness and chaos inside of me. But I do want to use this body, because I can and because others couldn’t or can’t.

Tonight, I did my 28 minutes. The endorphins were still there waiting for me. It was a beautiful, cool evening. It’s been cool all summer here. As I ran, I looked at the darkening sky, watched the clouds turn silver at the edges and then fade into the black. I heard the tree frogs calling and watched bats diving about for insects. I let my mind clear and listened to my breathing, felt the pavement beneath my shoes, let my feet carry me steadily and slowly forward.

I didn’t die.

(PS, my kids eat sugar, have lots of iPad time and Minecraft, and I do yell. A lot. I managed to have 2 natural births followed by 2 c-sections and we do go to the library a lot…at least, pre-COVID.)

Published by Catherine Ashe

I am a mother to four children, one gone before me. I write to release the pain.

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