Friday, December 23, 2011

Barefoot Running: Lesson #2

There is always someone whose feet are sorer than mine.

My intention was to write about a few more challenges that the year presented me, but as other barefoot runners posted comments related to Colton's story, I was reminded, once again, that my road is not nearly as difficult to travel as that of many others. I was forced to consider something I witnessed many years ago, something so extraordinary that it has permanently altered my perspective.

Lesson #2: The Rock Climber

It was a gorgeous summer morning in the year 2000 at Cooper's Rock State Park in West Virginia. I had driven there for respite during a difficult time, and the prescription worked wonders. The mountain vistas were breathtaking. The air was filled with a mixture of scents: the moist floor of ancient woodlands, the mild fragrance of wild rhododendrons in bloom, and the fresh breeze that skimmed across the hilltops. As I walked down a path, leaves from the canopy of trees overhead fluttered and wriggled, allowing the sunlight to dance in random patterns in front of my feet.

Ahead, I could hear voices, and as I rounded a curve, a group of people were standing at the base of a rock face. The rock jutted straight up out of the ground, as sharp and as tall as if it were a skyscraper. A man was clinging to this rough wall, perhaps thirty feet off the ground. The group below shouted, "Move your right foot up and over! One more step! Lift your left hand up! REACH UP!" The man struggled, trembling as he followed the instructions of his comrades. I stood mesmerized, holding my breath, my eyes glued to his every move.

Just as I was wondering why in the world they weren't all simply keeping quiet, I realized that the climber had no sight. Slowly, ever so slowly he crept, climbing without the benefit of seeing where he was or where he had to go, absent any view of his next foothold. It was excruciating to observe. On the one hand, I wanted to leave before the worst imaginable thing happened; on the other hand, I was transfixed, paralyzed -- stricken at the depth of his courage and the profound level of trust he placed in his companions. With a final reach at the top of the rock face, a fellow climber stepped forward to pull the man to safety. The group at the bottom of the rock applauded, shouting in celebration. However, I did not shout or applaud. Instead, I turned to go, grateful the man was uninjured, as I tried to recall how to breathe.

The impact of this experience can not be overstated for me. As a result, just as I asked myself when I turned to leave the climber and his friends, my mind frequently interjects the question, "So, what's my problem?" It happens any time I lose my shoes or the trail is rocky: I am reminded that somebody's feet are sorer than mine. My mind's eye sees the climber, sees what he could not. Then, I whisper to myself, "One more step. REACH UP!"

I tell this story because after reviewing the earlier comments, I simply didn't have the heart to describe my own challenges. My feet are just not that sore. But, I think Anna, Trish and DIcouponqueen could use some new shoes. Their trails are hard and their soles are worn.

At about 11:00 last night, I used the random number generator at to select the winning comment from a field of three who left their email addresses. The winning number was 3! DIcouponqueen, you are the winner of the $100.00 Visa gift card! Congratulations! I hope the gift will lighten your step as you move forward into your challenge. Think of the sightless man. Trust yourself and those who love you. Go one more step!

As for Anna and Trish -- it seems to me that both of you could use a little perk. You'll each receive $50.00 gift cards for making the time and effort to share your struggles here. It sounds to me as if some new shoes would help to soothe your bare feet as you meet the challenges ahead! Remember the climber. Keep reaching up!

Thanks to each of the commenters for helping me honor baby Colton's birthday, his precious life, and his determination to walk the path that is laid before him. His little shoes are those of courage. I think I'll be borrowing them soon.

Here's to the next mile!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Barefoot Running: Lesson #1

You could say I've been running barefoot.

The last time I borrowed a pair of shoes was in December of 2010. Those shoes of patience slogged across the finish line for an Arthritis Foundation Jingle Bell Run in honor of Jack W. I recall being elated that I was NOT the last person in my age group to cross the finish line.

Then came The Bad Stuff. It's never the "good" stuff that causes us to pause and reassess. I mean, does anybody ever get a nice raise, or achieve a 4.0 in school, or publish a book and react by thinking, "Now, it's time for me to go on sabbatical . . . it's time to examine my shortcomings and reassess"? Oh, perhaps some incredibly successful, goal-oriented folks who aspire to win friends and influence people do this. Mostly, though, The Good Stuff propels us forward, keeps us energized, and we whisper our gratitude into the air, running in cushioned shoes toward the next good thing.

But, The Bad Stuff mercilessly knocks the shoes right off our feet. We run barefoot, scratched and raw, until the pain of it brings us to our knees. The Bad Stuff forces us to look inward, is relentless in its demand that we search for meaning, insists that we understand the lesson in every trial. For my own part, 2011 was littered with lessons, and it seems fitting to close out the year by sharing those lessons with you.

Lesson #1: Colton

Few things are more heart-wrenching than having a child with serious medical problems. I am confident of this. I have experienced it. Yet, it is even more difficult to watch your own child agonize over his or her child. And, it was during such a time late last year that something jerked this blog's entire collection of borrowed shoes right out from under me.

Little Baby Colton, a new grandson, was born at the end of last December. He was precious, tiny, helpless -- and I was so fortunate to have arrived just in time to hear his first little cries. Yet, it was only a short while into his fragile little life that signs of trouble emerged. He would spend the next forty days moving in and out of intensive and critical care units. He was subjected to open-heart surgery when he was less than four weeks old.

Time and time again, I'd see the agony in the eyes of my courageous son and his wife. I could hear it in their voices. Time and time again, Colton would teeter on the edge, I'd ask myself how much agony was enough, and his Momma and Daddy urged and cooed and caressed him back to safety.

But, I saw something else during those weeks that I am unable to explain. I saw this teeny little baby, whose anatomy simply did not support survival -- do exactly that. I recall being mesmerized as I observed what was clearly, plainly, his unadorned will to LIVE. But, there was something more. At times, it seemed, when he surely was exhausted, when even the will of a grown and burly man might have failed, something indescribable happened. It was an underlying force, something even more fundamental than instinct. A strange energy was driving this baby, pushing him, sustaining him. It defied human understanding or explanation. It was, perhaps ... spiritual.

Therein lies the lesson. Over my lifetime, after seeing a sizable portion of The Bad Stuff happening to people, I'd developed what I thought were very practical ideas, carefully crafted opinions, about what is merciful and what is not, about when life has meaning and when it is devoid of meaning. Not only have I had to rethink all those ideas, but I've had to discard most of them. Truth is, life itself has the power to determine its destiny. Life warrants no interference, life needs no other wisdom.

Soon, Colton will be one year old. His little chuckles of delight and loving manner have been the most marvelous gifts. His birthday will be a joyous day! And, in honor of that remarkable milestone, I want to celebrate with a random bloggy giveaway. The prize? A $100 Visa giftcard! Here are the rules.

1. You must write a comment on this blog or one of the coming "Barefoot Running" blogs. Your comment is your entry.

2. The comment must be about you or someone you know who's running barefoot (facing a challenge). Use first names only, please.

3. The comment must explain the lesson you've learned while running barefoot.

4. The comment must contain your email, so that I can contact you if you are the winner of the giveaway.

5. Each entry will be assigned a number. Random selection from this pool of numbers will occur on December 22--just in time for Christmas!

I hope to find lots of comments!

Until next year, I'll be posting about barefoot running lessons, looking for shoes to borrow -- and thinking about the next mile.