Yesterday I was supposed to run 12.5 miles in preparation for the Glass Slipper Challenge in less than 4 weeks. They say people make excuses a lot for not having time to run or properly train for a half-marathon. They say “if you want it bad enough/if it’s important enough, you MAKE time.”
Which is exactly why I didn’t run my full 12.5 miles yesterday. Because as important as running is to me, some things are more important.
A year ago this past weekend, my dog passed away. It was fairly sudden – he was young, outwardly healthy, and I thought I’d have many years left with him. But my dog had an unpredictable streak of aggression. He was always restless and pushy and easily excited and hard to keep calm, but even in calm, quiet, safe moments, he could lash out with no warning.
I had thought I could fix him, but some things I just cannot control. He was the sweetest puppy in the world 95% of the time – but that 5% of the time he was just too wild, almost feral, to live in the human world. And there are only so many spots for damaged dogs at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. And he was my dog. What some of my friends and I call “my souldog.”
Monster (I know, not-so-ironic name) and I had a connection from the moment I laid eyes on him. I had met plenty of cute puppies in my life, and “wanted to take them all home,” but there was something about this particular puppy I could not get out of my mind. He was mine before I ever held him in my arms. I was his before he ever nestled his head into my neck.
Monster and I could both be a little unpredictable, moody, wild, pushy, and both of us felt most at peace lost in the woods together.
If I can imagine a perfect dog heaven for Monster, it’s not soft beds and tons of Milkbones like some perfectly well-adjusted family dogs might find in their perfect world. Monster’s dog heaven would be an ever-expanding forest of trees, creeks, hills, roots and fallen tree trunks to jump, every plant in the world to smell and index in his troubled genius little mind, and then smell again and index again. He would have a creek of clean rushing water that Mommy never had to coax him out of to make sure he didn’t get parasites or other infections. There would be no such things as ticks, and lots of other dogs, preferably ones bigger than him, he can play tag with and always get away from by doing his little barrel roll underneath them. There would be no cats to swat him on the nose. And there would only be the people he loved and trusted, nobody else to scare him or make him nervous, and even the people he loved and trusted would be recognizable to him ALL the time, instead of 95% of the time.
There would just be freedom and nature. It sounds a lot like my heaven, too.
I had started trying to force myself to run a mile per day before Monster passed, but after Monster died, running saved my life. I would follow the routes I used to walk him, run in the middle of the night when my apartment felt too quiet, too empty without him. I could cry while I ran and no one would hear me or see me. I imagined Monster’s spirit running in his little two front feet then two back feet bunny hop sprint to keep up next to me. I would laugh remembering how if he was running next to me really, we’d be stopping every 100 meters to smell and check out roots.
In the days leading up to the day I had to say goodbye to him, I prepared myself with coping mechanisms all around me. Poems posted on my walls with words to reassure me he’d always be in my heart. Photos my very talented photographer and dog-trainer friend Juliana took for us. I took Monster to the woods as often as I could, where he felt most safe. I got his portrait done by a great small business called Yellow Brick Home. A lot more. And I planned to get a tattoo in memory of him, on my left rib cage, as close to my heart as possible.
But it took me a long time to find what I absolutely definitely wanted it to say.
These four simple words mean so much to me. Everything from the placement to the font to the meaning of the words. It’s as near to my heart as I could safely get it. The typewriter font symbolizes all of the writing that manically came pouring forth out of my soul trying to deal with the grief, writing that led me to a week and a half at Yale University for a writer’s conference, where my piece told the story of a woman trying to rebuild herself from the loss of so much love in her life. “Wild Thing” was what had been in my head for a long time – Monster was just a little too wild for human civilization. I had debated “where the wild things are,” maybe to symbolize where he is now, but the link to the children’s book that yes, I loved as a kid but didn’t want to be the first association with my tattoo for my dog.
I thought of the times I took Monster to my parents’ house where I could let him off the leash in the backyard and play chase with him, seeing his goofy smile as he ran after me and then tumbled around in the grass with me. I thought of the times we were alone in the woods and I would naughtily drop the leash, knowing he would stay dutifully near me, his separation anxiety working in our favor for once in this instance. He would wander a few yards ahead, maybe hop up on a fallen tree trunk, then wait for me to catch up.
And I thought about our connection. How he was my best friend. How when everything else in my life felt like it was falling apart and I had no control over anything, including Monster, he would suddenly climb into my lap and snuggle against me and let me know he loved me and that meant everything else would be okay. The way he would cock his head when I jabbered to him around the apartment, just carrying on conversation with him, imagining his answers. The way when I would say “Mommy loves you, baby,” he would come running to me like he just knew exactly what I meant. Our connection.
Running saved my life after Monster. But running isn’t my whole life.
Amy Poehler has been quoted as saying “vulnerability is the key to happiness. Vulnerable people are powerful people. Opening up your heart and sharing it means that you’re going to get so much love in your life.”
I think after Monster died I was so afraid of falling apart I became obsessed with being strong. Running, working out, it was my escape. A much healthier escape than drugs, alcohol, or many other vices people turn to in times of deep pain, but an escape nonetheless. It’s helped me get my life in order, get through two more semesters of grad school, land my dream job, kept me centered when I was going through terrible job to unpaid internship to terrible job before finally landing my dream one. Kept me sane as I moved back in with my parents. Kept me together.
But sometimes that kind of thing becomes an addiction, and hiding from what scares me isn’t the answer either. Sure, running itself was scary at first – a challenge, something I didn’t know if I could do. And I’m going to continue to run my heart out, for life.
But if it’s important enough, you make time for it, right? So I’m vowing to make more time to be a little vulnerable again, and invite love back in, instead of just trying to avoid anger.
Monster and I may be and have been a little too wild to get along easily with everyone we met or meet. But I don’t regret being a little wild and a little different and maybe even a little dangerous for a moment. Sometimes I worry I’m a little too brash, a little too “in charge,” a little too outspoken or opinionated for most people. A hard pill to swallow, maybe. But I don’t want to change that, and I think I’ve been silencing myself more in the last year. And I think sometimes that’s been the right choice, but I think sometimes it’s been only for the sake of being safe. And I don’t want to live a life of playing it safe all the time.
I’m still growing, so I’m still figuring out when sitting back and observing instead of jumping in with my opinion is the right move, and still figuring out when my courage to be a little dangerous and shake things up and speak my mind is one of my greatest strengths.
And still figuring out when tenaciously going after my training schedule to stay on track for upcoming races at the cost of doing other things with my time is the healthy thing to do, and when I can put running aside and not let it consume my life, making time for other important things.
And I don’t have to think or figure out whether yesterday I made the right choice. Today, the bond Monster and I will always share is permanently displayed next to my heart, and that is something “the importance of the long run” can never come close to.