This past Saturday I ran a 10 mile road race in Norfolk CT. It was my first 10 miler. The course was dubbed a “grueling one” in the Berkshires with many steep hills laid among farms, forests, pastures and old stone walls.
I drove up in the morning with my coffee in hand, donned in my new winter weather running tights and North Face™ top. I merged from the 84 onto route 8 and found myself deeper in the Northern Connecticut woods. The vast gaze of rock and forest that lay before me, and the white noise of the car humming along to the Chile Peppers became hypnotic.
However, my enjoyment and excitement was no match for a heavy heart and I began to cry. I wasn’t expecting these tears. I hadn’t cried over this yet, though knew I would when the time was right. When I thought of the precious little hearts and minds of the children who lost their lives in Newtown it made everything I was doing seem insignificant and trivial. The music I was listening to, the gifts I had in mind, the net time I wanted to achieve, the tree and decorations I wanted, all vanished into my mind’s shadows.
I told myself as I continued to drive that I would dedicate this race and each step, to every precious child’s beating heart and to every tear shed. Each breath their little lungs inhaled and each sight their wide eyes beheld would become my stamina and my vision. They would all be my inspiration to persevere and continue. “I will not let them down” I told myself. Every step I took would be a dedication to their innocent young life, gone forever. Each time I wanted to stop for a minute or catch my breath, I would tell myself “no, I must race onward.”
Perhaps I was truly running; Running from the horror humanity can present and the incomprehensible grief that the families are left with.
Here is another hill, mile seven. I was breathing heavily and leaning forward into the hill beneath towering White Pines. “I think Doolittle Lake is beyond the trees. Those children…I wonder what their names were? I wonder what they looked like? Did they feel pain? Did one of the boys resemble my son?” My mind conjured up images of small children in dresses, braids and pig tails, football jerseys, smiles, and corduroy overalls. “I wish I could make them better and hold them. I wish I could make it all ok. “
I raced onward and thrust my body forth. Step by step, the pounding of my feet, the beating of my heart, and the swishing of my numbered bib became a rhythm to run to. “Swish, frock, loom, shik, swish, frock, loom, shick…,” over and over again.
A woman in pink shorts was a distant pace car ahead of me. I struggled, and overcame several others, yet, pink shorts disappeared quietly over a hill.
I found myself alone again on a cold dirt road in a cloud of smoke from a nearby woodstove. I studied the forest and the details of each oak and maple. I looked to the sky. I told myself, “I will make my life count.” There is very little I will ever want or need again. This tragedy has changed me forever.
As I rounded a corner, the sun shone bright in my eyes and reflected off icy wet mud. I almost fell down, but my legs needled forth. “Where am I?” I thought. Up a hill I went. There, I did it. I passed pink shorts.
For the rest of my life I will dedicate myself to children. I have chosen to leave my job and become a teacher. The lives of the fallen children are my inspiration. They will lead me not just in this race, but in the choices I make in my life. Children, you will never be forgotten.
I emerged over a hill and burst into a sprint as I came down the mountain. The cones were in sight, my finish was imminent. The colored triangular flags waved in the distance. I would succeed. Mud splashed up the back of my pant leg as I passed a kind competitor who called out, “nice kick, go!” she said. I crossed the finish line. “I love you little ones. I could not have done it without you. You are my light.”