Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Running Takes On Whole New Meaning at the Boston Marathon

Marathon running is the gold standard for human perseverance. Nine years ago I was coaxed into my first experience with it at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. Since then, I have run four more: renegade at the Disney Marathon in 2000, the Louisville Marathon in 2002 (Lia ran half), then the OBX marathon with Robbie last year...it was during that run in the pouring rain that I decided to see if it was possible: if I could train my body into running fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon...so I did, and last March, I managed to post a qualifying time at the Ocean Drive Marathon in New Jersey. A year later, it was time to go to Boston.

Training had gone fine. Because of Haiti, a speaking engagement, and the delightful inconvenience called parenthood, I was unable to get in the distance that I would have wanted, but I was definitely in fine enough shape to have a pleasant experience. However, things changed last week. Most likely, the bug was the one that Lia had the weekend before. It got to me on Thursday morning as I proceeded to crap out everything that I had eaten Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Friday was more of the same. I lost my appetite. Friday, I ate two pieces of bread and four bites of chicken. Saturday morning I stepped on the scale: 136; I hadn't weighed this little since high school! We flew to Boston. I ate one captain wafer and dinner with Dave and Katie (which was fantastic - which I pooped out later). Sunday (race eve) I ate one pancake, half a sandwich, and some pizza. Didn't feel great, but was pretty confident I could gut the run out the next day. But I was definitely bummed about how I was feeling. (An added disappointment was that because of the timing of naps and what not, we were unable to get to the registration bib pickup until they had run out of cool shirts; all they had left were X-large, XX-large and women sizes. I got a woman's large. See picture. Sucks to be me.)

At 4:30am, I woke myself up in mid puke, fortunately (if you really can say such a thing) catching it in my mouth and keeping Dave and Katie's blankets clean. I cannot say the same for their commodes. For the next hour, I barfed one more time, and dookied seven. About 5:30 or so, the dookie became straight water. My head was throbbing, I read cover to cover their toilet reading (Worst Case Scenario: Parenting - I give it a 6). Around 7:15, I called my father-in-law for some advice (Rich is an expert in many things). After talking it through, we decided to drink some Gatorade and if I could manage to keep it down, then I would go for it.

So I packed up my stuff, and Lia and I (and A-Ro) went to the CVS for Gatorade and Immodium. Lia stayed in the car; I grabbed her purse and walked in. And as I get to the drink aisle, my head starts spinning, and I begin to blackout. The next thing, I was leaning up against the cold glass doors, sliding down to a knee. Tears started rolling. I staggered to my feet and knocked over a stack of paper towels. People were looking. I decided to take a lap around the store to regain my composure and wiped the crying into my cheeks. I paid for the Gatorade with Lia's card, but I was having difficulty focusing on the key pad. The numbers were moving on me. And I mistyped. I started crying again. I couldn't see straight. And the lady at the counter patiently helped me push the buttons as I tried again. I walked to the car a broken man, painfully clear that I was too dehydrated to make a go of it. Lia held me as I weep in her lap.

Over the day, I managed to keep some fluids in. We did get to watch some of the race. It is quite an event. It was hard not to be devastated. My stomach is still up and down. I have been to the can already once during this journal entry. (I need to go now). But what can you say, marathon running is what it is - a test of perseverance - in many ways. There are going to be good days and bad days. The Boston just happened to land on a very bad one for me. But as our angelic stewardess counseled me last night on the airplane ride home: character is what matters and things like this build character. And things could be worse. And I still have my legs. And if I can qualify once for Boston, I can do it again. For me, it will just take a bit more work.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Haiti - 3 of 3 Dance

This is Dance (Day-ahnce). He's the one on the left. We met cutting rebar ties in Messailles, Haiti. And it only took him an hour or so to get comfortable enough around me to laugh at my multi-faceted inadequacies at everything manually laborious. It took me about a day for him to become one of my favorite people in the universe.

Communication had its obstacles. He didn't know English, I didn't know Creole, we both knew about the same amount of French, which wasn't that much. For instance, when he asked me how old I was, I said trois cent trois which I thought might mean thirty-three, he just shook his head like I was crazy. "What?" I said. "Can't you understand numbers?" He grabbed a 2" x 4" and wrote 303 with his finger. "Oh," I said, wiping my palm over the imaginary numbers like I was erasing them. With my finger, I wrote two threes, blushed and smiled. I think he said he was 58. Either 58 or 78. Something with an 8 on the end.

I learned that he had six children. The oldest was sick; he was waiting to see a doctor. Dance took me by the hand and introduced me to him. I brought Lia over and assured Dance that my wife would personally see to it that his son would get better. We were walking back to the construction site when he stopped to look me in the eyes. He said, as best as I could understand,"That man in there is my first son. Mon enfant premiere!" Love was in his eyes. And I think what he was trying to say was that although his son was sick, that he was proud of him, that he would always be his beloved son in whom he was well pleased.

The next day, I met three of his grandchildren (I never caught how many he had). They had just finished morning classes and were showing him the box of goodies that one of them had received. It was her birthday (her name was Grace, I think she said), and she unwrapped a cube of grape Hubba Bubba for him to chew. And then she offered one to me. And I wasn't paying attention because I was holding back the tears at how beautiful it was to see Dance with his grandchildren eating Hubba Bubba in the middle of Haiti. And Dance got to his feet, put his arms on my shoulders and introduced me to his grandchildren. He called me his Dear Friend, Ned. And I leaned over to the three girls and said, "Votre grand-pere est une homme tres importante," which was as close as I could get to the words I wanted to say.

That night I started scheming about how I could smuggle Dance back to America with me, to help him escape a country that couldn't pay him more than 10 dollars a day (The average wage is 2), to give him a chance to retire and live his last decades in peace. He could come home with Lia and I. And we could go on walks and sit on the back porch and name the birds. I could teach him to watch television. And the more I got to thinking the more I realized that even if I figured out a way, Dance wouldn't go.

Why would Dance want to leave? Leave his healthy cow and house that he had built with his own hands? Leave his six children who all live within walking distance? Leave the opportunity to work right next to the school where his grandchildren go? Leave the fruit juice slushy he shared with one of them every day at 10am? Leave his home? He had everything a man could ever hope, wish or imagine.

And it got me to thinking, is all the stuff I have really that great? Does it make me any more happy? What am I missing that Dance seems to have in wheelbarrow loads? (Let me tell you, the man can haul a wheelbarrow.) Why does this land of plenty leave so many of us wanting? What if Haitians really have it better than we do?

Maybe they do. Maybe Dance does. But as I have marinated on all of this the last few weeks, what I have come to decide is that the stuff or lack of stuff that is in our equation is beside the point. The solution is somewhere else. What Dance embodied was contentment. He actually enjoyed mixing cement; he loved his son even when he was sick; he adored his family; he wanted his picture taken; he was proud of that healthy cow of his, the fruit trees that dotted his property. He was happy being Dance. He didn't want to be anyone else.

There were other Haitians I met that wanted something else - to be living somewhere, to be doing something, to becoming someone other than who they were becoming. They were the pictures of hopelessness, resignation and despair. And those were the images which broke my heart and most reminded me of so many of the faces I see every day back here in America.

Contentment is not the same thing as complacency. It is not the antithesis of motivation. Contentment is something else. As the Apostle Paul writes, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." It is a secret Dance has learned.

So I went to Haiti for Dance to teach me. And maybe I do need to simplify, there probably is some stuff I need to get rid of, but I shouldn't fool myself into thinking that simplicity is the answer to my problems. And I shouldn't think that adding something will either. Contentment is found somewhere else entirely. That's what I began to learn in Haiti. That's what I witnessed in my dear friend Dance. That's what I hope will stay with me forever.