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Run 57: With (a lot of) Help from My Friends

August 10, 2012

Miles: 8

Other runners: 0

Here’s how most of my web-log posts have started this summer: “shenme shenme shenme… It’s hot, and I cry a lot.”

This one is going to start like that. Except, it won’t really be about the heat or crying or running, and it will end with death and love, like a good story should.


It was hot on Friday and I cried ALL DAY. I’m perpetually concerned that I have skin cancer, and so the only break in crying was a visit to a dermatologist who I will never, ever, ever see again. How any doctor can distinguish what may or may not be potentially cancerous while examining someone in the dimmest of dimly-lit rooms is a question that shouldn’t have to be asked. It was like being in a cave, a cave where everyone speaks Spanish or Polish.

So I cried afterwards, and then my mother-in-law called and gave me what may have been the best pep-talk of my life (which I can’t accurately summarize here, as some of it was in Farsi) and then my husband left and I was all alone. So I did what anyone who needs a little bit of gentleness does: I made myself a bowl of gnocchi with lots of Parmesan cheese, had some salad, and read a magazine.

And then I went for a run. It was dusk when I set out, and I was startled by how much time had passed since my last time running this long-run route. Flowery blooms now covered wire fences, obscuring my view of the gravel and concrete that lay beyond. Homes that once stood tall and severe now looked unkempt, colorful toys strewn in the yard, flowers dancing and trampled along the sidewalk. Kids roared by on Big Wheels when I crossed the concrete path circling the baseball field, the gravelly grumble of their plastic tires echoing below the bright lights.  There was a soccer game being played in the dark at a church lot, and everyone- no matter how old, young, athletic, not- wore shiny, brightly-colored jerseys. People shouted in Spanish and drank Gatorade and ran and talked and goofed and hugged, and two men greeted me cheerfully when I passed. I’m always the first one to say hello, but not this time. What a welcome, enormous shift. I felt good, really good, when I got home.

The next day took me to northwest Wisconsin. It was one of those really wonderful days, with the most beautiful friends, the sweet smells of summer, wine and cheese (probably too much cheese), and the sorts of laughter and honesty you can only share with people you’ve known a very long time. In the middle of one round of wine and cheese (and gin and tonics and chocolate martinis and cider, if I’m to be really honest), one of my wisest and most dear friends looked at me squarely and said, “Michele, you’ve got to get out of Chicago.” She said she had been reading this, my web-log.

I protested: “But I’ve been trying hard to be more positive! Doesn’t it sound more positive?”

“It sounds like you feel really guilty.”

The sky was so dark and the moon so bright through the window, I couldn’t sleep. Sure, I feel guilty! I was 50% of the decision to move to Chicago. Chicago is my husband’s hometown. It’s a city that some of my favorite people love, the place where they’ve made their lives. Who am I to complain about a place I agreed to move to? What sort of elitism or smug “progressive” privilege do I carry when I bemoan the heat and high crime rate and enormous SUVs and lack of recycling pick-up and good coffee (and mountains and oceans and tall pines)… Am I too focused on “getting out” or “getting by” to notice the struggles and fears of my neighbors who are perhaps too busy to be concerned with beauty and peace? Or perhaps they’re more easily and richly content, perhaps they’ve found those things here?

I had a long talk with my husband later, and we both promised to never utter the words “make the best of it” again. We’re still in Chicago, obviously, but I am closer to the point where I can honestly, and unapologetically write that I do not like living in Chicago. It doesn’t mean I don’t like Chicago, or that I don’t fiercely love the family or friends who live here. It just means that it is not the place where I find beauty and peace. That’s a step.

I started this web-log to be accountable. About a month after we moved here, I realized that I was no longer eager to go out for a run, that I still hadn’t found anything particularly interesting that would motivate me, no space I could reach to and enjoy and visit again and again. There were no wild gardens, no steep climbs, no wide expanses of sky or clean rushes of air.  So I started a web-log: I would just have to find funny or profound or starkly beautiful things on my runs, and then I would write about them. And I certainly have found those things, sometimes. Not always.

Wednesday marked what would have been the 102 birthday of my Granny Statz. She died last year. She was the most beautiful woman, and she was very proud. She always put on lipstick, even when she was old and not feeling well, and she wore pumps and nice earrings and gracefully waved the long-fingers of her right hand in quick twists along with whatever music she was listening to. I catch myself doing that sometimes, and it makes me feel proud as well, like I’ve inherited a little magic, a little strength. She loved her life. That, I think, is what made people love her most. She loved her life, and then she died. I think about her every day.

We got a puppy on Tuesday- a wriggly, stinky, bright-eyed puppy we named Walden. It’s tiring to raise a puppy, particularly when you really care that the puppy learns manners and doesn’t pee in the house and doesn’t chase the cat (etc., etc.). Little puppy woke us last night and, as it was my turn to take him out, I gathered his squirming warm body from the crate and walked outside. It was pouring! Real rain, with thunder and lightning and wind. I felt terribly alive, particularly with a little warm baby in my arms, shaking and licking my face. He was too distracted to go to the bathroom, so at 3 am on a Friday morning, I found myself sitting comfortably on a chair in the quiet light of our living room, a puppy chewing a toy on the floor and a cat watching, sleepy-eyed, on the couch. I felt very tired and also very content. I wonder these days if maybe we’re made up of a million pieces of love, and maybe if we’re lucky we get to give those little pieces of love away until there just aren’t any left, and that’s it. Puppy, cat, husband, dear friends, family… The idea is comforting to me.

A blanket that was on my grandma’s bed now covers Walden’s crate. If I lean close, I smell her.


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  1. Anne permalink

    a slightly late happy b-day girl!!!
    i freakin hate DC but you already knew that – no apologies. i don’t care if it was my state of mind while i was there or if it was the city – it blew and i won’t hesitate to own it when i say i have no desire to move back.
    i suppose you could lower your expectations about your environment – to some extent i do that here (ok so: air pollution, lack of food safety, and internet censorship are givens – but what else? oh yeah! shao kao!!) but f*** that – no one here actually likes that stuff and if they could change it, they would. in yoga, people always talk about changing the world by changing your heart. if your heart isn’t flourishing in chicago, make the change so you can radiant all that joyfulness about life like your beloved gran did. congrats on the new puppy!!
    MWAH. miss you babe.

  2. Thank you, Anne! Grateful as always for your wisdom and missing you lots…

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