Signs

Each time I teach Freshman Comp, I have my students write a “This I Believe” essay.  And for the last few times, I’ve done the same alongside them.  I don’t claim mine are particularly good; I’d like to get better about my humor within them, but here’s the one for this semester.  For the first time, I managed to easily produce one within the word guidelines.  Woohoo!


By the time I saw the woman, the June morning had finally warmed up to something approaching tolerable.  She stood, sign in hand, in the middle of 4th Avenue in Downtown Seattle.  Even moments later, had anyone been fool enough to attempt to elicit a response from me, I’m not sure I could have said what she looked like. I doubt I could even describe the sign.  But, the phrase is indelibly inked across my brain when I recall mile 14 and when I recall my first marathon in general.

“It isn’t supposed to be easy.”

I’d not yet hit the dreaded wall, and, in fact, I never did that day, though I’d seen a fair number of them during my training, which had taken place in the horrid heat and humidity of Georgia.   That June morning in Seattle had dawned cold, but had become a kind of sunny, 70s gorgeous as we wound through Tukwila, then across Lake Washington, and finally into Seattle–a day most assuredly unlike the stereotypes of Seattle and its blackberries and bookshops.

I wound up in Seattle as a mission to get sober again, having failed miserably again at the art of drinking with intelligence.  I wanted a fresh start, a chance to prove to myself that I could set my mind to something—if not alcohol—just something unlikely and unbelievable and accomplish it in a way I had failed to do with my alcohol experiment of the preceding months.   I was drawn to Seattle because I’d never been there, because my idol hails from there, because the inaugural marathon just happened to be that weekend in June that I knew I could go.

My husband was convinced for months that I had lost my mind, and likely, though he was kind enough never to admit it, that I would never accomplish this goal.  I certainly wasn’t sure that I would.  But, I had made it and by mile 14 I knew I would finish.  Time and again I have found myself in situations destined or designed to be difficult—teenage motherhood, a Ph.D. program, getting sober (twice), academic administration before tenure, now, a marathon.

“It isn’t supposed to be easy.”

An anonymous woman, whose sign meant the world to me, stood at mile 14 of 26.2. She must have known the spot people would need the message—likely a runner herself. Someday, I’ll be her—the woman standing in the middle of 4th Avenue– that anonymous cheerleader for anonymous folk doing something unbelievable and difficult and worthwhile.  I believe her message.  And I believe I’ll keep running and struggling and enjoying the exhilaration of all of the challenges that life and I set in my path.

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