Days before the surgeons did their work on me, followed by the oncologists, I asked them the most fundamental question. “If I accept the treatment can I ever run a marathon distance again?” That was the sole determinant of my decision to continue, because if I lived to run a marathon I had a shot of resurrecting a life of value.
Yesterday was the final chapter of a true marathon that started 34 months ago. It was the last bit of a story that I will never relive. Even though the run was easy and I have conquered much harder trails, it was a formal redemption for my failure back in June. (See June blog post.) Consequently, it was indescribably important as an undeniable statement: No matter what the future holds, I beat the odds. I did this.
It is not that I am ungrateful for modern medicine. But I am not grateful to the medical industry for something it did not provide: A life.
Resurrecting a life means assigning yourself as your own hero. You will need help, but you have to be the master of your journey. You have to cling to what is left of your own essence, and from that add tiny pieces until you have built something authentic. Maybe in some ways it will be better. Therein lies the sweetness.
You will never be ready. Just go do it anyway.
We can spend our lives preparing to live. There is no story in that. Instead, our life stories should be about accomplishing or failing, with one outcome preferable but either outcome acceptable.
Instead of asking if we are ready to do something, let’s simply ask why we are doing it and then let the process go from there. The rest is just ambition and ego.
Tomorrow I will attempt a marathon, the longest distance I have run since my ordeal began 34 months ago. Because of my challenges, I will never feel ready. OK, so if I fail, it will be a beautiful epic failure. If I succeed, I can close this painful chapter of my life, having reached my self-established minimum level of “recovery”. It also means I am well enough to finally tackle ever larger adventures, such as the Rota Vicentina in Portugal next month, and onward from there....
I can feel relaxed about all of this because I know why I am doing it. I am doing it for myself, for the indescribable joy of running as the essence of humanness. I am doing it for those who can’t, and for those who think they can’t. I am doing it because I love dirt and hate pavement. I am running this silly thing in the name of love, truth, grace, and beauty, which is the reason why I do nearly anything in my spartan and highly distilled life.
Answer your why, and then just go.
My greatest accomplishment is not surviving all that I have experienced; It is acting normal. I am able to pull off playing the character that can smile, work, grasp objects with opposable thumbs and all that other standard human stuff. But that is not how I feel in my core, and have not since April 7th 2015, the day I let someone cut open my chest and replace a piece of my heart, the day when two years of hell began.
True, it is getting better, although the whole thing is asymptotic – approaching an impossible goal of being as I was before, incrementally slower improvement over time, without the slightest chance of reaching that goal. But it is better. I can do more. And this is why:
I learned from losing everything… that it is impossible to lose everything. As long as you are alive, there is always some essence of you that exists. But some of us, if so unlucky, do lose nearly everything, or at least everything outward. That is the bitch.
So there is this: To do is to be. The tired adage, “fake it until you make it” is almost true except when it is not. This is because in a certain context it isn’t faking. Learning to be your own chosen version is like learning to play music or run trails. It takes attentive repetition. And those of us who get the opportunity to have our slate wiped clean, cleaner than we in fact want, have only these options: (1) Act like you are part of the living dead, in which case you are, or (2) Act like you are a badass in the face of ridiculous odds. I have felt like Number 1 but am choosing Number 2.
Research has shown that perception of oneself as an athlete results in improved athletic performance. And in a completely unscientific but obviously true example, Cary Grant said that he played the part of the man he wanted to be until he became that man. I'm sold. So here is the lesson for both surviving and thriving. When all appears lost, act like the hero of your own life. Or die. Simple.