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Posts Tagged ‘grit’

trail morning summer green trees neponset

I get up when the alarm goes off, or, if it’s Saturday, when the sunlight glowing through the living-room windows reaches me in our bedroom, across the house. I roll out of bed and start to wake up: opening the window blind to check on the weather, heading to the kitchen for a drink of water.

When I started running last fall, it was almost always evening: after the workday was done, stepping out on the trail toward the edge of the dark. I love the trail at dusk and even when it’s “proper dark,” as my English housemates used to say. And I love it too in the long golden glorious lengthening evenings of spring and summer.

But on some Saturdays, and on a few weekday mornings this summer, I’ve started getting out there early.

No matter what my plans are, it takes me a while to wake up: putting in my contacts, slathering on sunscreen. I change into running clothes: an ancient pair of Old Navy running shorts, a tank top or T-shirt, one of the two black sports bras that are creating funky tan lines on my back. My shoulders are freckling, for the first time in years.

trail morning selfie sea water

I brew a cup of ginger peach tea, this most essential morning fuel. I grab a handful of cherries, pop a piece of bread in the toaster, or eat a few spoonfuls of Greek yogurt with granola and dried cranberries. If I remember to, I do a few calf raises while I’m drinking my tea, moving around the kitchen. Sometimes I stretch or do a few lunges. I almost always do some jumping jacks and a minute’s worth of push-ups, a habit I’ve picked up from Monday night boot camp.

I grab my phone and headphones and sunglasses, hook a house key onto my sports bra, slip on the stretchy headband that keeps my hair out of my face. I head out the door, down three flights of stairs, down the block and around the corner. I walk until I hit the trail proper, and then I crank up the music and run.

The Neponset is lush with green shade in the early morning, scarlet sumac and spreading trees and climbing nets of wild roses, past their bloom now. There’s a mural and a trolley overpass and then a long stretch edged with tall reeds, which is all sunshine in the early morning. It contains the chalk heart I love, the water to my right, boats bobbing and glinting in the morning sun.

blue flowers sea sky neponset

I turn on the music that helps me rev up or wake up: Walk the Moon or the Cranberries, or a few folk songs written and sung by an old professor of mine. It’s an unusual running playlist, but it works for me. I take my time, letting my legs hit their stride, stopping to walk in between stretches of running. I look up and breathe in deep.

My loop is the same, or similar, on most of my runs: down the straightaway near my house, waiting for the traffic signal to change at the busy road nearby. A couple of semicircle loops on the next stretch, past municipally approved daylilies and tall elderflower bushes. Past the first wooden pier, the boxy apartment complex, through the park entrance and over a bridge. The music moves on, through folk and rock, Broadway soundtracks and sometimes hip-hop. (No one is more surprised than I am about my newfound love for a few Macklemore tracks.)

Out there I can let my thoughts unwind, sometimes mulling over a problem, sometimes humming along with the music and letting it all go. There are dog walkers, other runners, some of whom I’m starting to recognize. Sometimes the thick humidity holds the promise of shimmering heat later. Other times it’s crisp and blue, and I luxuriate in the feel of the air against my skin. Always, I am so glad to be out there, to be moving, to be alive.

We’ve lived in this neighborhood almost a year, and the trail has become as much home as the house we inhabit. I return to it at all times of day, watching the seasons change, its contours by now both familiar and a new delight. The particular joy of the morning run is embracing all this beauty early in the day. Sometimes the pace is slower than on my evening runs, but the glory makes me think of an old hymn line I love: new every morning.

By the time I make the turn and come home, I’m sweaty and starving and sometimes a little sore. But I often feel new, too. Along with the muscle fatigue, there’s another thrumming in my bones: a sense of accomplishment, quiet joy. And gratitude.

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tulip magnolia tree blossoms

Instructions on Not Giving Up

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

budding tree green blue sky

I found this poem via the good folks at Image Journal. Their ImageUpdate e-newsletter is always full of thoughtful, luminous writing and art.

We’re very much in the bud-and-bloom stage here, and I’m loving it. But I also love the image of the patient leaves growing despite hurt, despite cold, despite pain and scars: Fine then, I’ll take it. I’ll take it all. (I just read that Limón has a new collection coming out this summer, too.)

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month.

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brave necklace coral scarf

“Do you have the courage to go alone?” Mrs. Whatsit asked.

“No.” Meg’s voice was flat. “But it doesn’t matter.” She turned to her father and Calvin. “You know it’s the only thing to do.”

—Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

I picked up A Wrinkle in Time again a few weeks ago, after the hubs and I went to see Ava DuVernay’s multiracial, star-studded, visually dazzling new adaptation.

I had some reservations about the film, especially the adult casting. I had trouble forgetting that I was watching Reese Witherspoon and Oprah instead of Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which. But I loved Storm Reid’s turn as Meg Murry: lonely, stubborn, fiercely loving, at once brave and fearful – which is to say, utterly human.

The film inspired me to dive back into the book. And from the first line – “It was a dark and stormy night” – I was swept up again by the story of Meg and Calvin and Charles Wallace. It’s odd and mysterious and wonderful, and I’ve enjoyed it before. But this time, these particular lines stopped me in my tracks.

I’ve been following the word brave and its fellows – courage, resilience – for a long time now. My word for this year, also related, is grit. Meg’s words, and especially her actions, reminded me of my word, and the lines in Paula McLain’s novel Love and Ruin about the young soldiers who relied on grit when their courage failed them.

Meg realizes, in this moment, that it doesn’t matter if she feels brave enough to go and rescue Charles Wallace. She simply has to do it. Like all my other heroines, she understands that going forward is the only thing to do. And she does it – though she’s terrified. (Spoiler alert: she succeeds, and makes it back home, along with her loved ones. But it’s the doing – not the outcome – that matters.)

Sometimes, like Meg, I don’t know if I have the courage to do hard things. But it doesn’t always matter: they’ve often got to be done. Sometimes grit is what’s left when your courage fails you, when you can’t summon the fire of bravery or even a glowing ember. In those times, grit provides the traction needed to move forward.

I love so many things about A Wrinkle in Time: the whimsy and magic, the deep love the characters have for each other, the celebration of light and hope amid unimaginable darkness. But I’m holding these words especially close as I walk through a blustery, fitful spring. Meg and her creator, Madeleine, both knew a thing or two about grit. And so do I.

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stronger together heart graffiti three lives

Today is just another Monday in many places. But here in my adopted city of Boston, it’s Marathon Monday.

It’s been five years since the bombing near the finish line that marked Boston, and the marathon, forever. We are a little wary these days, a little battle-weary, a little scarred. There is still joy in the marathon, but it’s layered with grief, and a fierce, stubborn gladness. This city, and the runners who descend on it every year, possess grit in spades. And they – we – are determined to keep going.

This year, as a novice runner, I understand the marathon in a new way. For the first time, I have a small sense of what it’s like to lace up your running shoes and get out there even when you don’t feel like it, even when the weather sucks, even when you’d rather stay inside.

I also have a small sense of the joy that comes from pushing yourself, from settling into the rhythm of a run, from sweating and moving and pounding the pavement (or in my case, the river trail). I am learning all the time about sore legs and stretching, about warming up and cooling down, about layers and sports bras and the importance of a good playlist. (It will surprise no one that I love to run to Hamilton.)

selfie gray hat river trail

I don’t pretend to know the particular challenges of being an elite runner or even a marathoner. The longest race I’ve ever (yet!) run is a 5K. But I’m prouder and more excited than ever for the marathon this year, because now I’m a runner. In a small way, I’m one of them.

I am cheering on every single person running today, from the leading elites to those who will limp across the finish line. (I am especially proud of my former colleague Jim Ryan, dean of Harvard’s Ed School.)

This is their race and this is our city. Together, we are Boston Strong. And if you’re running, we are all rooting for you.

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Edging toward spring

forsythia branches yellow flowers

The forsythia are late this year.

I usually spot their electric-yellow blossoms toward the end of February: they are sometimes an early sign of winter’s end. But although my friend Amy brought an armful of boughs inside to force them in midwinter, I only spotted them blooming outside last week.

crocuses stripe flowers

The crocuses, my faithful little friends, arrived right on time, along with the snowdrops, which sprouted up in their beds along the paths I walk daily in Cambridge. The long, elegant stems of daffodils and the uncurling leaves of tulips are up, too, but they’re not blooming yet – as far as I know.

tulip leaves flowerbed

It’s a long wait, every year, for the budding trees and green grass and soft air. I’m still getting most of my flower fix from my beloved florist, and from the geraniums in my dining-room window. They are blooming as though it were June already, scarlet and cheerful. They care as little for the weather forecast as do the saucy robins I see hopping about on the river trail.

geraniums red flowers

Some signs of spring arrive regardless of the weather: the approach of Commencement, the joy of Easter, the pageantry of the Masters. But I’m ready for it to feel like spring. I’m ready to revel in new beginnings. (And to wear lighter clothes, for a change.)

Until the forecast improves, I’ll be over here, bundled up, drinking tea, and watching the flowerbeds for (more) signs of color and life. Surely spring will win in the end. It always does.

scilla flowers blue

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the long run book snow menzies-pike

My one little word for this year is grit. Two and a half months in, it’s already proven quite apt.

I’m running several times a week these days, and that takes grit. Getting myself out onto the trail after a long workday can be tough, but it’s rewarding.

There’s also the literal grit that collects in the treads of my running shoes (and, subsequently, on my kitchen floor). And the grit required to power through the boot-camp workouts I’ve been doing on Monday nights with Erin and a handful of other women. We do bursts of cardio – high knees, jumping jacks – interspersed with lunges and squats, weight training and push-ups.

Sometimes – I won’t lie – it’s hard. But it, too, is rewarding.

I’ve been on the lookout for words about grit, and I found the first ones, fittingly, in Catriona Menzies-Pike’s wonderful memoir, The Long Run.

Like me, Menzies-Pike is a lifelong bookworm who never expected to become a runner. Also like me, she fell in love with the sport and was amazed at the changes it wrought in her body and soul. She writes about pushing through, trying and failing, building up endurance and coming face to face with her own limits. “While I might not be sporty, I sure as hell was gritty,” she asserts. I’ve thought about that line during a couple of hard runs on the trail.

I came across more words on grit in Love and Ruin, Paula McLain’s stunning novel about journalist Martha Gellhorn and her tempestuous love affair with Ernest Hemingway. The book contains many beautiful, blazingly honest passages about love and loss and war.

Early, on, as Gellhorn talks to a group of republican rebels during the Spanish Civil War, she realizes: “they didn’t have an endless supply of bravery, because no one ever did. When courage failed them, they would find a way to stand their ground anyway and fight on spirit alone. They had that in spades—grit rather than bravery.”

The word grit caught my eye, as did the comparison to courage: these two things as related, but distinct. Much later in the book, Gellhorn—now working as a war correspondent in besieged Finland—says simply, “I didn’t feel brave, though. It wasn’t bravery when you did what you had to do.”

Grit is doing what you have to do, and also what you know you should do. For me, it’s often about the daily tasks that require not only courage, but stick-to-it-iveness. Sometimes I fail at these, or run out of steam, but I’m doing my best to keep going.

So often, these days, grit is required: to do my work and take care of my people and simply keep on going. Good words help with that, and I’m grateful for these.

Are you following a word or phrase this year? How’s it going?

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heart sneakers trail

My one little word for 2018 is grit.

It took me a while to find it, and even longer to figure out what to say about it. I tried out a few other possibilities (while reflecting on the unexpected places magic took me in 2017). Nothing quite seemed to fit, until I remembered that grit sneaked its way in alongside magic last summer.

Grit is closely related to courage, which of course bears a deep connection to my longtime word, brave. It is ordinary, daily, sometimes deeply mundane: it is, quite often, the opposite of glamorous, though I think it can sometimes be magical.

Grit is the tiny pebbles that stick in the treads of my running shoes after an hour or two spent on the river trail. It is the crumbs I sweep off the kitchen table into my hand, over and over again. It is the commitment to the daily details that make up a life, to showing up and taking care and paying attention, even when you’d rather be anywhere else.

It’s been a year (and counting) of tremendous, often shattering change, which has rearranged my internal furniture in ways I didn’t expect. Each of those changes – the continuing fallout from the election, so many challenges at work, even the move this summer to a new apartment I love – have required copious amounts of grit. And I know there are more changes ahead in 2018. I’m making a couple (mostly exercise-related); I’ve been warned about a few (mostly work-related); and I’m certain there will be others I don’t see coming. (That’s life, isn’t it? In all its variety.)

Grit is a noun, and it’s also a verb: especially in the winter, I often have to grit my teeth through the latest train delays or impending snowstorm. But I don’t think grit has to be dreary or dour: as a friend said recently, “It’s certainly not whimsical, but I think there’s a quiet kind of joy in grit.”

When she said that, I thought of Lindsey’s musings on stubborn gladness and sturdy joy: I want more of both, this year. I think grit is as much about leaning into the good stuff, the magic and delight and love, as it is about showing up for the hard things, the loss and boredom and weariness. They are intertwined, in ways I can’t unravel or explain.

Last spring, I found a few lines in The Last Days of Café Leila that have become my mantra.  I’ve written them down more times than I can count, and they still ring in my head almost every day. For Noor, the protagonist, and for me, “the only thing to do is to keep moving, to do something, to show courage, to give everything [I’m] capable of giving.”

If that’s not grit, I don’t know what it is.

Do you have a word for this year? Please share, if you’d like.

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