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Take A Picture With Your Mind

In Creative Living, Nature on November 8, 2015 at 1:46 pm

By Heila Rogers

tulips

Photo by Deborah Briggs

My mom was a preschool, kindergarten or first grade teacher for years. When little kids would get wiggly while waiting in line for the bathrooms or lunch, she would tell them, “Okay boys and girls, I want you to listen. Put an elephant in your mind.” They’d all grow quiet and gape with their minds busy. She’d wait a moment, then say, “Now, make it pink!” And so on.

It’s no wonder I grew up having a big imagination. She was also our full-time mom/teacher for even more years.

I also remember her using the phrase above, when we were on one of many driving trips as a family.

We didn’t grow up with cell phones or personal cameras. (I remember my first insta-matic camera. It was the kind with detachable cube flashbulbs. Only 12 photos per roll of film.)

So if our film ran out or we didn’t have a camera, and were looking at something especially beautiful, something that we wanted to remember, my mom would say:

“Take a picture with your mind!”

And we would.

We’d gaze and notice detail. We’d commit to memory smells, colors and textures.

We’d let the beauty … speak to us.

Our traveling, viewing experience was enriched by this heightened interaction with our surroundings.

Don’t get me wrong, I love photos, email, and online sharing, etc. too.

But this thrill of interaction, of absorbing, might be the reason folks seem to be swinging back more toward “analog” nowadays.

Laurel - snowdonia

Snowdonia/ Photo by Laurel Greszler

To be able to touch, smell, and really BE in a place (and with people), instead of with our noses attached to screens too much while the world goes on around us, without us.

Not only can we connect with others more, when we look around more closely, but we feel more connected to beautiful scenery or something interesting in a museum. A pile of autumn leaves on the ground can enrich our spirit somehow.

Thanks, Mom.

 

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Being the Banana

In Creative Living on February 5, 2015 at 9:15 pm

By Angela Nicolini

People tell themselves all sorts of reasons why they shouldn’t embrace their creative sides. “I don’t have time to paint or write.” “I’m too old to try something new.” But the biggest excuse seems to be, “I could never produce a true work of art.” But who gets to decide what art is? If it brings enjoyment to your life and the lives of others, isn’t any attempt at creativity worthwhile?

I’ve thought for a long time that I want to be a writer. I love to put pen to paper. And having lived a well-traveled and curious life, I have many anecdotes and facts to include in my stories.

I spoke three languages by the age of five. (Four languages if you include the ‘twin talk’ my sister and I made up.) I’ve had the good fortune of living in such fabulous countries as Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. I’ve traveled by plane, train, hot air balloon, riverboat, and even by camel in these exotic places, and many more.

Photo by Tammy Werner Zimbabwe

Photo by Tammy Werner
Zimbabwe

My aspiration is to write a fictional book for spiritual people who are not necessarily religious. I have lofty goals. My dream is for this book to be a shining beacon for all who read it. Then I’ll get to go on press tours and talk about my book. And having it made into a movie would be a fabulous cherry on top!

But several things stop me from attaining my goal. Mostly it’s the anticipation of the incredibly hard work involved, if I’m completely honest. It can take three years or more to write a novel. And I’ve heard that the endless revisions are the hardest part. My personality doesn’t respond well to sitting alone for hours at a time, working away at my computer. I also waste a lot of time with a running dialogue in my head: Is this a dream I want to follow because I really love writing, or simply because I want to feed my ego?

When I feel inclined to beat myself up over this world-changing book that has yet to materialize, I remind myself of a talk given by a wonderful Hindu speaker who came to my small, West Texas town several years ago.

The speaker’s message was simple: We are all part of God. And God is inside each of us. Our job as humans is merely to learn as much as we can about ourselves, and to strive to be our best selves. And in doing so, we will get closer to God.

He went on to say that we can change the world using this same strategy, and he illustrated his lesson in the most beautiful way. He explained that ripe bananas emit chemicals that make nearby fruits ripen faster. “If you have green bananas in your refrigerator, and you place them in a drawer with a ripe banana, they will ripen faster. Our job in life is simply to be that ripe banana for those around us.”

I believe the message he was giving is that by recognizing our true nature, embracing ourselves, and honoring those around us, we are emitting ‘goodness’ that those around us can soak up. And they, in turn, will also emit good vibes. And so on.

Photo by Mary Gregory West Texas

Photo by Mary Gregory
West Texas

This took all of the pressure off me to try to change the world in one, singular way. Instead, I decided to take a few extra seconds each day to smile at whomever served me at restaurants. I made an effort to ask the person ringing up my groceries how their day was going. If my friend was telling me about her bad day, I listened with my whole heart, instead of planning what I was going to say next in response. And I decided to make a deep, concerted effort to look at myself with open eyes.

Here’s the thing… after I embraced this new way of thinking, I started getting many opportunities to write in a way that actually fit my personality! Three years ago, I was offered a job teaching a class at a local university. While writing a curriculum for an entire semester was admittedly tedious, it only took one summer to do so. And each semester afterward has been easier than the one before. The most rewarding part was getting to include all of those fascinating facts and stories I’d collected throughout my life, to make the lectures more interesting.

Because of my new contacts at the university, I’ve also had several opportunities to give one-time guest lectures. I get to use ‘both sides’ of my brain to create presentations that offer the students facts, as well as fun.

I have a plethora of stories to draw on when composing my talks.

From my days as a student at an all-girls’ Catholic boarding school,

… to peeking into one of the great Pyramids in Egypt,

… to staying in a tree house in Kenya, that lies on the path of an ancient elephant migratory route (the spot in fact, where Queen Elizabeth found out on her honeymoon that she was to ascend the throne following her father’s death)…

And here I am, writing this article for this fabulous blog thanks to meeting its creator at a local non-profit where we both volunteer.

Don’t get me wrong. I might still write my world-changing book someday. But if I don’t, I know I can still make a difference in this world in other ways that may appear smaller, but are just as important. In short, I’ve learned that we don’t have to pressure ourselves to create masterpieces of art, literature, or music in order to believe our lives are worthwhile. We just need to be the ripe bananas. The rest will take care of itself.

Photo by Laurel Greszler England

Photo by Laurel Greszler
England

Love Is Creative

In Art, Creative Living, Music on February 15, 2014 at 6:48 pm

In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”

― Rumi

long wingsBy Heila Rogers

Everyone Wants to Create (Something)

I’ve been to the Fair and people make all sorts of things … pies, cakes, canned goods, quilts, woodwork, monster trucks. Wait. Monster trucks? Yes, someone creates a machine that can do above and beyond the ordinary, and they create a moment when they race.

Once completed, why does beauty thrill us or make us tear up? Why do we get goosebumps when we hear certain music, for example? In the same way, why are we moved to tears sometimes when we witness someone helping in an altruistic, sacrificial way?

I think that what we are witnessing and experiencing are pieces of the same thing.

Acts of love are also different kinds of artistry.

soar

There is also this:

Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul. – Alice Walker

This sounds so good, right? And there’s truth to it. However, we can even manage to mess this up. This, “creating beauty” thing. For example, we can get addicted to what we see as helping people. We can go back and back again and again for the “high,” so to speak. For the experience of the positive feeling that comes with giving. We can make rules about it. We can judge others for not doing it, or for doing it worse than us in our opinion. We can formulate it to mean only this and not that. We can resist receiving, and be always the one that is giving. As usual with humans, we can take things too far. We actually get kind of creative about that: taking things too far.

Defining creativity is important. If it means stretching out to include others, but disparaging your close-by neighbors, teachers, or co-workers, then it’s not creative.

To state the obvious, destruction of any kind is not creation.

Unless perhaps it’s this:

Transform criticism into creativity.  – Scottie Hayes

Destroying destruction can be a creative act. I saw the above quote on Pinterest, along with the following comment: “HOW?” How do we transform criticism into creativity? What a good question. It sounds good, but what does it mean? Here’s one way how. Look around you at what is in your immediate life. What is there for you to do? What excites you? Make something. Make anything. Draw a picture. Sing a song. Smile at someone. Do this instead of tearing someone down. Do this instead of railing about the mistakes of others, or citing a list of what they do wrong.

“Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.”  Romans 12:9

“Only God is truly good.”  Luke 18:19b

“We love because God first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Receive love and give it away.

As it flows into you, then let it flow out.

When we feel love, and know we are loved, that’s a creative, building thing.

When we receive love, and when we give someone good, when we listen and are listened to, when we have fun, those are creative, building things also.

In the words of the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, even though she very much enjoyed and appreciated beautiful clothes,

“I mean, a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s the life you’re living, in the dress.”

In an essay, C.S. Lewis quotes Goethe who says interestingly, that all his previous “love” affairs were, “for my own ennoblement.” Lewis makes the case that those therefore might not have been “love” affairs. Can they have been, if they were for the so-called lover’s own benefit? Without it really being in sight, the benefit of the other person?

dive eagle

This is why when we see before us sudden, unexpected, great or seemingly-small acts of helping, giving or kindness … we are moved to tears. Because the giver has no apparent regard for herself.

I think this is creativity. A Love. An Art. And I think it’s related to the way we can be moved to tears by a beautiful piece of music. I would suggest that they are a part and parcel of the same, beautiful, perfect … loving.

Check out this creative video and music clip, featuring Hilary Hahn playing “Bounce Bounce” on the violin, playing with Hauschka, another musician.

Then, check out this video clip below of Olympian Derek Redmond after injury, continuing on to the finish line with his father’s arm around him.

Beautiful, both of them, no?

With friends you grow wings. – Rumi

feathers

Becoming a Life Artist

In Art, Creative Living on February 15, 2014 at 6:46 pm

By Heila Rogers

What if someone has a wonderful talent, and works to paint an amazing painting, mold a glorious sculpture, or write a magnificent, universal character?

Certainly that person as an artist is contributing greatly to society by adding beauty to it.

What if that same person cuts you off in traffic, exploits or curses others, or lies habitually?

What if someone else creates then in a different form? This one consisting of small gestures, or actions that make good grow in people’s hearts?

Someone say, who slows down without bitterness when they’re cut off in traffic, someone who strives to thank people and lift them up, someone who honors others with truths — like the one that they matter to the world?

Actually we all fall into both categories, I think. We’re all both creators and destroyers.

What I want to explore is how we can create in miniscule ways throughout each day. How we can all become better Life Artists. Weaving, or painting, or sculpting beauty and love  into and out of each day.

Although we all appreciate great art, don’t the small moments of kindness we’ve experienced in our own lives stand out more brightly? Can’t we recall moments of forgiveness, warmth, and sacrificial care more quickly than we can remember the best painting or movie we’ve ever seen?

So the question is, does Great Art – also consist of kindness, forgiveness and love?

deer

Is beauty always a recipe that contains some measure of the above?

Back to the small acts and kindnesses.

I appreciate genuine smiles so much.

Even just “the dignity of notice” is something that is supremely valuable.

Watching the documentary, Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present made me think a lot about this kind of thing. Then I read an article about Fred Rogers of the PBS children’s show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, that made me think even more about how to create, by loving people individually.

What the artist Marina did, for this performance art piece was sit in a chair for hours at a time in a museum and face the person who sat in a chair opposite her. All day long, she did only this. She didn’t eat or drink during that time. She spent the nights during the show, drinking and going to the bathroom.

Although her motives for doing what she did are perhaps not completely clear, it is evident that she operated on a plane where she was seeking to receive and communicate truth. She was also willing to be uncomfortable in the process.

That was it. She met their eyes, she communicated as much as she could without words. She tried to “listen” to them on a deep level. She tried to see them. Just the act of giving attention was powerful. No touching or speaking was allowed.

Someone commented:

“She is treating each person that she encounters with the same attention and the same respect and that is pretty shocking.”

Isn’t it sad, that it’s shocking? That to, “treat each person that we encounter with the same attention and the same respect” is so unusual?

She and the others involved in different live art pieces actually prepared heavily in different ways for their performances. For example, they practiced being still and slowing down their breathing. They confronted things within themselves, in anticipation of being in front of people and offering up something. They spent a lot of time in silence, thinking.

I think that every person needs something like this, to be able to give to others in any way. We need strength from outside ourselves.

Another thing about this particular performance art was that everyone was watching the whole thing. People came to the museum to see the exhibit, which was two people sitting across from one another in silence.

Another aspect of note about it was that people practically hurt each other rushing into the museum, trying to compete to be the ones to sit in the empty chair.

My favorite moment is when two young kids replicate the performance and are cross-legged, sitting on the floor right there facing one another, staring. Of course they would copy the adults, but they also create something new of their own in that moment.

We can create in this way.

In contrast to the above, but with some of the same elements, check out the following private moment behind closed doors.

This excerpt is from a wonderful article written by Tom Junod in Esquire magazine, and it’s a story about Mr. Rogers and his minister whom he asks a favor of, and then includes the journalist in the interaction.

Mr. Rogers began creating the moment he met this journalist. He began looking at him and really listening. He tried to really see his life. He cared about him and expressed that. He also was simply himself in the process of interaction. Doing what he did in his own particular way, even when that could’ve been seen as geeky or peculiar. The article is entitled, “Can You Say … Hero?”

The below example to me, is an amazing one of the quiet art of living. Of being a life artist. Attuned to others and oneself, free in the knowledge of one’s value, and that one has the ear of God. After getting to know both the journalist and the minister, Fred Rogers was in a room with just the two of them, behind a closed door. They all touched.

The next afternoon, I [writer Tom Junod] went to [Fred Rogers’] office in Pittsburgh. He was sitting on a couch, under a framed rendering of the Greek word for grace and a biblical phrase written in Hebrew that means “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” A woman was with him, sitting in a big chair. Her name was Deb. She was very pretty. She had a long face and a dark blush to her skin. She had curls in her hair and stars at the centers of her eyes. She was a minister at Fred Rogers’s church. She spent much of her time tending to the sick and the dying. Fred Rogers loved her very much, and so, out of nowhere, he smiled and put his hand over hers. “Will you be with me when I die?” he asked her, and when she said yes, he said, “Oh, thank you, my dear.” Then, with his hand still over hers and his eyes looking straight into hers, he said, “Deb, do you know what a great prayer you are? Do you know that about yourself? Your prayers are just wonderful.” Then he looked at me. I was sitting in a small chair by the door, and he said, “Tom, would you close the door, please?” I closed the door and sat back down. “Thanks, my dear,” he said to me, then turned back to Deb. “Now, Deb, I’d like to ask you a favor,” he said. “Would you lead us? Would you lead us in prayer?”

Deb stiffened for a second, and she let out a breath, and her color got deeper. “Oh, I don’t know, Fred,” she said. “I don’t know if I want to put on a performance….”

Fred never stopped looking at her or let go of her hand. “It’s not a performance. It’s just a meeting of friends,” he said. He moved his hand from her wrist to her palm and extended his other hand to me. I took it and then put my hand around her free hand. His hand was warm, hers was cool, and we bowed our heads, and closed our eyes, and I heard Deb’s voice calling out for the grace of God. What is grace? I’m not certain; all I know is that my heart felt like a spike, and then, in that room, it opened and felt like an umbrella. I had never prayed like that before, ever. I had always been a great prayer, a powerful one, but only fitfully, only out of guilt, only when fear and desperation drove me to it…and it hit me, right then, with my eyes closed, that this was the moment Fred Rogers—Mister Rogers—had been leading me to from the moment he answered the door of his apartment in his bathrobe and asked me about Old Rabbit. Once upon a time, you see, I lost something, and prayed to get it back, but when I lost it the second time, I didn’t, and now this was it, the missing word, the unuttered promise, the prayer I’d been waiting to say a very long time.

“Thank you, God,” Mister Rogers said.

No one else saw or experienced this moment, even though we’re all now getting a chance to read about it. The moment itself however, was experienced between only those present. It was made possible by brushstroke after brushstroke, so to speak, of friendliness, of building trust and mutual enjoyment, of kind words and attentive actions and time spent together.

sun!

By Tom Junod – “Can You Say … Hero?”

Originally appeared in the November 1998 Esquire. Find the complete article here.

Risk is Art

In Art, Creative Living on September 19, 2013 at 1:01 am
upside down planes

Photo by Roger Brown

Editor’s Note:

When we attempt to experience life fully and try new things, and even sometimes scary things — it can be a kind of creativity. We’re creating something new when we risk and step out. The following is a personal account of one woman’s somewhat reluctant experience attending a high-speed driving school. She drove an incredibly fast car around a track at speeds of 100 mph. Many people – most of them men – dream of this kind of chance-of-a-lifetime. She was not one of those adrenaline junkies. Her husband won the racing school opportunity, and invited her along since the prize was for two students. She decided to try it out.

Of course, people can “get high” on danger,  or even become addicted to the thrill of risk. That overindulgence aside, within reason and with balance, we all need to do this almost daily. Risking rejection from our friends and children, spouse or parents for instance, when we decide cautiously to share important truths that can help a relationship grow.

***

By Laura Senti

I was in the middle of a live version of a nightmarish dream I have periodically in which I am in a play. Starting time is imminent yet I am unable to find a script to read over the lines which I, as a main character, am of course supposed to know. I’ve never been to a practice, I have no costume, and all my fellow cast members appear absolutely unconcerned and separate from my plight and not inclined in the least to help me out. In my dream, I wander around in a growing state of panic before I wake up, always before going onstage.

Yesterday at 1:11, I was actually sitting in the Bondurant High Performance Racing School in Pheonix in a plain gray-carpeted room with a crowd of men, two at each black table. The same men who that morning had each been given a lanyard with a red tag saying “Grand Prix” and politely averted their eyes from my same tag while I knew they were thinking, “Is she something, or an idiot?” The red-shirted instructor man now at the front was happily explaining various diagrams on the screen in the front. I understood perfectly when he explained he was from Michigan about the need to avoid potholes, but felt this same pleasant connection with nothing else he said. “This,” he said, “is how you want to take the turn….blah blah blah blah…..and where is the weight on the car’s wheels now? ….blah blah blah…weight transfer…blah blah…apex of the turn….blah…and now here “– he walked to the white board to point out the squirmy oval at the top–”is the race track.”  Mental sharp intake of breath. Race track? Me?

I had made it through the morning. But only by a narrow squeak. I had almost not gotten into my yellow  Corvette, number 08. But I did. I learned to strap on my four-point harness (just like a baby car seat, my mind encouraged me). I learned to press the top side of the button to set Zero Eight roaring (boy would this thrill my daughter), and had a quick refresher on the way over to the course on how to kill and restart a manual. I had been briefed on how to do a heel-toe shift: something like, Get into third gear and up to 65 miles per hour by these three cones, then when you see these two cones, put the car into second but instead of doing it the regular way — the way you would in a regular car if you were a regular person who wasn’t at a racing school for some unknown reason — as you pop it into second, rock your foot from the brake to the gas and then back again—see, like this—and then put it the rest of the way into second. This will allow you to have more speed in your turns.

Speed? And why would I want speed in my turns?

I was suddenly very sure that this was not for me. I did not know my lines for this play. I didn’t even know what this play WAS.

When it was time for a short break before the driving, I bolted out of the room toward the front desk. There sat Nicki, “Director of First Impressions.”

“Mmm, I need to talk to someone. I’m just sensing this is not for me,” I said with a little bit of a quaver in my voice. She looked mildly surprised. I guess they don’t get many people who pay $5000 to drive as fast as they can, saying they don’t want to after all.

Nicki got another red-shirted man who consulted another red-shirted man, and they told me I could switch over to the two-day course which would be more my speed, literally. “Mmmhmm. Thought this would happen,” they said without saying it out loud. But they were nice about it. Nightmare averted, for the time being. Now maybe THIS was a play I was really supposed to be in, even if it took some quick scrambling to learn my lines.

Our Red-Shirt Man had looked less than thrilled with his hesitant student. I was trying to ignore that—had even used that as fuel for courage as I ripped down the short straightaway getting up to 65 and downshifting to second, though not with that mysterious toe/heel method. He informed me at a break, with slight disgust, perhaps, that I had not been going from 1st to 2nd to 3rd, but from 3rd to 4th to 5th. I had thought it seemed a tiny sluggish for a Corvette, but I drive a 1999 Sienna minivan, not a car that can get up past 60 in second gear, and the Red Shirts had failed to mention this particular feature of the car. Who comes to this place that after all, that doesn’t know that already?

At lunch my husband reassured me over a Cherry Berry Chiller at McDonalds that I’d done great in that morning’s drill–”I couldn’t catch up to you, and I tried!”–but I am so nervous, I said to my husband. And all those other guys seemed so confident. “OH NO,” he reassured me. “They’re all scared, they’re all very nervous.” Momentarily, I felt a very little less fish-out-of-waterish—maybe I was supposed to be in this play after all? But very momentarily he went on to explain that they were all nervous about not being the fastest one. I was nervous about dying.

Who were these people? Who was this man next to me? How could it be that we were so absolutely unlike each other in this? Was it the classic man/woman stereotype showing in brilliant colors? My man, thrilled at the prospect of going as fast as he possibly could, and I unable to think beyond, “Why?!”

Cliff Diver

Competitive Cliff Diver

So it was after this surreal lunch discussion and the ever-more-alarming words coming from Friendly Michigan Red-Shirt Man at the front of the room that I turned to my husband, the only man in the room I knew. Did he really think I could do this? That I belonged here? He had said so at lunch. But, a $6000 deductible. A bit of background is necessary to explain:

You see, we hadn’t paid. We WON this. I mean, my husband won this, the GRAND PRIZE worth OVER $15,000, and he had invited me to go along. “You’ll have fun,” he said in response to my less-than-eager reaction to this grand-prize-experience-of-a-lifetime when he had first told me about it months ago.

“But what IS it? I don’t really get it.” (This is our typical conversation difficulty, I craving context and detail and he blithely persistent in declaring the obvious big-picture facts.)

“All people who go just come out better drivers, and it’s not just for race car drivers,” he assured me.

“I’ll TRY it,” I replied, “but I reserve the right to stop if I don’t like it, because I just can’t see myself doing anything like that.” I’d told very few people where we were going because I didn’t know how to explain it, and truthfully, the whole prospect of sunny Phoenix as a relief from the Michigan winter was greatly dimmed because I was feeling nervous. There’s always the issue of leaving your kids behind while you and your husband both are on the plane, the same plane; and sometimes, planes do crash and I don’t want my kids to be orphans. So I’d been busy dealing with that and hadn’t gotten to the Assuming You Survive the Plane Ride Now You’ll Be Racing Cars With Men Who Want To Drive As Fast As They Can part.

So when I had told anyone about going to Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, I had copied my husband’s attitude toward my going: “I bet it will be fun!” Said sincerely enough, though maybe with not a whole lot of knowledge to back it up.

I got back in Zero Eight again, now separated from my husband—but that was fine, because in this environment he had morphed into another sort of being altogether. I chugged over to Accident Avoidance Simulation (wasn’t this all accident avoidance?) This time the instructor explained the drill we’d be doing, I shot off all the questions I had, such as “Why can’t you put the clutch in when you are braking?” and I made exactly sure I knew the drill. I had figured out by now that I was almost wholly ignorant and figured it made no sense to act otherwise. I wasn’t tricking anyone, and I bet I asked questions that at least a few others in the group might have wanted to ask but wouldn’t because they were tricking others quite successfully. The drill: get to 30 mph in a few seconds; pass through a bottleneck where the cones were close together; then respond to a set of 3 lights that would turn on, that corresponded to 3 lanes that opened up at that point. At that moment, we would “Lift, Turn, and Squeeze” —lift our foot from the throttle, turn to whichever lane had the green light, and then squeeze down on the gas again to proceed. It was fun, even though I was hitting cones with regularity. “Think of them as puppies,” a kind young Red Shirt told me as I drove slowly by for feedback. Now that made sense and I think I only hit one more puppy after that. Next, we got to slam on the brakes when all the lights went red, and see for ourselves how much, much less effective that is than taking your foot off the gas and swerving. This I can do, I thought. And getting that Corvette to 40+ mph in such a short distance was great fun.

Next was the spinny car, or what the Red Shirts called the skid car. A regular enough looking car, it was perched on top of a set of smaller wheels which the instructor could at any time set spinning so the car would skid out of control and the driver could learn how to regain it. Strangely enough, it was applying gas, not brake, that brought the car out of the spin and back into control. I tried braking once—-and we just kept going around and around like a carnival ride.

“You have to keep your eye on the prize,” our red-shirted instructor explained as the car spun wildly out of control. I found it was true: the car will eventually end up pointed toward whatever your focal point is. One time, the cone I wanted was 180 degrees behind me. “Even now, I keep my eyes on that cone?” I asked Red Shirt as I strained to look backward—and eventually, an inch of tire rubber later, I was facing the cone. (The photographer had said the same thing: “Don’t look at me. You will hit whatever you look at.” I found that advice difficult to heed when he was standing at the end of the straightaway where we had to get up to 45 mph and then stop suddenly or swerve to avoid the puppy-cones.) My time driving the Spin Car seemed short. I wondered if it was because I was so good at it that he figured I didn’t need much practice, or so bad it was useless to waste more time on me, or because it was such an intense experience that time flowed differently.

OK, so far so good. I liked not hitting puppies and I liked spinning cars around. It was fun to feel the speed and momentum of those cars, fun to shift up into second as fast as I could, fun to hear the throbbing chug-chug emanating from something I was driving. Then it was time to get on the track. My Red Shirt led us to a little room full of shelves of helmets and advised us to choose one that fit snugly but not too snugly. Hmmm, do I have a medium head? A large? Surely not XL. As I lifted the heavy white padded helmet over my head, I noticed its strong manly smell.

Open Zero Eight’s door, shut door, strap myself in, push that nifty start button. Heavy helmet strapped under my chin. My head is wobbly, too big and heavy for my body. My mouth is dry like I’d gargled with fine dust.  The instructor’s Number 9 car is moving forward. My job is to follow two car lengths behind, as he drives around the track, faster each time. He’s the mother duck, we’re the three ducklings. I’m first duckling. Do exactly what I do, he’d said. So I do. Whip around this corner. Brake slightly at this bend. Accelerate, accelerate, brake, go out wide around corner, cut into this one here, up onto this red and white edge, back around. I’m thinking, I’m the one who can’t tell where I’m going on the fake Mario Brothers race track; it’s strange that I’m out here on a real one. And suddenly, I’m aware, deeply aware, that I am in control of a yellow Corvette zipping around on a trace track, hugging corners, responsible to keep up with Number 9 and not make any mistakes that would cause the two ducklings behind me to crash. Can I DO this? Shut up, I tell myself out loud. You ARE doing it. Now concentrate. Concentrate. You can do this. Watch him. Do what he does. I drive off into the pit lane a lap or two before the others come off, look over to my right to a smiling Cory who has the blue camera trained on me. Gotta got this heavy helmet OFF, this chin strap unfastened NOW—relief to lift it off, noticing somewhere at the back of my mind that the manly smell I thought was from my helmet seems to have instead originated with me. My instructor and other two classmates come off the track; I chug Zero Eight back to a parking place near its other yellow friends. Helmet on table in Classroom #2, all ready for tomorrow’s continuing fun.

SMT

Photo by Josh Zullo
Courtesy Camp Tejas
Giddings, Texas

So I go home with the same thrill of conquest I remember after getting off a roller coaster ride with my sister. I did it! I did it! And Cory, also like my sister after a roller coaster was saying, “Yeah! That was awesome! Let’s do it again! Can’t wait until tomorrow!” I thought my thrill was the same kind as his as I took my fully earned shower and changed out of my stinky clothes into a pretty skirt, but as the evening progressed I wondered. I wondered more when my heart was pounding as I lay down to sleep. And when I woke up at 4:00 a.m. with that same pounding sensation. And more when I was thinking, “I would give anything to be at the end of this day. Seven hours more of this driving.” Could it be the thrill I had experienced was “Wow! I survived! I did it and I’m finished!”

What should I do? Set my teeth and get through it? Stop while I’m living? Disappoint my husband and prove to all those men that I am not brave enough?  That I’m a Boring Person? That I’m Not Capable? That I’m not going to take advantage of this Opportunity of a Lifetime? What will they think? That lady who wanted to take the class and was so jealous of me? People at home that know I’m taking a high-performance driving class? The Red-shirted Men? Why do I even care?

My husband can’t help me when I spill all this to him at 6:55 a.m. I’ve already prayed and journaled out on the balcony. It’s 7:00 now, and we need to be back at Bondurant by 7:45. God, help me. You helped me have the courage yesterday to admit I wasn’t in my element in the Grand Prix class, and that worked out. Will YOU be disappointed in me if I don’t do this? Is there something you want to teach me in this? Are you going to be mad? Like that verse that talks about those cowards who shrink back, and you are not pleased with them? Or can I just assume this has nothing to do with your stance toward me?

Either way I’m in a pickle. Perhaps I’ll have regrets if I don’t do it—almost assuredly. But if I DO do it, I’ll have to drive for the next seven hours, and I am afraid, and don’t want to. Does that make me a Bad Person Unwilling to Take Advantage of Amazing Opportunities? Or perhaps, just perhaps, am I overthinking this and I just don’t like race car driving? Back and forth, like a door on a hinge. Brave? Boring? Yes? No? Go? Stay?

I finally leap: I put on my cute black flip flops, and not the tennis shoes I am required to wear for driving.

And I do feel relief. I’m way friendlier, way more smiley. I tell Nicki when we get to Bondurant with no trace of apology that I won’t be driving today, and I feel solid in my decision.

surfer girl

And as I’m back at the resort hotel, I have more time to reflect.

It’s funny how tame it all looks to me as I write it. I can’t capture the sharpness on paper, just like I can’t capture the sharpness of the red quills of that flower with my phone camera. And compared to what Cory did and is doing now, what I did was so tame. It felt so dangerous, so fast, so edgy. I wonder if it really was, or if it was only because it was so utterly different than anything I’d ever done. Still, if I’d made an error, the results would have been dire, and I guess that’s my personal definition of edgy.

I care a lot what strangers think of me. Why?

It all made me think of “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith” while you run with perseverance the race marked out for you. (Hebrews 12). I’ve always thought of that verse in relation to the running I’ve done, and I rarely keep my eyes on anything much except my feet, or the trees/flowers I’m passing. But this was different: your focus meant everything. If you wanted to crash, look anywhere, or look where you do not want to go but are at the moment going. Because you’ll panic and slide right toward it and crash into it. You got exactly where you wanted to go. But keep your eyes on the prize, the man said, and that’s where you’ll get. Where you look, that is where you will go. It made me think of the risk of not keeping my eyes on Jesus. I find I think this is oh, a good idea to remember, but I forget it is imperative. Oh boy. Life is fast. Serious. Full of consequences. Not to scare myself into paralysis, but to be aware that everything counts. My eyes need to be on you, Jesus, the author and the perfecter of my faith, of Your View, of You in Me. Nothing else matters; everything else is a distraction if it is kept as a focal point. And it isn’t that other stuff isn’t important. Family, how I spend my time, how I treat others, what I think about, the environment, whatever—all is important but becomes a distraction the minute I see it as the point, the focus, the thing I must do to please God, the thing I should be doing better. Jesus, you be my focal point. Let knowing You, seeing You more clearly all the time, be my focus, and let every other activity and idea take its place in that light.

I guess that is the play I’m in. Not the one called, Be all that You Can Be or Show ‘Em All, but the one with Jesus saying, Know Me and Be Satisfied. I fully belong in this play, and He’ll always teach me the lines as I go.

The Art of Communication

In Creative Living, Music, Poetry on September 19, 2013 at 1:00 am

Photo by Doug Stutler
Lily Lake – Lily Mountain
Estes Park, Colorado

“They can be a great help — words. They can become the spirit’s hands and lift and caress you.”

— Meister Eckhart

By Amy Wilson Feltz

Words have the means within them to create and destroy worlds. We know this about our own conversations, even if we don’t want to admit it. Think about the wounds that you have received from sharp words. Think about the wounds you’ve inflicted. Think about words that have brought a smile to your face. Think about words you’ve shared that made others smile.

Poetry gives those words a rhythm, a heartbeat, and draws us into the Life Source.

There’s only so much talking we can do about poetry. To experience it, we need to read some.

We Shake with Joy

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

Housed as they are in the same body.

— Mary Oliver

There is power in words to heal and transform.

I waited patiently for the LORD;

he turned to me and heart my cry.

He lifted me up out of the pit of uproar,

out of the miry clay,

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a song of praise to our God;

Many will see and fear the LORD

and put their trust in him.

— Psalm Forty, verses 2 and 3

yellowstone

Photo by Tami Bok
Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming

Poetry is also a great vehicle to explore matters of faith.

From Spring, by Wendell Berry:

He goes in spring

through the evening street

to buy bread,

green trees leaning

over the sidewalk,

forsythia yellow

beneath the windows,

birds singing

as birds sing

only in spring,

and he sings, his footsteps

beating the measure of his song.

His footsteps carry him past the window,

deeper into his song.

To his death? Yes.

He walks and sings to his death.

Not much of a surprise to people of faith because most of the Old Testament was written as poetry in the Hebrew Language, and in that original language we find rhythm and rhyme and plays on words that we miss in the English.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

— Psalm Twenty-Three, verse 4

Gingko grove at the arboretum in VA - Susan Speer

Photo by Susan Speer
Gingko Grove
Virginia

What a lovely reminder that it isn’t just the content but the form of the words that can inform and shape us.

The Psalms in the Old Testament give us a way to connect with something universal about what it means to be human, to love and to fear, to grieve and to rejoice.

Poetry in general does this, too.

I Want to Write Something So Simply

I want to write something


so simply


about love


or about pain


that even


as you are reading


you feel it


and as you read


you keep feeling it


and though it be my story


it will be common,


though it be singular


it will be known to you


so that by the end


you will think—


no, you will realize—


that it was all the while


yourself arranging the words,           


that it was all the time


words that you yourself,


out of your heart


had been saying.

— Mary Oliver

Poetry doesn’t just happen. It grows out of awareness. Out of experience with humanity and the divine. Out of an expression of beauty or sorrow that resonates with what it means to be a human being. It is the work of God in us, printing itself in black and white for the world to see.

In poetry, we remember that God is in all things.

Yellowstone Lily pads

Photo by Tami Bok
Dragonflies
Yellowstone, WY

In All Things

It was easy to love God in all that

was beautiful.

 

The lessons of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me

to embrace God in all

things.

— Saint Francis of Assisi

That God lives in us.

The beautiful thing about relationships is that, when they are valued and nurtured at least, they can provide the context and the safe place needed to clarify comments and actions that could be misunderstood.

In a correspondence between two poets* Peter O’Leary remarks that when he thinks about redefining God, he actually means that he’s been set free from making declarative statements about God by the invitation to, “Be still and know that God is God… Not to define God so much as to identify aspects of the radiating diadem of God’s afterimage.”

I think what he means by this is that if we are aware enough to know that God is with us, we’re going to be moved to describe our experience of God or our need of God.

Alicia O’Striker seems to agree, as she says, “My writing is a spiritual practice. My writing is my prayer. I imagine this is true for many poets.”

So, in the sense that poets are human and experience life as human beings do, their expression of their experiences become the expression of humanity. It’s not so much that they speak for us but that they give us the words for which we are searching to describe what we see and touch and taste and hear and feel.

In this way, poetry is very much a communal act.

Sometimes the Psalms and poetry in general can lose meaning when they become too familiar, when we just run our eyes over the words without registering their meaning. Or sometimes our minds are too full of other voices to makes sense of the words and we miss their meaning in the first place. Sometimes we write the Psalms and poetry in general off as being irrelevant, archaic even.

But the stuff of life is in there. Silence can help us find it.

Photo by Roger Brown Costa Rica

Photo by Roger Brown
Flower at Cafe Milagro
Costa Rica

Being still is not the same as freezing. To be still is to wait patiently until it is time to act again, with God’s prompting. Being still and trusting in God affords us the opportunity to take inventory of the many ways God is at work . . . and to be thankful. The spiritual disciplines of being still and then acting upon God’s prompting can be followed by deep and meaningful growth. Thanks be to God!

Alicia Ostriker said, “I believe that God is pregnant with his exiled, mute, amnesiac, repressed feminine side. Pregnant and in labor. Pregnant and in pain, for I believe our human pain is God’s labor pain, and that we can all collectively be midwives bringing the goddess back into consciousness.”

This is the work of poetry and the work of the Psalms, to invite us to see God, whole unbroken, so that we, too, may live in the divine image, whole and unbroken.

Ostriker’s words compare to Romans 8:22-23: For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they but ourselves, also, the first fruits of the Spirit, even groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, for the redemption of our body.

Feeling that God is hiding from us is cause for groaning, to be sure, but our inner silence and our inner voice and the voices of our community remind us: Absence from God is an illusion.

All we need do is Be Still. And Know that God is God.

Photo by Roger Brown

Photo by Roger Brown
Singing Sands
Dunhuang, China

*http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/182864

Sources:

Meister Eckhart, The Spirit’s Hands, “Love Poems from God” © 2002 Daniel Ladinsky/Penguin Group

We Shake with Joy & I Want to Write Something So Simply “Evidence,” Poems by Mary Oliver © 2009 by Mary Oliver/Beacon Press

Psalm 40:2,3 New American Standard Bible/New International Version/original Hebrew

Psalm 23:4 NASB

Spring Excerpt, “Wendell Berry: New Collected Poems” © 2012 Wendell Berry/Counterpoint Press

A Masterpiece

In Creative Living, Life in Society on January 30, 2013 at 4:28 pm

By Jane Carter

Eph. 2:10 – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

While reading Ephesians 2:10, I was struck by the Bible’s description of us as “masterpieces of God.” Merriam-Webster defines a Masterpiece as a work done with extraordinary skill, especially a work of intellectual or artistic achievement. That feels to me like a potentially liberating statement, because it means that in those inevitable moments when I feel invalid (in whatever capacity), I can reflect that I am not a mistake, I am a work done with extraordinary skill. Hence, if I feel as though I don’t have that much relevance, that I’m invalid in the environment I find myself in, I can remind myself that there is more to be seen than I do in that moment.

Even if you believe you are a fine specimen of everything you’re supposed to be, that doesn’t mean you have everything figured out. Actually it does mean that you are precious, and need to be protected and kept in your optimum condition. If you are a masterpiece, it means that you should take care of your surfaces. Exposure to extreme temperatures may dull your beauty and you may need to be touched up, or restored. The challenge for you and I, masterpieces that we are, is to make sure that the conditions in which we are kept and the means by which we are restored do not compromise the original work of art.

The above is a Spanish painting (Ecce Homo, or Behold the Man) originally completed by artist Elias Garcia Martinez in the 1800s. An endeavour commissioned by the church that it has been in for more than 100 years. Recently in August, 2012, a woman took it upon herself to restore the painting (picture on the right). Apparently, critics have taken to calling the painting “Ecce Mono” or, Behold the Monkey, because of the extent to which the church patron altered the work.

To go back to our ideas about masterpieces, some amount of supervision is necessary when you think about restoring yourself to your original glory. If light and moisture (read: the stresses of life) make your colours less brilliant, or etch holes in your canvas, you must be restored. In doing so though, you have to protect the integrity of your original work. To use an argument of adaptive human behaviour, if you find your old methods of behaviour no longer sustainable, as in your actions in relationships are getting you into trouble (read: dulling your masterpiece), then you have to make a change. In this event you must follow a trusted path to restoration, lest you transform or evolve into something altogether separate from your original self.

My position is that you have good inside of you; that the deep seated person that only you can unveil is who needs to come out. Imagine the aesthetic difference between the freshly painted Ecce Homo and the unauthorised restoration of it in 2012. What a tragedy! Now, think of yourself: people walk by, they add a brush stroke here or a hostile environment there, and these things show up on you. Your colours start becoming dull, or you begin to forget who you are, and what you’re worth. When people can’t really describe you when asked, or when they describe you, and you don’t recognise the person that they’ve illustrated, then you know you’re starting to fade. It’s time to be restored.

Do you know where your good restoration is? The kind that will take you back to your original glory? For me, I have several sources of restoration. My biggest source of restoration is to go back to the Artist: Almighty God, my Creator. Notice I didn’t say the church, or religion? No, my source of restoration is firstly from God, and the relationship I have with Him. I often talk to people who have no belief in or understanding of God, and I always say the same thing: ask God who He is. People get very caught up with religion and denomination and I’ve seen far too many people lose their faith because of the religious people around them. God is not a church, I don’t think. God is the Source of strength, the Comforter, the Guide, the Forever Friend. He inspires people to want to come together and I am restored by that. I also think that without a true relationship with God, following the church or even the Bible can become something other than restorative.

alpine

Photo by Roger Brown
Alpine Flowers
Colorado

I am also restored by the word of God. The Bible has so many different kinds of guides, from ways to draw closer to God (James 4:8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you) to normalising (and speaking to) my anxieties (Ecclesiastes 3:10  I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end). I take much strength from the fact that there is an ancient book that still holds relevance to my everyday struggles. Another way that I am restored is through my relationships with loving people. Nothing helps you to grow more than relationships, and a good relationship will restore you because it doesn’t simply highlight the area where you could stand to grow, but it also balms the wounds you’ve already encountered by speaking love and life into you, in a way that is sometimes more convincing than your own voice. Good relationships, from the bona fide relationship you have with God, to the honest relationships you have with your spouse/friends/parents/children will restore you. A good relationship will always bring you closer to owning three very important self statements: I am enough, I have enough and who I am originally is beautiful.

So, how are you restoring your masterpiece?

How to Grow Bittergrass in the Yard of Your Life

In Creative Living, Humor on November 4, 2012 at 10:16 am

Photo by Doug Stutler
Home Garden with Lobster Pots
Monhegan Island, Maine

By Laura Senti

Bittergrass, known often as crab grass, is narrowly seen as undesirable to yard lovers. But a new normal is here: ditch the touchy Kentucky bluegrass we all know only flourishes in English estates with gardeners! Go for something just as green, but ridiculously easy to grow and maintain.

Attractive and ubiquitous as bittergrass is, it’s not readily available in seed form or even at your local nursery. You can, however, attract it to your yard simply by steering clear of any bittergrass prevention measures.  Here we will share five easy tips for allowing it to grow and slowly take over your lawn as a feisty, maintenance-free plant:

  1. Neglect activities that bring you joy. This kills spontaneity effectively, as well as creativity. Remember that it’s selfish to do things you enjoy, if you do occasionally give in and indulge yourself.
  2. Compare yourself with others. Look for ways they have the blessings that are rightfully yours. Look for ways they don’t have it as difficult as you do– or, if you prefer, meditate on the ways they have it pleasanter than you, as it all yields the same desired result. Contentment and gratitude do not do well where bitterness is spreading nicely.
  3. Always leave open those thinking tunnels that lead you back to past decisions. Wonder if you really did do the right thing. Ponder what could have happened had you been born into a different family, one with more money or with a cabin to leave you, for instance.
  4. Pay special attention to how you are different. You have unique needs, unique sins, even unique doubts. Being such a unique person means you can never get all your needs met perfectly. It helps to observe carefully the failure of others to understand and meet these needs.
  5. Above all, resist the weed-killer commonly known as Grace. It’s up to you to own up to the truth: you are far from perfect, though you sure are trying hard, and there’s always tomorrow to get it right if you don’t succeed today. As long as you are doing better than those around you in at least 2 or 3 areas of concern, and you are keeping tabs on your progress, you will most likely be able to keep ground open for bitterness.

Here’s to easy gardening with a satisfyingly uniform result! See you in the garden.

Photo by Doug Stutler
International Peace Garden
Canada – USA (Manitoba – North Dakota)

The Art of Running

In Creative Living on October 1, 2012 at 4:01 pm

By Bekah McNeel

The starting line of a marathon is a funny place. At some unholy, still-dark hour a mob of adults in spandex hop from foot to foot like the kindergarten “potty dance” and nervously chatter. Piles of cast off warm-up gear lie along sidewalks where only the most loyal girlfriends, boyfriends, and roommates stand holding posters that say, “Run, Suzy, Run!” (Spouses, parents, and children will show up later in the race, with the crowd who is not trying to prove their devotion to anyone.) It’s a weird scene, even weirder because of how happy everybody is to be there—everyone except the boyfriends, girlfriends, and roommates.

The starting gun goes off, and for the next four hours we (me and all the people going my speed) lope along together. The first mile is mostly about dodging the people around you, as runners settle into their pace. It will string out considerably over the next twenty-five miles, but for a while there, it’s close quarters. Somewhere around Mile 4 or 5 things get roomy enough that I can look around at the faces of those with whom I will share this great accomplishment. Inevitably, as the miles wear on, I find myself looking for a pace keeper. Someone whose butt I can stare at for the next ten miles. Butts are perfect for this; feet move too fast, and heads are too far from the ground. A butt is close enough to the ground that I can watch for tripping hazards and it doesn’t move as much as feet, so I don’t get motion sick.

Finding a butt moving at the right pace invites me to ponder the shape of the various butts around me, and how surprisingly dissimilar they are.

When we hear the phrase “she’s a runner” a certain imagine comes to mind.  A long, wiry woman with the gait of a gazelle and the neck of a giraffe, rock-hard abs and defined deltoids. Those specimens exist in the running world, to be sure. But for every one of them, there are two stockier, curvier, or shorter types. There are women with hips, breasts, and behinds. I’ve now had three people say to me that they were surprised at the typical body types of runners and triathletes, both recreational and elite.

For years I thought that if I ran I would turn into one of those gazelle creatures with the silky swishing ponytail and the six-pack. Turns out no amount of running is going to get rid of the bust my grandmother gave me.

On my 25th birthday I took a ten mile run, and, instead of calculating how many calories I’d burned, I used it as an opportunity to give thanks. For the first time in my life, I gave thanks for my body. I didn’t look like the gazelle of my dreams; instead I was doing something I’d never dreamed of. I was training for a marathon.  I thought to myself, “If my body can do this, then it can’t be bad.”

I think that’s the most empowering thing about running, and why it’s caught on in such numbers. It requires that we free our bodies from the constant scrutiny of being “thin enough” or “toned enough” and simply enjoy doing something with them. I hear the same thing from people who dance.

People often use the saying “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” to describe certain endeavors. Like ministry. Or marriage. I always knew what they meant; but between Miles 7 and 10 I start to feel what they mean. My average training run is six miles. So Mile 7 signals to me that this is not a training run. This is not a casual jog, I can’t turn around whenever I want to. This is a marathon, and there’s a lot more ahead of me than behind me.

Endurance is a character trait. It’s one of the few that, in my experience, carry over from the physical to the emotional/spiritual. At Mile 7, the excitement has worn off and I start strategizing about how I’m going to make it to the end. I do some math, calculate water stops, plan when to eat my next Gu. Ultimately I realize that there’s only one way to get to the finish line: keep putting one foot in front of the other. Isn’t that so much of life? We calculate and plot and plan, but it all comes down to putting one foot in front of the other and being faithful to the course.

Somewhere between Mile 12 and Mile 16, I usually get a second wind. This is that endorphin-rush, zen place that runners wax on about as though suddenly running became a day at the spa. Well, it doesn’t transform into a massage and a mimosa, but it does become immensely pleasurable.  I become the pacer. My legs fall into a rhythm and my heart rate finds an easy jog. This is when I do some of my best thinking, and the miles start to fly by. The miles up to this point may have been social, chatting and cheering to make it up steep hills, or just to take my mind off the growing blister where my camelback is rubbing my armpit raw. But now, past the half-way point, it’s game time. Even if I’m with my husband or my running partner, I’m all alone during this stretch. Cruising.

Running by myself enables me to come as close to meditative stillness as I can in waking hours. Something about the slow burn of my quadriceps and saltiness of my skin is like white noise against the to-do lists and preoccupations that come with being clean and presentable. Whether I’m simply focusing on each step of a hard climb, or pondering a deeper dilemma to the pounding of my footsteps, those hours of running have proven invaluable to my mental and spiritual health.

The cleansing effect of running is physical as much as it is psychological. In addition to the endorphin rush, my body has its own rituals during the second part of the race. It begins to involuntarily perform, recalibrate and balance in ways unnecessary outside of endurance sports. Early in my distance running, I noticed that the skin on my arms began to emit a strange, bitter smell as I ran. Not body odor, but something less organic. I casually mentioned this to my doctor on my next regular visit and he simply said, “You sweat out all kinds of stuff, and you have all kinds of stuff on your skin.” The bitter smell meant that I was either flushing out or washing off, and I welcomed it from then on.

I also usually stop sweating after this point, unless it’s abnormally hot. I’ve never been one to pee during a long run, or to sweat inordinate amounts. People tried to tell me for years that this meant that I was dehydrating. However, recent studies have shown that our bodies are master regulators and that what I was experiencing was perfectly normal for a fully functioning execretory system.

It’s not just my own odor that I notice. My awareness of all smells intensifies as I run. The heavy, regular breaths bring in more stimuli, and the flow of air clears the passageway. I love running in spring, because the mountain laurels and honeysuckles that are about in our area give off the most invigorating smells. I’m also more sensitive to bad smells, of course, and it makes me much more aware of the surrounding dumpsters, car exhaust, and fast food chains.

For me, like most marathon runners, there comes “the wall.” This can be anywhere from Mile 18-22. During my best race I made it to Mile 23 before I hit it, but usually it’s waiting for me at Mile 22. The wall is where “game on” becomes “the fight.” And that’s how it is until Mile 26. Every step is a fight; the field has spread out so that it’s entirely possible to be running alone. Whatever was helping at Mile 12 is not working anymore, and there is one small reason to keep running: the last three months and the last twenty-one miles have all been in preparation for these last five miles.

If you’re ever temped to run a marathon in order to look cool, just take one look at the limping, sweaty, salty, puffy finishers and ask yourself, “Does that look cool to me?” Better yet, go camp out at Mile 22 and ask the runners passing you if they feel like Olympic superstars.

So that’s Mile 22-26, the fight. But a marathon does not end at mile 26. There’s still .2 miles left. These are the glory strides. The finish line is in sight, the crowd is roaring, the finishers are among them, and their cheers mean the most because they know how much my feet hurt. And there’s no longer the lingering question of whether or not I’m going to make it. I’m there. And I’m flying toward that finish line with energy released from somewhere deep within, reserved for moments of triumph.

Distance running is empowering. The demons we face could be as physical as cancer or as emotional as heartbreak, and somehow every step of a tough run feels like an anthem to the ability to thrive. We love it in movies like Rocky, Rudy, and Chariots of Fire, and we love it in ourselves. Hollywood so tritely dubs it “the triumph of the human spirit.” To put it in more certain terms, it is our ability to take back our lives from the forces that steal our agency, our ability to overcome obstacles, and the way we become stronger through struggle.

And then I cross the finish line. Twice now, upon crossing the finish line, I’ve cried. One would think that it was from the blisters, aching feet or general soreness. Or from exhaustion. But it’s not. These are the kinds of tears that I cry when people stand up and applaud for an honored veteran or when a child with Down syndrome gets a part in the school play. They are tears of overcoming. Tears of triumph. Running a marathon is not as momentous as fighting in a war or flourishing with a learning difference. But it’s the same elemental place in each of our hearts that wants to raise our fists into the air and let out a roar because victory is upon us.

After this glorious, moment, my emotions normalize, and I go get my medal (like the rest of the finishers), get my free snack food, and survey the landscape, so very different from the start.

The finish line is actually pretty comical at times. For every person who crosses the line with arms in the air, in the throes of elation, there’s one who crosses nearly doubled over swearing that they will “never, ever do anything like this ever again.” Lots of people have marathons on their bucket list. Cross the finish line and it’s checked off. But for others, the process makes the finish all the better, and they’re ready to feel that again.