Death, Airplanes, Internet and a Proper Hug; What’s the Connection?

I didn’t sleep at all last night. I was haunted in the night by the spirit of a young woman I observed, dead, earlier in the day.

I’d spent my day running with my running club. We are weeks away from our first full marathon of the season and the mileage is mounting. We ran eighteen miles. The parched state of California received some much needed rain the night before, and whether it was the mileage, the prospect of running in the rain, or the combination, turnout for our long, autumn run was very light. In my pace group, where there are often a dozen or more people, only five of us assembled. Of the five, two stated they’d only be running four of the eighteen miles before turning back. The three of us that persevered consisted of a coach, myself, and one other young female team member. It was perfect running weather; cool and a little damp, the dust of summer washed away with the rain from the previous night. Leaves were plastered to the asphalt pedestrian trail as though decoupaged there and clouds littered the otherwise sunny, blue, sky, allowing the sun to warm the morning just enough to take off the chill and to penetrate the damp.

We were just over halfway through our eighteen miles; the plan was to run upstream seven miles, back and past our origination point two miles further downstream, then return to the park. We were running, keeping a steady and comfortable pace, and commiserating about the amount of will it would take to run past where our cars were parked after fourteen full miles for the last four. I could hear sirens in the distance, which is certainly not uncommon. The parkway we run along nearly every Saturday morning parallels the American River, for dozens of miles, winding through the greater Sacramento metropolitan area, which now boasts a population of well over a million people. Sirens are common in such high concentrations of suburbia. The sirens did seem very close, though, at the moment, this didn’t really register. A man approached us, opposing us, a runner, on the other side of the trail, per proper trail etiquette. He spoke to us, half shouting something about the sirens and directing the police in the direction from whence he came. I thought he was joking, at first, making light of the sirens, as though he were running to flee some feigned crime, but then he mentioned a runner, ahead, in cardiac arrest. My heart nearly stopped, cold, at the thought. Cardiac arrest. That’s what that means; the sudden cessation of heartbeat, of blood flow, of circulation, of oxygen to the brain. Of life.

We continued to run, the three of us, at first with a few forgotten words of acknowledgement, then in silence, in shock, then in dreaded speculation. Our running club, though with a low turnout today, has over five hundred members. Our membership, especially after the impressive lightning, thunder and rain the night before, accounted for most of the athletic activity on the trail this early, Saturday morning. What were the chances the fallen was one of our friends, our teammates, maybe even one of our coaches?

We rounded a corner to find a crowd of team members around the form of a fairly young, female figure, prone, on the dirt, next to the paved trail. Our coaches are all trained in CPR, and, so, CPR was being administered by people familiar to us. I’ve been certified numerous times in CPR, in first aid, in wilderness first aid. I’ve had to employ some of my wilderness first aid skills, but, never, gratefully, have I had to actually employ CPR. In fact, I’ve never actually witnessed CPR being administered on anything but those peculiar, somewhat other worldly, vaguely androgynous, mannequins, used in practice. To see CPR in real life is shocking. The young woman’s head was, correctly, tilted back, enabling the opening of the air passage in the throat. It is an extremely artificial posture, though, and just added to the horror of the scene. Another team member was rhythmically pushing down on the victim’s chest with the force and violence required to artificially pump the blood, from a still heart, to the brain, but the force and violence required, you knew, especially with this woman’s very tiny frame, left every rib and the sternum fractured. Her face was visible, distorted by the grasp of the hands of the rescuer tilting her head back, her pallor was an alarming and very unnatural shade of blue-gray. Everyone standing nearby, the entire pace group ahead of us and a sprinkling of others, wore grim expressions and looked on from an encircling crowd, like a crowd that gathers around a particularly gifted street performer, everyone positioned themselves to better see. I didn’t want to see. I’d seen enough. Cardiac arrest. She was, medically speaking, dead. Her life force, the flow of blood and oxygen, was mechanical, artificial, and temporary, at this point.

Other than the well made up, embalmed figure of my deceased grandmother at her “viewing”, prior to her funeral, expertly made up like a Broadway star, closed eyes, lips, and rosy cheeks accentuated colorfully, I’ve only ever purposefully looked at one dead person; my father. And, really, I wish I could unsee that, it was horrid, it was dreadful, and as hard as I try, I will never forget that final glimpse. I’d said goodbye to him several days before he finally passed. I recognized the moment his true spirit left his body, some other quasi-dad-spirit inhabited him for the last couple of days; angry, confused, disoriented, surreal. I’d arrived at the hospital as quickly as I could when told “it was time”, driving nearly eighty miles, but I arrived too late. A dear and helpful cousin was there with my, somehow, disbelieving mom. I was encouraged to “take a last look”. The form behind the curtain with the twisted face and the grotesque, gaping mouth was not my father. Someone had shoved his dentures in, post mortem, giving him the look of a low budget horror film skeleton. I have no regrets in life, but for that one. That is not how I wanted to remember him, I find it horrifyingly unforgettable.

The scene along the running trail was as horrifyingly unforgettable. I wasn’t sure if I recognized her, the fallen runner, or not. I remember the absurdity of noticing how cute her argyle running skirt and hot pink compression socks were. The mind is a freaky thing. The ambulance arrived as we did, and the paramedics leapt into action, wheeling the gurney across the running trail in front of me, at precisely the moment I attempted to pass. In some almost comically awkward and inappropriate moment, I blocked the gurney and the gurney blocked me. With reflexes like frozen molasses, I realized the situation and stepped quickly around the paramedics and the gurney, allowing them access to the victim and me to access to the open trail ahead. Our coach remained behind to assist, if needed. The remaining team member and I ran on. A few minutes later, the ambulance passed us up, quickly, silently, with lights flashing. I never know how to interpret these things.

We ran on. And on and on. We chatted a little, about the incident, what else? We managed to keep a reasonable pace, coaching ourselves, timing ourselves, for nearly eight miles. We found the fortitude to pass the parking lot and run downstream the additional two miles, as planned, to turn at precisely the appropriate point and begin the final, excruciating two miles back to our originating and finishing point. A mile and a half from our destination, we met our coach, going the opposite direction, finishing out her mileage. We cheered her on, she cheered us on. Runners are awesome like that. She mentioned that the downed runner was not a part of our club. What did I say? I said, “Good.” Then quickly added an appropriate disclaimer, that it was still, all, terrible, whoever she was, but I was glad it wasn’t someone we knew. Still, it didn’t sound right, seemed vulgar and crude, but I didn’t have the faculties to articulate anything more appropriate. A hundred yards further on and my running partner gave up; she was too tired to go on at a run. I was stiff and sore from activities earlier in the week, my knee was ablaze with pain and walking was far worse than running. I couldn’t continue at a walk. I just wanted to run, she just wanted to walk. We parted ways; I ran in alone, she walked in alone. I wouldn’t have left her, alone, especially in light of the day’s events, but I knew another pace team from our club was shortly behind us and would catch up to her in moments. I kept running. I ran faster. I ran a lot faster, the last mile and a half, my speed increasing the closer I got to the end. I couldn’t make all of this end fast enough. And though, now, the run is over, and the day is over, and the fitful night of restlessness is over, I don’t think the memory will ever escape me. I have been touched by this person’s experience with death, fleeting or final. I still don’t know whether she was resuscitated, or whether she passed, nor do I have a way to find out. I don’t know if she had a known, pre-existing condition, or if she was smote down by some unknown, congenital flaw. Or was it as a result of some risky behavior? Things I’ll never know and will always wonder, if only for selfish reasons, to prevent such a fate in my own future. My brush with death. My brush with mortality. My brush with someone else’s mortality.

My brush with someone else’s mortality kept me awake. All night, every time I closed my eyes, I kept seeing her form on the ground, a crowd around her, her alarmingly blue face, smashed and distorted between the caring hands of one of her rescuers, her thin, tanned, fit legs sticking out from the adorable, argyle, running skirt and peeking, again, behind the fabric of her hot pink compression socks. Her shoes, small, bright, colorful, still laced perfectly. The ambulance, large, red, obnoxious and obscene, on the pedestrian only trail. Running almost into the gurney as it was wheeled across the paved path. The shocked look on the paramedics face, mirroring, I’m sure, the shocked and horrified expression of realization on mine as I scuttled out of the way like an unwelcomed rodent on a crowded city sidewalk. The thought that kept me awake more than any other was the connection I felt to this complete stranger, the intimacy of seeing someone’s face in the first moments of their death. I’ve only ever glimpsed my own father in such a compromised state, and that, unwillingly, hauntingly, regrettably.

It was the thought of connection that occupied my mind for much of my sleepless night, the connections we have with those in our lives we consider large, important, crucial, vital; our parents, our lover, our children, our friends, our relatives, and then the tiny connections we have with others, fleeting, momentary, mostly unrecognized or unnoticed; people we pass on crowded sidewalks, or a running path, even those miniscule connections where we make brief eye contact with another soul, or someone we smile at for some imperceptible reason, or greet, never to be seen again, strangers in passing cars whom we acknowledge in a brief moment of passing, people on a crowded subway, pushing like hungry lions towards the kill, into the car, then out again, only to disappear into the crowd, forever, on the platform at some station.

I once wrote a piece, though I’ll be damned if I can find it, about connection. I wrote it from an airplane, in the dead of night, from 38,000 feet above what I assumed was the Midwest, below. I flew in the dark of night, often, for work, and I would usually pass the time by looking at the tiny pinpoint sized dots of light below. Each dot perhaps the light of a car, maybe a window in a home, a light illuminating some moment of life for some other person. I often wondered if, perhaps, one of those people associated with some dot of light below, might just be gazing up, at me, within a tiny pinpoint of light, blinking across the darkened sky. Did we unknowingly connect in some very abstract manner? And, like some sort of synapse, would this tiny, unknown connection foster some cosmic reconnection at some point in our shared futures?

As sleep eluded me last night and my mind was filled with thoughts of a young, dead woman in a short argyle skirt and a smashed, blue face, my man slept more soundly, in my presence, than he has in a very long time. So as not to disturb his well-deserved slumber, I quietly sat and stared out the window. I stared at the dark shape that is Mt. Tamalpais, a sight that entrances me any time of the day or night. I have a strong connection to that mountain I can’t quite justify. I stared at the stars, though few, in the inky sky. There, too were clouds, or a fog, creeping along the edges of the sky. And, every few minutes or so, on ascent out of San Francisco International Airport, northward at first, to a point, then the course altered according to carefully calculated plans, to some other destination on this globe, an airplane, a small, blinking, pinpoint of light. Is it possible, that within one of those aircrafts, sat, by the window, a sleepless creature, peering down at a random dot of light on the earth’s crust, speculating some remote and tenuous connection with a soul associated with that dot of illumination? With, perhaps, even, me? Did we connect on some infinitesimal level, a future synapse set to fire?

We all have millions more connections with others than we can ever begin to count, or realize, or even begin to imagine. But what of the connections we have to those we have occasion to care about, those that “matter”. The big, orbs of bright light within our cosmic view, the swinging, swirling, searchlights that seek to draw our attention to them, constantly, incessantly. Are we nurturing those connections? Caring for them? Fostering them? Cultivating them? Or are they just a bright and annoying nuisance we wish we could block or shield from view? This is what really deprived me of sleep; am I connecting with those I’m connected to? No. That’s the true thief in the night for me; thinking that, perhaps, I am not connecting, at a level I’d like to, with just about everyone in my life. Are you? I suddenly felt very, very alone, not too unlike the downed runner in the argyle skirt, my connections suddenly and unexpectedly felt fragile, tenuous, distant, and sometimes, even, forced. Like dial-up internet.

Are we paying the appropriate amount of due to those we cherish in our life? Parents, children, lover, friends, relatives? Likely not, we are overcommitted, distracted, and overwhelmed. Though I’m certain some of our connections get more bandwidth than others, connectivity to those we love parallels the basic ISP we pay for; well-intentioned but somewhat sporadic and not nearly adequate to serve all connected. So, if we were to suddenly become “premium cable”, what would that be, how would that differ?

While money may buy you a better level of quality of internet connectivity, with our relationships, time is more important than money. With that being said, we need to make more time for those we love and, if as a result, accept making less money. Every now and then, we see something on social media that reminds us that our loved ones will be much more likely to remember the time we spent with them than the money we spent on them. Physical human needs are basic, and, really, the simpler these are met, the better, that we realize this early enough in life to make a difference is a blessing. One of the most critical human needs, next to air to breathe, water and food, is love, and, my friends, love, in its purest and most true sense, is free. It costs us nothing to hug, to touch, to kiss, to hold hands, to listen, to share stories and engage in conversation, or just, simply, to be present, and these actions are, by far, the most valuable. And like all things of great value, there are varying degrees of quality, and, quality matters.

Connection as a value vs. connection as a duty; connection is a two-way relationship. It takes two for there to be a connection; very simply, you cannot connect two dots with a straight line if there are not two dots. If one party bases their connections on value, and the other out of duty or obligation, the connection will be an effort, there will be a strain, a sense of obligation on one side and a sense of lack on the other. This is where feelings of resentment and corresponding feelings of being taken for granted arise from.

When both parties connect based on values, the connection is fulfilling and nurturing for both parties, it grows and is strengthened, it is solid and more lasting. If both parties connect out of duty or obligation, it is little more than a transaction; temporary, momentarily necessary, empty, minimally gratifying, purposeful, but only briefly, and, if not distasteful, then certainly not memorable.

After a long, haunted, sleepless night, I remembered what I’ve always known; life would be more joyful if we didn’t take for granted the deep connections we have with our lover, our parents, our children, and our friends. If we approached these vital connections from a sense of value rather than a sense of obligation or duty, they would be far more fulfilling to all involved. Why would we ever consider anything less than that? If we nurture our connections with those who matter to us most, meaningfully, on every level possible, we’d find more peace, joy and fulfillment, and so, too, would they. We simply need to touch, to hug for longer than a second, to kiss deeply, to press cheeks together, to feel one another’s skin, to hold hands, to caress. We only need to connect more holistically, to listen wholly, make eye contact, smile, ask, do, surprise. Cherish. Adore. We need to prioritize that which is most important, in the moment, and minimize that which is not; put the cell phone aside, be so engrossed in conversation that no one dares interrupt, embrace, put the past behind and future away, live only in the moment. Find joy. Life is uncertain, but certainly short, we need to connect our dots with the straightest of lines.

I watched a movie the other night, a French film featuring eighteen, five minute short stories about love, in Paris. One of the stories was about a man who was married to a woman for a long period of time. In that time, everything she did that he once found endearing, became irksome. He took a lover. He planned to meet his wife to tell her of his love, of his affair, and of his intent to leave her. His wife, instead, told him of her leukemia and that she would die. In this moment, he knew, out of duty and responsibility, he must rise to the occasion. He ended his affair and focused his energy and focus on his ailing wife. He rose to the occasion by connecting with her as he once had, he acted as though he didn’t just love her out of duty, but that he loved her as he once had, that he was “in love” with her. He found himself, shortly, as in love with her as he been when they’d first fallen in love. But, alas, she died, and he was sad and tortured and saw the things that reminded him of her, those things he once found endearing, then irksome, everywhere he looked. He became haunted by them. Yes, a tragic story, but what I took away from it is that love, relationship, connection, can migrate from endearing to irksome if we do not nurture it, always, as we do when it first sprouts. Like a plant, we water it and care for it and sing to it when it is a seedling, but after a season or two, it will no longer flower or thrive unless we continue to care for it. Such are our connections.

As an example, when you kiss your lover, on an “ordinary day”, assuming you kiss every day, is it  a  quick tapping together of the lips, with closed lips and eyes, like second graders in a school play, made to kiss by some cruel story plot, like the conciliatory kiss of a numb and bored couple after thirty years of bland matrimony, or the type of kiss you’d concede to applying on the lips of your great aunt, with her bad fitting, slippery, yellowed, dentures, or to someone a bit too well acquainted, recently, with onions, or not well acquainted, recently (or ever), with dental floss. I was the recipient of the best kind of kiss, just today, after my haunted, sleepless and very thoughtful night. It was warm, sweet, lingering, and loving, and what every kiss between lovers deserves to be.

What is an embrace? A hug? It is not the quick draping of limp arms about ones shoulders with an even quicker retraction, like the lifeless arms of a marionette on strings, thrust up, then dropped, with zero feeling. Do we embrace others as we would a fitful toddler, not our own, covered in snot and the remnants of chewed up graham crackers, or like a congratulatory embrace of an athlete having just finished a very sweaty feat, or of that thrifty uncle who saves money on both water and soap by only imbibing in their application weekly, or so?  A meaningful embrace, a quality hug, is not too loose, not too tight, one that says “you’re welcomed within these arms, but you aren’t being controlled or forced to stay.” An embrace that is long enough in duration for nearly every sense to be engaged and nourished (though I don’t always lick people while they hug me, so the sense of taste may be optional in a “good” hug). A nourishing hug is a hug that is long enough in duration to compliment the level of intimacy of the relationship; a few comforting moments for the snotty, food encrusted, non-related toddler, and the stinky uncle, but perhaps the better portion of half a minute, at least, for your lover. While I don’t whip out a slide rule or my calculator app on my smart phone, some term of time in between is apropos for other special people in our lives.

I had the best embrace, ever, today. A Sunday morning where no one was rushed to be anywhere, me after a poor night’s sleep, and him having an unusually restful night. In the bright morning light, a mutual embrace of uncertain extent, minutes maybe, perhaps an hour, or more. Sweet, loving, wholesome, nurturing, tender, comforting and fortifying. I fell asleep in this perfect hug, four arms enwrapped, and I slept like a child after a long, nightmarish, night and woke feeling completely loved, more rested, and restored. Nearly restored.

Don’t impede opportunities for chance connections to occur; smile at strangers, say hello, hold a door open, shake hands, guide, help carry something for someone overburdened, wave at benevolent drivers, or offer someone the spot in front of you in traffic. Every connection, whether a pinpoint of light or a beacon, has some impact on your life, to acknowledge this, to recognize this and to make as many of these connections as purposefully positive as possible is the path to joy, for you, and for the other dot at the end of the line.

Life is short. Life is uncertain. Life is certainly short. I believe we are so connected with our world, with “the universe”, that things happen for a reason. I believe it is through some level of individual effort and consciousness, through contemplation, that we attempt to discern some of those reasons, those lessons. From this experience, from this story, I have become more aware of the fact that life is fleeting, life is tenuous, and life is what we make of it. Make joy. Through this experience, I realize that many of my connections, my relationships, aren’t receiving as much of my positive energy as they should. Lessons I’ve learned in the past have been fortified; I am grateful for each and every moment as they arrive and as they pass, I am grateful for the people I cherish in my life now, for the connections we have, the connections we will accentuate, I am grateful for the connections I will make in the future, both brief and lasting, and I will make every effort to focus on them, to acknowledge them and to keep practicing drawing the straightest line between two dots I can.

Scarlette Letter – Week of September 14, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I’m grateful for compassionate people. I am so moved by the number of people volunteering to assist those who’ve lost everything they own in the Northern California wildfires

Affirmation – I am giving

Attitude – Confident

Activity – Ran fifteen miles on Saturday and hiked 21 miles on Sunday, some yoga and strength training at home between work and other obligations and time with friends and loved ones

Nurture – Yoga and meditation

Enrichment – Wayne Dyer – “I Can See Clearly Now” and “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

Quote: “Authentic happiness is always independent of external conditions”

Nourishment –

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Giving – I’m assembling piles of things I can donate to the fire victims. They have been inundated with donations and are requesting just money, now, which I don’t have piles of, though I will donate what I can to the Red Cross and to GoFundMe.

I am weeding through things, now, so when they do need additional clothing and household items, which they’ve stated they will, later this week and next, I’ll have them assembled and organized. I’m trying to find out if they need any horse halters and leads to gather up the loose livestock that managed to survive, I have several in storage I will dig out if they can be of use.

Connection – I went to a concert with a friend I met through other friends. We’ve never spent one on one time together, so, it was almost like a “first date”. I spent some wonderful time with my Sweetheart this week, a little more than usual, and it was lovely.

Simplifying – Part of my giving to the fire victims will serve, doubly, as lightening my load. Closets and drawers are much fuller than they should be and I have so many new and like new items that I’ve only worn once in the past year or so. I am so hoping that someone in need will be delighted with them.

Journaling – My Thoughts

Love Drug

Love is so hard. Being in love is hard. Loving is hard. There is only one thing worse than being in love and being loved, and that is not being in love and not being loved.

I have often joked that I fall in love too easily. I’ve joked that my criteria is simple; a pulse and male. I have a very romantic, very optimistic, very accepting and, based on some past experiences, a far too trusting and tolerant heart. I love being in love. I love being loved. As a result, I’ve made some poor choices along the way. I am also a very tenacious and committed person, so, in some of those poor choices, they’ve been long lasting poor choices.

As a result of finding myself in relationships, in love, with people who have lied to me and cheated on me and betrayed me and abused me and neglected me and, perhaps worst, taken me for granted, I’ve developed a lack of confidence in love, a general suspicion of my lover, and an overwhelming sense of foreboding doom in relationships. But, still, I fall in love like a boulder nudged from a cliff. Wham. (Continue Reading)

Social – Instagram (begoniascarlett), Facebook Page (Scarlette Begonia), Twitter (@BegoniaBegoniaS)

Scarlette Letter – Weekend Edition September 13, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I am grateful for the communities I belong to, physical and virtual

Affirmation – I am committed to my goals and dreams

Attitude – I feel empowered by my accomplishments

Activity – Just a little half marathon with a whole bunch of hills

Nurture – A lovely day Saturday with my love, strolling, enjoying the beautiful weather, a few new restaurants, and each other’s company. Sunday, after my race, a wonderful afternoon on the deck in the mild temps, reading, writing, resting, socializing (on social media)

Enrichment – “The future comes one day at a time”

Nourishment –

Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

Giving – Several organizations benefit from the proceeds of the race I ran, and, I donated by “Whole Foods bring your reusable grocery sack” nickel to a worthy cause fathering than having it deducted from my bill.

Connection – Spent time with my sweetie and we chatted with folks everywhere we went, on Saturday. Chit chatted a little, Sunday, with other runners and with a grandmother full of curious questions about running races and kids, with her grandson in mind

Simplifying – I made a new pile of clothes to go to charity this week, with intentions of adding a few more pieces from my closet

Journaling –

Ideas come to me at the oddest of times and usually when I am without pen and journal, or while driving and unable to tap my thoughts into Evernote or into a blank Word document on my phone.

I had a wonderful and rare Saturday with my guy, yesterday, and a busy and challenging half-marathon today. Several times, fabulously fantastic ideas came to me for stories to share with you, and, because I was enjoying my day, I did not record them, and, poof, they are, for now, gone.

Tragic, I know. But, there are times when we need to break away from the things we do to enjoy the moment at hand. Those special moments, special days, and special events that come so rarely should be unbastardized by work, or our other, usual tasks. Too often we squander the time we have with the really special people in our lives, or compromise it, by focusing on less important things. How often do you find yourself picking up your phone and addressing some seemingly important notification when you are in conversation with a loved one, a friend, a family member. Our attention is the most beloved thing we can share with those we love, they deserve as much of it as we have to give.

Yes, there are those unavoidable communications and tasks that must be dealt with, but, truly, those should be the exception and not the rule.

That’s my excuse, and I’m not one for excuses. I have no great story for you today, this weekend, but, rest assured, in my afternoon of rest and recuperation, I have jotted down a fair number of ideas I’ll play with for stories tomorrow, or the next day, and perhaps the day after. Today, yesterday, I had much more important things to do.

Social – Instagram (begoniascarlett), Facebook Page (Scarlette Begonia), Twitter (@BegoniaBegoniaS)

Ups and Downs

I signed up for a half marathon this coming weekend. I hesitated, but finally just did it. Why the hesitation? The course is hilly. Running uphill is hard, and running downhill is jarring. One cannot become a better runner, and we should always be striving to become better, if we don’t overcome our challenges. Or at least attempt to!

If we aren’t improving, we are falling behind. This is true for running, and for all things in life. We are meant to continually seek to improve in every facet of our lives in order to fulfill our potential. It’s this constant drive to grow, learn, and improve that helps us discover our passions, our potential, and our joy.

I went for a hike yesterday, and it was hilly. There were other challenges, like the heat, which made the hills far more intense than normal, for me. I made it back to the car no worse for the wear, and am proud of my accomplishment.

Scarlette Begonia

In hiking and in running, there will always be ups and downs. And, for every up, there is a down, for every down, there is an up. You cannot get back to the car, or home, or whatever your place of origin, without experiencing equal ups and downs.

Life has its ups and downs, too, and while perhaps not quite as equal as in running and hiking, they do tend to cycle fairly regularly, both in short periods of time, say within a single day, or over an extended period, say, oh, life. In life, we can’t simply decide not to register for the race because there are ups and downs, they are there and they must be dealt with. While running up a hill, sure, I can tell myself it isn’t there, try to trick myself, but my legs still work harder, my breath comes faster, my heart pounds harder. The hill is real and nothing I can do will make it go away, that is where the race course has led me.

Interestingly, in hiking and in running, and other pursuits, it is at the very top of the hill and the very bottom of the valley, that we often discover the most amazing views, the most awesome features. Life is not dissimilar, it is in the challenges and the triumphs, the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs, that we find the most growth and reward.

Don’t be afraid of the race, don’t shy away from the hills. Ups and downs are part of the course. Ups and downs are part of life. The more we practice, the better we become at meeting and conquering the challenge. Race on.

Scarlette Letter – September 5, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude: I am grateful for all the courageous and independent women in history who’ve inspired me, among them, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and, now, Coco Chanel

Affirmation: I am remarkable

Attitude: Independent

Activity: Run 13.5 miles

Nurture: Meditation morphed into nap (what do you expect after a 13.5 mile run and an eighty mile drive?)

Enrichment – Listened to a chapter of Wayne Dyer’s “I Can See Clearly” on Audible during drive

Nourishment – Scarlette Begonia Scarlette Begonia

Giving – Nothing more than kind words and good wishes for everyone’s holiday weekend

Connection – Great conversations while running with my running club this morning

Simplifying – Figured out how to use Microsoft Word and Dropbox on my iPhone so I can blog on the go more easily and don’t have to carry my iPad all the time

Journaling – A Story

My best friend, doppelganger, and soul sister, Jardin D Fleur, posted a little story yesterday about cartwheels. In summary, she’d responded to a Facebook post that asked “Would your eight year old self be proud of you right now?” True to form, Jardin’s response was both insightful and funny, she said, “I don’t think so, I can no longer do perfect cartwheels. I think I’ll go practice.”

I began to think about cartwheels.

I used to be very good at doing cartwheels, and, in fact, I don’t think a day passed between my first cartwheel at about the age of six and the age when such displays became uncool, say, cheerleading aside, in high school, that I didn’t do a cartwheel. (Continue Reading)

Scarlette Letter – September 1, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I am grateful for the creative streak I’ve been experiencing lately

Affirmation – I am courageous

Attitude – I am feeling confident, creative and optimistic. I feel like I’m ready to move forward with some long overdue changes in my life

Activity – Ran/Hiked/Hill drills – 5.21 miles and wee bit of weight training while on a conference calls

Nurture – I sat on the deck, in the sunshine, watching the birds and the bees and the wind in the trees, while eating my lunch

Enrichment – a quote “Wisdom is all about learning how to live a better life”

Nourishment

Scarlette BegoniaScarlette Begonia
Scarlette Begonia

Giving – Other than donating my five cent “bring your own bag” refund to a local charity and letting two cars go ahead of me in the Whole Foods parking lot, I did nothing today to benefit humanity

Connection – Other than limited texting, blogging and social media, I connected with no one at all today.

Simplifying – I have one bag of clothing ready to go to charity, I did not drop it off as I’d hoped to today

Journaling – A little bit of a story to share with you today:

Adequate sleep is proven to be beneficial to our health, to our effectiveness, and to our sense of well-being. Sleep is underrated.

My problem with “getting enough” sleep is that it takes up so much super valuable time. I tend to awaken early because the world awakens early. I awaken as the sky lightens and the world begins to stir. I’m an early bird. I, however, get most of the things that are really important to me done after work, after my workout, after dinner. This is my time to enjoy music, a story or movie, write, read, or visit with loved ones. I’m a night owl. Sleep is overrated.

I didn’t get enough sleep last night. There were a number of contributors; too much coffee as I was captive in an online training session in Adobe Captivate8. Another contributor, yesterday was a “recovery” day after my ten-mile race Sunday, and my three consecutive hiking days Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So I got no exercise. Finally, for some reason, late at night, while watching a delightful movie, I decided a bowl of dark chocolate Coconut Bliss “ice cream” would be a good idea. Sugar and cocoa. I eat dark chocolate frequently, but usually quite early in the day. Sugar, I have practically eliminated from my diet. I could feel my heart race after the first bite!

I awoke at 4:30 AM and really didn’t get back to sleep until about ten minutes before my alarm was set to go off at 6:00. Being a disciple of putting time to good use, rather than toss and turn in frustration, I outlined a couple of article ideas, organized my lists in Evernote, and reorganized my Dropbox, then fell back to sleep. For ten minutes.

I’m filling up on coffee, again, today. Tired and more training.

I have a thought of an invention: a sleep compressor. If we can compress air, if we can pack all the nutrients good, clean food is supposed to supply us into a sticky, sugary, gelatinous ”gummy vitamin”,  surely we can figure out how to compress sleep. Wouldn’t it be cool to get, say eight or nine hours of sleep in an hour or two, or maybe even eight or nine minutes?

I have plenty on my plate and have never been a student of physics. Or whatever. So, if you want to take my idea for my sleep compressor invention and run with it, great! Let me know when it’s all done and I’ll be first in line to buy it!

For Me and For You

I ran a ten-mile race last weekend. I didn’t win the race, but I did win.

I’m reasonably new to running, I started running at the age of 48, just four years ago. I’ve run a few half-marathons and one full marathon, so far. I didn’t win any of them. I’m registered for a couple of half-marathons and four full marathons over the next year. I won’t win any of them. But I still win.

Scarlette Begonia

Why run in races if you’re never going to win?

Running, for me, fulfills a couple of very primal needs I discovered I have rather late in life; it makes me feel free and it fulfills my competitive spirit. If I’m not in it to win it, how does it fulfill my competitive spirit? I compete with myself, I strive for continual improvement.

Fitness is a lifestyle I believe in, it is a lifestyle I foster, it is a lifestyle I create for myself. Let me clarify fitness and what it means to me:

Fitness is a lifestyle that facilitates good health, well-being, continual self-improvement, self-confidence, and self-worth. Joy.

Fitness is not getting skinny enough to wear that dress to the high school reunion. Fitness is not losing weight to look good, to catch that guy, to attract that girl, to get the engagement ring, to fit into the wedding dress. Fitness is not bulking up enough to win a body-building competition. Fitness is not racing once to prove it can be done. Fitness is not about doing it for someone else.

Fitness, your health, your well-being, are only ever about you. It is a choice and one you choose because it brings you joy.

Scarlette Begonia

I run as part of my fitness-focused lifestyle. It is hard, but it brings me joy and a great sense of accomplishment. I race because it’s fun, I enjoy the fanfare, I enjoy the people, I enjoy having a measure of my personal improvement.

In this past weekend’s race, there were 540 finishers. I came in 309th. Clearly, I didn’t win the race. I wasn’t even in the top 50%, but I’m still a winner. I finished. I ran ten miles. I did, however, run at a faster pace than any of my previous races, though this was the shortest race I ever ran.

I poured over the results, the results of others, knowing everyone runs, and races, for different reasons, for very personal and individual reasons. Some folks do run to compete, to win, to be the fastest. Others run for the sheer pleasure. Other folks run because they can. Sadly, some folks run to please someone else.

Scarlette Begonia

The fastest finishers, the winners of the race, the folks who took home the purse and the prizes, ran a full five minutes faster per mile than I. One such man was 72 years old. Winning. I reviewed the field of finishers near my finish time, I came in a couple of seconds behind a woman who was 74 years old.

Scarlette Begonia

I looked at the people who came in last, and these folks were, in my perception, the true winners of the race and should be awarded the highest purse, the biggest medal, and the most recognition. In the last ten finishers was a woman, 99 years old. Winning. Finisher 540 of 540; a woman of 83. Winning. How blessed to be of such good health at that age to complete a ten mile running race, and, judging from their pace, they were moving along fairly well. They eclipsed my rather ridiculous hiking pace. My rather ridiculous hiking pace elevates my heart rate to an aerobic level, it causes me to sweat profusely, it makes my muscles all wonderfully sore for the next couple of days. A 99 year old woman and an 83 year old woman and a smattering of other octogenarians maintained that pace for ten full miles. Think about it; many folks that age aren’t able to drive ten miles, or walk ten feet. When I grow up I want to be 99 years old and finish a ten mile running race! Run because you can.

Scarlette Begonia

I am speculating, but I’m pretty sure those elderly runners aren’t running that race for anyone but themselves. To live to be 99, or 83, is accomplishment in itself. To be able to run ten miles at that age obviates a commitment to fitness, a personal desire for a fit lifestyle. They aren’t running to get in shape to fit into that dress, to get the proposal, to find a date, to please someone else. They run because they can and because it is their choice, their lifestyle, and, I’m guessing it brings them an incredible amount of joy, confidence, self-respect, and self-worth.

And that, my friends, is truly winning.

I do it for me. Do it if you want, but do it for you.

Scarlette Begonia

Notification! Important!

I think I’m gonna go cold turkey. I have an addiction, an unhealthy addiction. I’m Scarlette Begonia, and I’m addicted to notifications.

I ran a ten mile race today and fully, and rightfully, expected to experience an endorphin high for the rest of the day, or for at least a few hours. I was bummed. Completely bummed. I was bummed from the moment I finished the race until I had the sense to figure out what was going on. I was bummed because I sort of expected certain folks to respond to certain posts and certain text messages, and they didn’t. Never mind they have full and consuming lives of their own, but I had an expectation, an unfulfilled expectation.

There are two things wrong with this picture; expectations, one, and looking to external stimuli for validation, for happiness, for gratification. I wholly and completely realize this, and have, according to some, “preached” on this before.

Preacher, now disciple.

Lately, I find myself grasping my phone, checking every few minutes for notifications. I have notifications turned on for absolutely every app, social media, text messages, phone calls, “Map My Run”, and even “All Trails”.

I have even begun to “measure”, or try to quantify how much someone likes me, or loves me, by how quickly they respond to texts, or if, and how rapidly they “like” a picture, a comment, a check-in. And especially a new profile picture. This, my friends, is no way to live. This is not how friendships or relationships or love, or anything else, is measured. Ever.

Extremist that I am, I spent the afternoon on the deck, lounging in my cheap, faded, PVC Adirondack chair, contemplating all of this, and then, systematically turning off notification services for everything except phone calls. And even that I really wanted to turn off, because 99% of the time, I don’t want to talk to whomever is calling. But, as my mom is 91 years old and couldn’t text to save her life, and may require assistance when I am away, I left that one notification active.

This strategy, I’ll admit, failed miserably and instantly. I just picked up my phone and opened every app, one by one, to see if anyone was talking to me, validating me, “liking” me, loving me. Nope. More dismal despair and disappointment. My solution, and I’m only two hours in; I’ve set an alarm for every three or four hours, and, when it sounds, I am allowed to check my apps. Until then, the phone remains untouched, the only app open is Spotify. I do require a little external stimuli, and music seems benign. I’m hoping to wean my “app checking” down to three times a day. Eventually. Baby steps. It’s like heroine, I’ll require methadone, on a long-term, tapered schedule, before I am, at last, free from this monkey on by back.

In the hour and a half I’ve been abiding by this new plan, I’ve drafted three articles, I’ve observed fascinating nature in my own backyard, I’ve eaten a pizza, four samosas and had a couple of beers. I’ll get better, I am certain.

Why am I taking such extreme measures?

Our sense of worth, our value as a human being, the measure of how lovable, or likable we are, never, ever, ever, is dependent on what others think, of how others act, or even of how others regard us. We are our only judge, and to rely so completely on external stimuli for validation is in complete juxtaposition.

Our self-worth, our self-confidence, our value, only ever comes from within, and unless we’re going to sit there and like all our own social media posts, respond to all our own texts in precisely the manner, and period of time, we deem appropriate, we’ve set ourselves up for utter disappointment.

Expectations, generally, are the device of misery. By expecting certain behaviors or actions from anyone is the most expeditious route to disappointment ever. We are only, and with effort, in control of ourselves. We cannot control anyone else, in thought, action, or deed. To think we can coerce, beg, plead, ask, request anyone to change, or to behave according to our desire, is futile. Live your life and coexist with others.

You know that religious “coexist” bumper sticker you see on the back of every third Prius on the highway? Repurpose the message; live your own life, set and strive for your own expectations, and respect others for their efforts in setting and striving for their own expectations. If their self-expectations align well enough with yours, then, super. If not, let go, and find folks whose journey, and expectations, coexist more with yours.

So, yes, please, like my article. Follow me, like me on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, just know, I’ll be appreciative, but I may not realize your appreciation as instantly as you may expect!

Independence Day

Happy fifth of July! Yesterday, we celebrated Independence Day. We drank, we ate, we wore red, white, and blue, perhaps we took in a parade, maybe we watched things explode in the sky, either in person or from the overstuffed comfort of our recliners. That’s what Independence Day is all about. Or is it? From the Facebook posts I perused, from the handful of usual and frequent posters amidst my hundreds of Facebook friends, they all seemed to echo the same exact message as Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to those who serve, past, present, and future. Very. But what, really, is Independence Day about?  
 I always thought Independence Day was a day to remember the Declaration of Independence, a document declaring our intent, as a colony, to, by whatever means necessary, secure our independence from the tyranny and taxation of England. Tyranny and taxation. Independence. Freedom from tyranny and taxation imposed on us without fair representation. Hot tub time machine Batman! Déjà vu! While a worthy topic, that isn’t what I’m discussing today. I just couldn’t resist the temptation to provoke a little thought. Let’s be more mindful of those days off from work, the no bills in the mailbox day, those days when mobile deposits don’t post to our bank account. Those days are each unique in their dedication and purpose. Oh dear, friends are going to say I rant.  Let’s talk about independence. In general. I feel, as a nation of people, we aren’t as independent as we once intended, as we once fought for. But, as a person, I feel fairly independent. Free. Sure I have responsibilities and obligations, we all do. The absence of responsibilities and obligations does not negate our freedom, our independence. In fact, the more independent we are, often, I think, the more relied upon we become by those near us who have not achieved, or who have lost, their independence.

  

 I was independent enough to choose, for the time being, to move back to my childhood home to assist my elderly, widowed mother. She is less independent than she once was. She depends on me to do certain things she isn’t able to do; drive her to out of town doctor appointments, fill her car with gas, deal with her cable television service provider every time an error message pops up, and sundry other things.

My mom always encouraged me to be independent, and I tried, and though it took a few hard life lessons to really sink in, at the tender age of (almost) fifty-two, I think I’ve almost got it. To my mom, being independent, in the vein she meant, was to, as a woman, especially, always be able to support myself with my own earnings, regardless of marital status or a spouse’s wealth or earning ability. I eventually got that. I’m an independent wage earner. And in the dissolution of my one and only marriage, ironically, the only point of contention is how much spousal support I’ll have to pay to my husband! And for what duration. I know, right?

I taught my own children to be independent, in the same respect my mom taught me. I think they got it before at a much younger age than I, their life hard lessons being entwined with mine. I also tried to instill in my children a facet of independence I hold valuable; the ability to go and do and experience, if necessary, alone. Independently.

This type of independence is something I developed a great value for by observing, among so many others, my own mother, in her lack of independence. I don’t fault her, or anyone, for this lacking, it simply saddens me. How many hundreds of times I witnessed my mom, friends, and acquaintances lament missing out on something important or exciting to them because no one would go with them. To miss out on experiences, events, adventure, pieces of life, because of a fear or trepidation of going and doing alone breaks my heart. For this reason, I tried to instill this type of independence in my children’s core values. I sent them to camp “alone”, without friends, and encouraged them to make new friends. This may seem like child abuse in today’s world, but I felt it was an important skill for them to master, and the earlier the better. Acting alone, independently, is a reality in life. We go to job interviews alone. We can’t bring a buddy along for moral support. The ability to walk singularly and confidently into a room with a stranger and come across as the best candidate is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Myself included.

I suffered from two things as a child on into my early adulthood; shyness and being an only child. I learned from both afflictions, and I overcame both. As a shy person, acting alone can be a challenge, but, as an only child, being alone is a reality. I learned, as a child, to work up the courage to call my friends on a rainy day to see if anyone could come over and play. If no one was available, I was left to play alone. From this I learned to enjoy my own company, to cherish some solitude, and to play four different players in a solo game of Monopoly. Right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot. Right hand was always banker.

  
I am an extremely active person, I like to go, I like to do. I like to experience. I don’t like to sit still long. I can’t stand the thought of life passing me by, of time slipping away, without some experience attached to it. Funny to live in the same neighborhood near some of the same folks I used to call up to come play Monopoly with me on a rainy Saturday. Now, like then, they are more often unavailable than not. Many of our interests differ, our stations in life are different, we all have many who depend on us, which means I either need to act alone or miss out. Missing out is not an option.  

I run alone, except on Saturdays, when I run with a running club. But I joined the running club alone, I didn’t require the security of a friend to join with me. I will happily go to art galleries, museums, parks, national monuments, wine tasting, parties, restaurants, outings, traveling, and to events, alone, if necessary. I hike alone as much as possible. I kayak alone, usually. I camp alone, occasionally, I have even backpacked alone. If I’d waited for someone to go with me, I’d still be waiting! And I’d have missed out on so much. What an indescribably sad thought!

  

Sometimes I wonder if I’m alone, not just running, hiking, and kayaking, but in my fierce independence. Especially for a girl. Yesterday, as I drove away from the house, kayak atop my car, still dripping from the day’s solo adventure, a neighbor from across the street, you know, the one who speaks to everyone, who lies in wait for someone to exit their house, their car, then chats for an awfully long time. I’m not proud to say I’ve mastered avoidance. Until now, with him practically stepping in front of my moving vehicle, waving at me to stop. I rolled down my window, turned down the Jeremy Loops song I had blaring and greeted him. A couple of week s ago, the UPS driver knocked on our door while I wasn’t home. Mom answered. He had a large parcel, a kayak, for the neighbor next door. Mom couldn’t accept it because she isn’t very mobile and would have a hard time a) delivering the kayak to the neighbor upon their return and b) walking next door to tell them they had a delivery awaiting their retrieval. We both assumed the kayak was for the man of the household, with whom I’ve swapped stories of hikes and backpacking treks. But, the neighbor from across the street now leaned in my window and told me the mother in law had bought a kayak and wanted to go on solo paddling excursions, but couldn’t figure out how to fix the kayak to the newly installed roof rack on her Prius. My heart warmed, a kindred spirit, older than I. I told the neighbor I’d be happy to offer my assistance, next we met out in the front yard. 

I value and cherish independence, as a nation of people, from tyranny and taxation without representation, as a wage earner, but most of all, as a student of happiness, a liver of life! My life, the way I want it, and my happiness, depend on it! Go. Do. Be. Don’t wait. Make your declaration. Make every day independence day.

Treadmills

I’m not one to succumb to fear, to even admit fear. I do have fears, plenty, but I seek to overcome them, to meet them, as a challenge, and annihilate them. I am far more afraid of dying in a recliner, clutching a remote, watching other people live fascinating lives on television than I am of ‘most anything else. I’m a doer, not a viewer.

An Effort to Evolve

Last year, I did admit to a fear; treadmills. Not treadmills themselves, but the act of running on a treadmill. I have completely obliterated that fear and can run quite effectively on treadmills now. And do, when I must. I will always prefer running outdoors, through the countryside, the suburbs, or bustling urban streets.

An Effort to Evolve

Then a video compilation of “treadmill fails” circulated around Facebook last week and I took pause, and reconsidered my former fear of treadmills. I shall remain steadfast in saying “I am not afraid of running on treadmills”, I do, however, have a healthy respect for them and I will exercise (no pun intended) due caution. In other words, you are not likely to see me on a treadmill a) in high heels b) on a pogo stick c) on a bicycle d) on a unicycle e) while roller blading f) on a skateboard g) on a stabilization ball, stabilization balls have no place on an unstable surface, that’s oxy-moronic (moronic being the key word there) and, finally, h) while someone else is monkeying with the speed setting.

An Effort to Evolve

Fair enough?

A fear of mine, though? Not making progress.

While reconsidering fear, and treadmills, my mind naturally wandered to how this applies to life. That’s just how I think. One of my “concerns”, or, fears, if you choose, is “the treadmill of progress”. Have you ever felt like you’ve done everything right? Set measurable goals, based on your roles in life and your core values? Made a daily, concerted effort towards that goal, day after day, week after week, month after month, and made no progress? No forward movement? The treadmill of progress; running, panting, sweating, still in the same place!

Have you ever noticed people at the gym who dutifully hop on the treadmill, poke a few buttons and stroll along for ten minutes, then head for the shower, and claim to have “worked out”? Versus those of us who ramp up the incline, the speed, and the duration, with every passing workout. You can hear me breathing across the gym when I’m on the treadmill. I kind of make a scene. Let’s not get started on a discussion about the step mill! I’m so sweaty I look like I’ve been swimming when I’m done! Though I am going nowhere, I am making progress.

An Effort to Evolve

But, again, when we’ve done everything right and we seem to be making no progress, we are expecting to be moving forward, but the scenery isn’t changing and we’re staying in one place, what’s gone wrong? We’re stuck on the treadmill of progress. What to do?

An Effort to Evolve

For consideration:

  1. Are we present? Are we remaining present in our work towards our goal, or are we anxiously focused on the future? Live in the present, in the moment and be grateful for what minute progress you made today. Don’t look at the whole fence when you’re painting, observe the stroke you make now and admire it. The fence will be finished soon enough.
  2. Are we grateful. We must express gratitude for what accomplishment we’ve made, for the attempt that’s been made, for the effort put forth. If we are ungrateful of our efforts, our progress will be lost in the bitterness. Praise yourself and your toils.
  3. Are we breaking the goal down into small enough steps? Have we sharpened our axe? As Abe Lincoln once (supposedly) said, “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” It’s a good quote, whether Abe said it, or not. There is some debate. Anyhow, we should be breaking each goal down to the level of what can be accomplished in a month, a week, today, and, finally, to “what could I do this very moment to further this goal?” We often bite off way more than we can chew. Take smaller bites.
  4. My n’er do well friend, Jardin, wrote an article earlier this week about making excuses, and making adjustments. Sometimes we need to look at the whole picture and figure out what we may be doing, or allowing, that is undermining our progress.
  5. Reconsider the goal. Is it still meaningful, is it still valuable to us? Or have we grown past the goal? Maybe the goal is no longer something we consider worthy, or necessary, and we’ve just been plugging away at it for so long, it has become a habit. A meaningless habit and a waste of precious time that could be better spent elsewhere. Not every goal we set is meant to be met, accomplished and kept. We should be reevaluating and reprioritizing our goals regularly. More frequently, if necessary!

An Effort to Evolve

So, by all means, keep running on the treadmill. But make sure you’re making progress, adjust the settings as necessary, exercise care, and, for heavens sake, don’t fall flat on your face!