Scarlett’s Letter August 17, 2013

Another trip to Sacramento.

I got up early and headed east on Interstate 80 to run with SacFit this morning. Except for the getting up at 4:30 AM, I really enjoy these mornings. I love driving on an empty highway, as fast as my little car will go, coffee cup in one hand, and my Pandora station du jour at an unsafe volume. Just as I get to the edge of Sacramento, the sun breaks over the Sierra Nevada Mountains further east and I am blinded. But, for the few moments before my vision is totally impaired by the brilliance of the sun, it is glorious. Perhaps I need to consider buying sunglasses with superior optic lenses. I’m fairly certain the pair I got at the gas station for twenty bucks isn’t really the optical quality I should be wearing for driving or sports or, at all. A point to consider.

These drives are so carefree, so exhilarating. Especially when there are no cops, and there generally aren’t, at this time of day. I like to go fast. I like to go fast and get away with it. I know I’m on borrowed time, I exceed the speed limit far more than I obey it, and I’m at least fifteen or twenty years, now, without a speeding ticket. But as I am sailing down the highway, feeling like prey that escaped the gaze of a predator, I round a corner and see a horrific accident. There are cops and emergency vehicles and I can’t help but think, no survivors in the wreckage. And I am sobered. Life can be led safely, life can be led carelessly, and either way, you could lose. It’s almost like a crapshoot every time you get in a car. Or Russian roulette. I reduce my speed and drive more cautiously. For about two miles.

Like last week, I arrived early enough to relax, think, write in my journal and eat my half of a peanut butter and honey sandwich before my run. We ran 9.5 miles today. The email said we’d be running 10.5 miles, after 8 miles last week. It seemed like a pretty big jump, but I’ve run twenty, so I don’t really care. Apparently, there was an error, so we got a reprieve of one whole mile. This is my third week with my new pace group, and I’ve been really pleased. The pace has been good and there have been no whiners and no mid-run potty breaks, water refills and all those little delays that annoy the hell out of me in “group” runs. I don’t like having to stop my watch mid run to accommodate the small bladders of others, both the anatomical and the hydration pack variety. You’re either prepared to run the distance, or you’re not. I am. Let’s do this. This week, quel domage. Tiny bladders of both varieties, and whiners, too. We are an 11:30 pace group, with our one minute walk break after each five minutes run, we should average between 11:45 and 12:15. We ran 13:20. Seriously.

As we neared the end of our 9.5 miles, I reached for my phone to stop my running apps and save the time and route information. There was an unexpected text message from a close friend. It seemed a little early in the morning for her to be texting, and that could mean only one thing. Bad news. We have one friend quite ill with brain cancer, and another who has been battling another type of cancer. With a little trepidation, I viewed the text message. It bore news, terrible news, the possibility of which hadn’t occurred to me in my wildest imagination. Her older sister had passed away the previous night. You know how that cold curtain falls over you when you hear news like that, like every drop of blood has been drained from your body. Your mind goes blank and your conscious mind feels like it has been shut in a box deep within your brain. Everything around you unfolds in slow motion. I could hear myself saying “Oh my God. Oh my God.”

This wasn’t totally unexpected, I suppose. She’d been battling alcoholism and related health issues for some time. But she was better. She’s been better. I thought she was okay. I thought she was going to be all right. Oh my God.

I did my stretching, dutifully, numbly, and headed toward my car. I saw a friend of mine, from high school, that lives in the greater Sacramento area now and runs with my running club, several pace groups ahead of me. We graduated the same year and we know all the same people. He knows my friend and her sister, so I shared the news with him and he was as shocked as I was. It was good to have someone nearby to share some thoughts and a few memories with. It helped immensely and I was able to go back to my car and reply to the text message with a  fair amount of composure.

Through it all, we agreed, life is so incredibly fragile. There are those who, like us, try to eat well, exercise and do everything we can to preserve health and secure a long, active life. And there are no guarantees for our efforts. There are others who, intentionally or not, destroy their bodies, their lives and even those who seek to end the life they’ve been given, intentionally. There are more who just take life for granted and let it slip mindlessly away. Squander it. Life is a mystery. Life is a gift. Every day we wake to see another day is something we should express gratitude for, something we should cherish. Every day we wake from sleep, we should seek to put the gift of another day to the best use possible. There are people whose lives are cut short that would love to have the time that another has so carelessly wasted. There are people battling terminal illnesses that would love to have the days that another person discarded in ending their life too soon.

I don’t think we are meant to understand. I think we are meant to take what we do know, that life is fragile, life is uncertain and that life is mysterious, and remember to honor the people in our lives that we love. Spend time with them. Listen to them. Talk with them. Show them affection. Express love. Each day we live is a gift, and each day those around us are there, too, is also a gift. Fleeting. Cherish those gifts.