Now only lasts for one second, one second. -Time, Hootie & the Blowfish
I woke up yesterday morning with the need for a bike ride burning in my chest. A burning and longing as raw, real and visceral as I have felt for anything in weeks, maybe months. After logging into work and making sure I could spare a few hours (confirmed) I dawned colourful spandex, triple checked the weather, filled my bottles and hit the road.
On two skinny tires I sat, face to the wind, pedalling my legs while I pondered. Over the roads I went, navigating the narrow shoulder and occasional patch of gravel. I felt the need to work. Hard. I felt the desire to feel my legs burn with fatigue and my lungs heave with effort. I felt a sickening desire to feel a form of physical pain, the kind of pain endurance athletes (and athletes of all types, I suppose) thrive on.
It’s been six weeks since we were informed Karen’s cancer was terminal and the days and weeks have passed by in a dizzying blur. Somewhere in that period of time I ran a marathon (which was a poor showing on my behalf for numerous reasons I care not to report on), I helped run the social media for another marathon (a proud professional moment of 2015), and I planned my mother-in-laws Celebration of Life. Each of these monumental items could be short essays in themselves, but I don’t have the effort nor ability to fully report on these instances. Each day that passes, each week that passes, is one less day and one less week we have with Karen.
I pedal and I think about time. The concept of time. The time we have, the time we spend, the time we give away. The time we wish away. The time I have wished away. The time we wish we could get back. I think about friend, mentor, life coach Russ Parker who once informed me that time is the new currency. All these years I have spoken of this intelligent statement and yet I don’t think I have ever really understood this until now.
Thursday afternoon I sat with Karen and I asked her how she felt. We held hands and she told me she felt like her time was running out. I asked her some other questions, things I had always wanted to know but never had the guts to ask. The imminent transition of Karen’s passing has given me great courage. We giggled a few times, but mostly we sat in unstrained silence, the tears quietly rolling down each of our cheeks.
The benefit of having a loved one with terminal cancer (if you can even keep a straight face to call it a “benefit”) is that you can say everything you need and want to say, you can cherish the remaining time you have with them, you can assist them in mending fences, completing their lists. The downside of having a loved one with terminal cancer? Watching them suffer. Painfully, slowly. Sitting by while their bodies fail, while their plans for the future fade, while they contemplate and consider what it means to have their lives end. The very essence of time is called into question: what did you do with your time on earth? Did you spend it well? Did you make use of the talents you were given and did you make choices that reflect the desire of your inner essence, the calling of your soul? Did you bravely face situations, people, choices? These questions are sticking to me, pelting me incessantly, demanding thought, time and attention.
Onward I pedal into the darkening clouds, pushing my feel towards the pavement with renewed sense of urgency. I feel my heart rate rise and my blood pounding through my veins. I realized at 20 years old I felt the most alive on a bike and over a decade later I realize I often feel the most present in time when training in the pool, on the road, or on the trail. The pushing of my body brings me right to the here and now, the place I am, the rush of the movement.
The ultimate fear I face in most racing is the fear of pain. I know that racing, when done properly, is physically painful. There is a pain – no other word will do- in pushing yourself to the utter edge of what you’re capable of and hanging on. That pain is rewarded with a finish line high so enormous and a sense of satisfaction so rich it seems larger than life itself. In this vein I often think of racing as a spiritual experience, a transcendence of pain and suffering to a new place of enlightenment.
In this entire 2015, we have been witnessing someones physical, mental and emotional pain. While Karen is suffering the cruel trifecta, the family is suffering great mental and emotional pain. Is there a way to ease the suffering? If there is, I have not yet figured it out.
When people ask me how I am doing, I often respond with, “OK.” It seems a lacklustre response to the days at hand, but it as appropriate as I can muster, and it is entirely true. On Friday morning while sweat dripped into my eyes and my heart threatened to explode out of my chest: pretty good. The days and afternoons and nights where I watch my husband grapple with the biggest loss of his adult life, on the days and afternoons and nights that I spend with Karen in a mixed concoction of gratitude, disbelief and agony: not that good.
From here, what’s next, no idea. I do try to remind anyone would listen to take time to tell their parents they love them. To spend time each day doing something they love. To take a page out of my father’s often cited verse: don’t count the days, make the days count.