What Am I Training For?

Sometimes you have to travel a long way to find what is near.” – Paulo Coehlo

The summer before I got pregnant with Miss O, I did several long-distance bike trips with my friend, Eric. My first experience with a multi-day trip carrying only what we could stow in the bike packs was a trip where we cycled on a tandem bike from Burlington, Vermont, up into Canada to a small cheesery. Then we cycled back across the border into New York state, along Lake Champlain, rode a ferry across to Vermont, and then finally back to our starting point.

For this trip, I was riding on a tandem bike with Eric – a bike that supposedly Paul Newman once rode – a delightful bit of trivia that didn’t make the beast at all more comfortable. I figured biking was a lot like mountain climbing because it requires leg strength and an endurance mindset. And a sense of humor. Cheryl Oreglia (from the delightful and fun Living in the Gap blog) isn’t exaggerating when she says that everyone’s favorite joke for people on a tandem bike is, “She’s not pedaling.”

On that first day out, we rode for 81.48 miles which was a long day “in the saddle” as cyclists like to call it. When we finally reached our hotel for the night at some city in Vermont, I scooted off the back of the bike like it was on fire. If it wasn’t on fire, then my butt surely was. I followed my delightful teammates up to the registration desk only to find that the hot tub at the hotel was out of order. That was a deal breaker for Carol who was leading this trip.

She said we had to find a new hotel. Envisioning another mile on the bike that day, I think I just about fainted. Fortunately, we found a new place right across the street and I WALKED all the way there. When we went out to dinner, Eric found a metal plate chilling at the salad bar and gave it to me to sit on.

It made for a memorable trip – mostly because I was with a great group of people. But I swear what I remember most is the last half mile of each day as we ground out those last few feet to the blessed places we could rest our bodies for the night. That makes me wonder if I was training for endurance or enjoyment.

It’s the topic of my post for Wise & Shine today: Endurance versus Enjoyment

(all pictures from the bike trip – Vermont – Canada – New York 2014)

In The Middle

The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

A little while ago my 6-year-old daughter went to a friend’s house to watch a movie. When she came home that night and for the couple weeks afterwards, she was so much more solicitous of me. “Mom, do you want a glass of water?” or “I’m sorry you banged your hand.” So I dug deeper into the storyline of the Netflix family movie Over the Moon. Not surprisingly, it’s about a little girl whose mom died from cancer.

I don’t want my kids operating from a space of worry about me. But I was fascinated about the noticeable change of behavior. It suggested how much our awareness is influenced by our focus.

So I was listening carefully when I heard author Susan Cain describe the research of Dr. Laura Carstensen on Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast. Dr. Carstensen is a professor of psychology at Stanford specializing in the psychology of older people. Here’s Susan Cain’s description of the research:

“[The] elderly tend to be happier and more full of gratitude, more invested in depth relationships, more prone to states of well-being. She has linked all of that with the fact… not as we might think that we get older and have acquired all this wisdom from the years we’ve lived. It has nothing to do with that, it only has to do with the fact that when you are older you have a sense of life’s fragility. You know it’s coming to an end.

“Younger people who for other reasons are in fragile situations [also exhibit this]. She studied students in Hong Kong who were worried about Chinese rule at the end of the 20th century. They have the exact same psychological profile as older people did. Because the constant was the fragility.”

Susan Cain describing the research of Dr. Laura Carstensen

Since at 52-years-old I’m closer to the middle of my life (hopefully) rather than the end, it begs the question of how to cultivate an appreciation for relationships, health and the good times. Especially to enjoy them without the sense of fragility that I understand but don’t quite viscerally get yet.

This made me ponder the nature of the middle and I realize I couldn’t name a middle of something that I really savored – the middle of the day, the middle of a meal, the middle of a relationship, the middle of a project, the middle of my body. (That is, other than being in the middle of my children, as shown in the featured photo.) Especially when it comes to projects (and maybe even days), I’m always in a rush to get to the end so that I can celebrate and then start a new one.

Someone wisely pointed out that we can’t remember things we don’t pay attention to. So I’ve started taking a brief pause in the middle of the day to just notice how things are going. It’s a small practice that I hope will help me appreciate the middle of my life more.

I was thinking about what to say to my daughter about the movie and death when one night she said, “I’d be kinda sad to die but also a little interested. I have to see the way the rest of my life works out and I’d miss you. But it’ll probably be your turn first.” And then all the solicitousness was gone. Which is fine. I want my kids’ memories and mine to be defined by not what we worry about but what we pay attention to.

What about you? Do you rush right past the middle or do you have a way to mark the middle of a journey?