Running + grief = happiness (or running + happiness = grief)

Yesterday was my dead sister’s birthday.

I used to set out food for her each year, since she died of complications of an eating disorder and I figured that her ghost must be hungry, but a few years ago I began running instead.

My sister, Cathie, and her dog Barney.

This year I’m in Tucson, the last place that we lived in the same city together, years and years ago, and I’m also finishing up a memoir about her life, and mine, and the ways in which her stuff fed my stuff and my stuff fed her stuff.

I thought I’d wake up sad on her birth memorial day. Yet I didn’t. I work up energized and alert. I felt unexpectedly happy all day. I cleaned the house. I wrote. Mid-afternoon, I picked up a rental car and drove out to Sabino Canyon for a nice long run.

I ran up the Phoneline Trail, which is one of my favorites and includes a grueling and rocky incline for the first couple of miles, and then the path runs alongside of the mountain ridge. The views are amazing, and since I had already gotten in my miles for the week, I took it slow. I savored.

And I felt so happy the whole time the I couldn’t stop smiling. I talked to my sister, too, and maybe it was my imagination or maybe I was able to pick up on tiny leftover bits of her energy, but it’s as if I could feel her there beside me and it all came back, all of those years we used to run through the pastures out on the farm. We were always together back then. We were inseparable.

I ran until sunset, when the light reflected off the canyon walls turned the most marvelous reddish tint. I can’t remember when I’ve felt so alive, so free and happy. I stopped a couple of times and just wept from happiness. And it doesn’t make sense and yet it makes all of the sense in the world, how I could feel so happy and alive on my dead sister’s birthday.

I miscalculated the time and the last half mile off the mountain was in the near darkness. I didn’t turn on my headlamp, though. I liked the idea of stumbling my way through the dark. It seemed an adequate metaphor.

By the time I hit the paved trail, it was pitch dark and raining. The rain came suddenly, like a gift, and the wind picked up and the tree branches swirled and danced. The last half mile is over a sandy path and as I ran I could smell the sharp, oily scent off the chaparral shrubs, and I slowed down, breathed deep. There was something almost mystical about running alone through the dark on a sandy path as rain beat down upon my head and the air smelled fresh and new and wild.

When I pulled up in the driveway of the house I’m renting, an 80s song was playing on the radio. I sat there, all sweaty and tired, and I felt so happy that I began to laugh and cry at the same time, and soon I was crying, sobbing the type of unabashed tears that come from deep, deep inside. It’s not that I was particularly sad but only that on the other side of happiness always, always lies grief.

 

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7 thoughts on “Running + grief = happiness (or running + happiness = grief)

  1. What a beautiful post, expressing so much of what’s wonderful and terrible about life. I really look forward to reading your book when it is finished. Wishing you continued cathartic days of writing and running.

    And because I’m me, I have to thank you for the picture of shepherdy Barney, who shares a name with my mom’s beloved Lhasa apso, and your sister, who shares a name with my mother! (spelled differently.) I’m glad you and she had a good talk yesterday.

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    1. Thanks, Kari! And how neat that your mom both shares a name with my sister and her dog. That is a good omen, I think (I think that means that we are meant to be good friends, no?). Cheers, pets to all the dogs and take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful adventure, both the writing and the running and the blessed rain too. I’m so glad you experienced such a total and ground-up catharsis. It’s clearly a very special work you’re birthing here.
    much love
    Ela

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