This week’s long run coincided with Father’s Day, a day when the kids and I celebrate my husband and the gift that he is to our family, at the same time that I try to reconcile that joy with the grief that comes with my own father’s passing. So when I set out today, it was with memories of my father heavy on my mind, intent on running through neighborhoods and places where he and I shared time, confident that this solo run would bring me closer to him.
This was the town where my parents began their life together. My earliest memories are here, and principally involve coloring in my dad’s law books with my purple crayon when he stepped away from his desk for coffee, and feeding the ducks in the Arboretum with him during his study breaks. It is the place where I eventually graduated from law school, and where Dad greeted me after the ceremony with a hearty congratulatory handshake to welcome me to the profession. This is the town where for a time we practiced law together, where he watched his grandchildren play sports, and where he joined us on our family walks. Usually, running through these streets and, most especially, through the Arboretum brings me closer to Dad and to these memories, but not today.
My Dad, especially in his later years, tended to repeat the same sayings, the same stories, again and again. Because of his predictable consistency, it usually is easy for me to slip into a sort of conversation with him. No matter that he is gone, I seem to know instinctively what he would say – his answers to most questions were almost rote, and I know most of them by heart. But today as I ran through the Arboretum my father’s voice was gone, and every young father I passed who was holding a child’s hand or pointing out ducks on the water just made my Dad seem farther away.
By the time I emerged from the Arboretum at mile five, my legs were tired from cross-training yesterday, my mood was forlorn, and any desire to run today had left me entirely. But with a half marathon in three weeks, and the Big One in New York in just over four months, there really was no option other than to suck it up and go five more. And so I plodded on, focused on nothing. By mile six, tired, I began questioning how I was going to ever muster the will to finish the route. And then I heard my Dad’s voice, as clear and pronounced as if he was right next to me:
“If you need a break, take a break.”
This was not a phrase he used often. It was reserved for his pep talks trying to get me through law school finals or the Bar exam, or the final instruction after “don’t kill yourself” before I ran my first marathon. But I heard it clearly today, and I heeded his advice.
When I say that I took a break on my run today, I don’t mean that I slowed down. I mean that I found the nearest bench in the middle of a deserted college campus, sat down, and cried. Which, as it turns out, was exactly what I needed to get through my run and through the rest of my day.
Thank you, Dad.