one extraordinary voice

A year ago.  It seems a logical place to start.

Every October since we transplanted to Colorado, I’ve celebrated my birthday with a ride (and every year, I describe this day; please don't mind as I gaze lovingly at my navel for a while).  I step away from work and responsibility and the ping of the phone to wander the mountains alone on my bike, returning home late in the day, blown with wind and grit and sunshine and sweat.  Filthy, exuberant.  Sated.  
All these years.  I'd boogie through the shower to scrub off most of the dirt, blow-dry my hair, pull on the cowboy boots that constitute dressed up in Boulder and head out for a fall evening that has somehow always turned up delightful & perfect, crisp, cool, a black sky thrown with stars.  The day ends with red wine, far too much ice cream and the warmth of love laced with friendship; at this point (in my advancing age) it all blurs together into one soft memory of bracing sunlight, miles traveled over the earth, deep human connection, but it was real, and not just because there are dozens of selfies to prove it.
Last year was different. Raging at the universe, I was stubbornly determined to ride, this ritual felt like one of very few things left tethering me to earth.  I made it only seven or eight miles before I turned for home, too worn thin by chronic pain to even cry, barely pedaling, thinking darkly how much I would welcome the screech-then-slam of a car from behind.  Because everything I was going through - then it would be over.  I attempted to have brunch with my deeply caring and understanding friends but couldn't even last until the waitress came around to take orders.  I didn’t have the energy, the resources, to fake it in front of all of these people that loved me - so hard - I could feel it - and I couldn’t burden them with the weight of falling apart.  Those months have thankfully faded, but I still recall with clarity how much I was afraid of letting go, the grit of my teeth every day, every moment, the fear of giving into the freefall.  If I let myself come apart, I wasn’t sure anyone would be able to help me put it all back together, later.  I wasn’t sure I would want to.  

I met a doctor who sorted out a small piece of the puzzle.  She didn’t solve it, but she changed it, and after so many months of my miserable excruciating existence - it was enough.  I had surgery.  I was ornery and headstrong in the aftermath and, unsurprisingly, it kicked me in the face.  I tell this story with laughter now, but about week after the procedure I discovered that I had been mistakingly taking the anti-nausea meds instead of the double-barreled narcotics because I was so determined that I could do it myself!  I didn’t care, though, not really, I welcomed how horrific the recovery was, because at least it was different.  Everyone that surrounded me at that time did an excellent job of setting expectations properly, that it would take twelve to eighteen months to be full healed and the process would be brutal.  They were right, I’m still in it, and that’s okay too, because I found my way, and I couldn't even explain how, now; only that I'm here.  And it was in those fuzzy days post shoulder taken-apart-and-put-back-together-except-works-now that I single-armedly googled, PhD business best programs, so I suppose there are people that will say that the magnitude of the battle I was fighting was eventually reflected in the blessing that was coming, but I'm not one of them.  Not yet.  Maybe not ever.  
About two months after surgery I was set free from the sling.  It was at least two months later before I tentatively returned to the water, a few more to ride outside, to take my body back.  I rebuilt.  Running was going well for a while, and then it wasn’t; I managed to bust up my hip running a half marathon in May, but it wasn't catastrophic like other injuries have been.  I think that after 2017, my brain simply just moved the chains.  I’m sure that my physical therapist would happily remind me of how much bitching and frustration and tears and angst there has been along the way, and I’m not claiming perfection here.  But there has been an almost-imperceptible shift.  My hip hurt, that was annoying, but I could ride and swim and lift and breathe and sleep and walk and sit and laugh and move - all the things that I couldn’t do last year.  It was okay; again, it was enough.  
Graham got sick.  For the second time in his life, I almost lost him.  Maybe it's beyond twee, but I think the universe matched us up because we are both fucking disasters.  When I got injured, when it was devastating and unrelenting, someone told me, with very little originality, this will almost certainly be the hardest you have ever fought in your life, but you must do the thing properly, you must not give up.  When Graham got sick, when I spent so many hours on the floor in that back room at the animal hospital, I told him the same, fiercely, so he had no choice.  And together, the fragile pair of us continues to trip forwards through the world.
I went to Africa.  I want to say that it changed me, but that’s not quite right.  I think that instead it helped a different part of who I already was gently rise to the surface.  Traveling there stripped everything down, and I didn’t miss many of the trappings of my fancy American life back at home.  Ironically, it reminded me of time spent deep in the Rockies; the thrilling expanse of sky, the thin clean air, the peace that exists millions of mother-may-I steps away from civilization.  I thrived in the disconnection of the experience, other than a few incidents where some of my incredibly demanding (and, no longer) consulting clients flipped out because I couldn’t change colors on their e-commerce plug-in or update an old link from deep in the bush, six hours outside of Nairobi.  That held up a clear mirror to the amount of stress that I had engulfed myself in.  It brought me back to my love of coaching, that I needed to close down some of these extraneous ports and focus on the work that is rich with meaning - people, change, fitness, goals, growth - instead of continually overextending myself in forty-seven different directions to put a few more dollars in the bank.  It helped me center.  Three months later, that feeling is still with me, I return to it often when I need space to breathe, to pause, and allow myself to say no.
After Africa, I spent one last week in Colorado before moving to Indiana to start my PhD, and oh, this change, while long overdue, has left me shattered.  My husband, two of my dogs, my dirt roads, my community, my friends, my outdoor pool and my sense of normalcy and my extra red blood cells - none of those things came with me (assholes), and at least a dozen times I've started packing up the car to return.  
But.  There is always a but, and pay attention here, because this is important, this one matters.  I can’t put into words my immense gratitude to a universe that has - for once, jesus - stopped chucking pianos and finally, totally fucking nailed it.  

The first thing I learned about a PhD is that I had beyond no idea what kind of chaos I was getting myself into, and if I had known that statistics was such a huge piece of the process I probably wouldn't have done it at all; nevertheless, here we are.  I suppose it will be laughable once it stops feeling like anaphylactic shock to the brain.  There was no easing in, this is an avalanche, I’ve somehow morphed into the cartoon seven-foot-tall supermodel movie star running pellmell from the tsunami with a machete on my shoulder, rocking the steel bikini, sixteen-inch heels and a full face of makeup (this actually might be a great look for me although heels are bad for my SI joint) and I’ll be goddamned if it doesn’t make me feel startlingly, brilliantly (*not brilliant), alive.  This is always the room I choose: where I am surrounded by the best, the brightest, the strongest, the fastest, where I can be stretched, jolted into growth.  It's hard in a way that I can't even describe and it's easy to see how it's misunderstood from anyone that's not running from the same tidal wave but it has brought a richness, a fluid motion, back to me, and I am in full surrender to it.  
Four years ago, I wrote about a TED talk that I had seen discussing the difference between endurance and resilience.  It resonated with me then, and some baby googling research that I’ve started fumbling through as a student has brought it back to life now.  There’s a lot to be said for enduring, and after so many years chasing ironman finish lines across the planet, we all know that I am excellent at it.  But where I have always lost is when it comes down to the moments that demand resilience.  I have grit in spades, I have the capacity to endure even the most brutal of life experience; yet I’m desperately missing the fire.  How many races can I look at to find a day that threw me down where I caved and trudged it in.  I didn't give up; I endured in the face of whatever unexpected twist, but I also didn’t rise.  I didn’t thrive, and when we add up all those inches, that’s what makes the fucking difference.  Surviving everything I went through last year: that was endurance.  I have no idea what wild hair or combination of prescription painkillers sent me down the path of the PhD, but it was a desperate grope for a cleft in the rock.  I latched on, I didn't let go, and that's why I'm here now.
And here, for fuck's sake, here is bonkers and amazing and ridiculous and horrible all at once.  It sucks to be away from my husband and my friends and half my dogs and my mountains and my 8% humidity.  It sucks to be alone in this place where there are so many bugs and it seems like everyone is 25 years old, some furtive google has revealed that at least two of my professors are younger than I am (sigh) and no one wants to go out drinking with the awkward ancient nerd that needs a statistics helmet anyway.  It sucks that my car keeps getting dinged in university parking lots and I have to wear fucking shoes in the gym and I chose the two golden retrievers that poop twelve times a day and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be 80 degrees at 4am for all of eternity, but also, I think maybe, when I’m not stomping around pissily because I spend my whole day feeling dumber than I ever have in my entire life, I might be thriving.  So I’m staying, as long as there is someone around to heave a sigh and explain mediators and moderators to me for the twelfth time.  And this, I have found, could be resilience.  Bouncing back, but higher than before, spiking that rainbow superball into the concrete and then hopping on for the crazy ricochet ride of my life.  
This year.  I’ll remember that I fought, that is was the only option, that it drained the life out of me and that I'll be eternally grateful to the people who took over when I couldn't do it anymore.  I’ll remember that when I could, I lifted myself.  Out of the darkness and into that light.  I'll remember that there are times in all our lives where all we can do is hold on and wait out the storm.  I’ll remember that I leapt, even though I didn’t want to, even though every instinct shrieked I should stay, the same way that we get hungry when we run because we're genetically programmed to understand that it's eat or be eaten.  And I’ll remember that I started to grow again, in some unknown direction but reaching, deliberately, for the sun.  
Howard Thurman says, ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that thing, because the world needs more people that have come alive.  Dallas Smith, hope your sun never sets, hope you never stop laughing, hope your high never crashes, hope your sky stays this blue forever.  Marianne Williamson talks about hiding from the monsters within ourselves, Elizabeth Edwards lectures that you need to accept your new reality even if it’s less than the one you had before, F Scott Fitzgerald says, I hope you see things that startle you, and Mary Oliver asks the world call to you like wild geese, harsh and exciting, over and over announcing your place in the family of things.  
But maybe none of that is exactly right, and it's a rough day when an blogger can't find a tired much-abused quote to latch onto and miserably deconstruct into trite prose.  Maybe I'm finally old enough, maybe everything I’ve read and quoted and seen will finally begin to settle, silt drifting through water, distilling quite neatly into one voice, funneling forward, hoping only to create, to learn, to understand, to leave the world better than it was when I came howling forth thirty-eight years ago, to step bravely into the adventure of my own voice.  Into one extraordinary voice.