When I was in high school, and running with some potential, my knees started to deteriorate. The doctor told me it was chondromalacia; the breaking down of cartilage. They would tape my kneecaps to the insides of my legs, give me a handful of Advil, and let me run. And I ran as hard and long as I could, using my superpower, but eventually I couldn’t keep going. The pain was too much. I was done. My pace slowed. My determination waned. I was living apart from family and friends in a town I didn’t recognize. My horse was gone. I hadn’t heard from my father in years. I was living off Doritos, Little Debbie Peanut Butter Bars, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. My mother was living with her new husband somewhere up north. I was alone, anxious, lost, and running, holding all my pain in solitude, and my body couldn’t keep going.
It’s like gravel in a gear. Sand in the pipes. And one by one I had to remove the stones, the grains. Some are bigger than others, but just as pesky and painful.
I remember that first 5k, and the superhuman strength that carried me through. I thought I could use that same strength to muscle through the weight of all that shame. To run straight into the pain. To heal it. To death-grip family members until they loved me. Now, I go for runs, sit in meditation, and release my hold on these tiny, massive, weights; these imperceptible grains of sand. They weigh far too much, even for a superhero. I ask the Great Mother, Mother Earth, to please take them and return them to the ground they came from. They are too heavy for me to hold. Too painful for me to run with.
As a child, I had the common, reoccurring dream that I could fly. It would start with jumping rope. I’d skip over the rope faster and faster until eventually, I was just hovering above it, no longer having to push off the ground to maintain the few inches of clearance I needed. Once I realized I was floating, I could go to an inner place, where I could hold on to that floating sensation, that separation from gravity, and maintain it so I could fly away. Untethered. Weightless. Effortless. Free.
Later in life, I did some research on yogic flying and my childhood dreams didn’t seem so absurd. As a runner, I know that we can spend up to 75 percent of our time in the air. Our feet briefly kissing the earth before pushing off again. Running has always been meditative to me. Could we apply the yogic practice of flying to running? Could we hover a little longer in the air, not weighed down by the things we carry around in our bones? The gravel in our knees.
I was at the park across from my house one summer day, and a precocious little girl came over and started to play with my dog and pepper me with questions. She asked what I do and I told her I’m an artist, a therapist, and I coach running as well.
“Why do you teach running? Every kid knows how to run.”
“You’re right,” I replied. “Everyone does know how to run. But I teach them how to fly.” She gave a puzzled look and went back to throwing sticks for my dog.
I watch young people run. I watch for those micro movements in their bodies that try to communicate what their voices can’t. I try to convince them they can run faster. Relax. Run slower to run faster. Protect their injuries. Work on stability. Core. Nutrition. Stretch. Avoid the quick buzz of sugar for the healing power of plants. One more lap. Use your arms. Push ground behind you. One length at a time. Go into the pain. Lock onto the person in front of you; teammates make you stronger. They help carry the pain. Shared pain makes you all stronger. Work together. Knees up. Chest out. Forward. Breathe. I try to convince their minds that their bodies can do it. Teach them life is 99 percent hard work and preparation, 1 percent performance. Hope they approach the rest of their lives like athletes: learn from their mistakes, practice, apply, and move on. Don’t own the pain as shame. I show up to prove they are not alone. Remind them they are made of the stars; light and dark matter being pulled this way and that by gravity, love, pain, and our imaginations. But mostly I bear witness to the growth of their wings. One day, they will fly instead of run.
I don’t want to run around this planet weighed down by shame. I want to soar. To play. To approach life in freedom and celebration. Joy. For some, like my husband, this seems to come so easily. For others, we struggle and suffer from the shame of loneliness. I don’t want to suffer alone in my painful stories. I want to grow through them, and I’d rather share my pain, my humanity, my truth, than keep suffering and running alone.
My superpower is no longer just my ability to go through pain. My superpower is also my sensitive heart, and its transformative capacity. It’s the light I now carry inside those places that used to hurt. My superpower is my curiosity that keeps me searching, unraveling, reading, listening, trying, failing, and continuing to search for more truth. My superpower is being able to stay. To stay with the people I love. To allow passage for their joy and laughter through the shifting barricades. To bow to the lessons they teach me. To stay with the uncomfortable until I feel it transform, release, and integrate into the bigger truth: That we are meant to soar; we are meant for more.
I hope someday I soar with you by my side; battered wings held outstretched, riding on thermal waves woven of our collective imagination, and grace, and joy. Free from the convoluted stories of shame that weighed us down. Determined to fly straight through the pain, the truth, into the great, unknown world of undiscovered possibilities.