I interrupt my poetry rerun week to share a quick letter to some very important people. In two days I have another fun bum surgery and so I’m going to keep the reruns going the rest of the week, but I felt this was important…
To my 67 teammates, my fellow team leader Rick, and all those who supported this team and this event over the past weekend…
My knees are fairly badly friction burned from Everest. My thighs are screaming. My hands and fingers are scraped up and roughed up. My throat is getting sore and my nose is starting to get stuffy. My shoulders are on fire. My feet keep cramping. My eyelids are heavy.
But my smile is wide any time I think about one undeniable fact. I finished. I got my headband. And I did it with all of you as you got yours.
And you are some of the best kinds of people.
I hope I may be real for a moment.
This Mudder was tough for me in ways I’ve never experienced before. Those of you who know me personally know that someone very close to me on the team and I were going through some very personal stuff together over the weekend and that I really wasn’t myself for most of it. What she shares with you is hers to share so I won’t make further mention of that.
Anyway, those who know me really well probably know that I’ve been going through a lot of unfun crap for a while in so many areas. Life has been so heavy and hard for some reason this year. Surgeries, complications after medical procedures, depression, breakups, business failures, loss, and a whole lot more.
2015 has been the year of the angry charging life-rhino for me.
It got so heavy, in fact, that on Thursday (after events of the morning transpired) I had flights home pulled up on my phone. I had looked at my Uber app to see how far away the nearest driver was. Every single part of me just wanted to slip quietly away from the entire weekend, completely unsure of how I could stay there, unsure of how I could speak motivationally to such a giant group, lead it, and look even halfway competent while I did.
Instead of vanishing, I forced myself to swallow my heaviness and I went to New York City for the day with some of our team and tried my best to keep it together.
I didn’t do very well. I looked like a zombie or a creeper in almost every photo.
By the end of the day, I was hurting, and miserable, and cantankerous, and just done. I was sure that this unexpected 12 miles of city walking was going to make the Mudder (which was just 30 hours later) impossible for me to be able to finish. My health has been so poor that I believed I had only one big walk in me and I just knew I had spent that one walk I had hurting and hangry in the shadows of skyscrapers instead of where I wanted to spend it, which was in the mud with all of you.
As we walked to the train station at the end of that day, I once again pulled up flights, and seriously contemplated just disappearing. No one would even notice or care five minutes after word got out, I told myself. And I believed it.
Friends, to know me is to know that I actually avoid the limelight wherever possible. To know me is to know that until the moment calls for it, I’m usually much more content fading into the background of everything going on. To know me is to know that I am often a troubled soul who needs others as much as they need him. To know me is to know that I get depression, and anxiety, and that I sometimes am just doing my best to get to the next day with some version of a half-cocked smile on my face. To know me is to know that I often hide behind goofiness, and craziness, and humor to hide whatever battles I’m fighting.
To know me is to know that I am very human, and that I mean it and believe it when I say that humaning is hard sometimes.
I didn’t know why I stayed and went to New York City. I didn’t know why I stayed after that night.
There was some tiny voice that kept nagging me, telling me that I could do this Mudder, and lead it, and I could finish both physically and emotionally. That voice was so faint and hard to find I don’t know if I can give it credit.
It could have been fear of judgment that kept me there. Fear of being thought weak. Fear of letting people down. That was so far in the back of my mind that I don’t know if I can give that the credit, either.
It may have been a belief that I had real friends all around me, many of whom I still hadn’t met up with, who would be there to pick me up if I fell and who would probably hunt me down no matter where I went, then drag me back to Pennsylvania. But again, that was more of a humorous internal musing, and not a driving force. The darker thoughts of not being missed were far more prominent far more often.
In all likelihood it was a combination of everything, mixed with never knowing what to do that left me just following the original plan, putting on a fake happy face, and showing up to the team dinner the night before Mudder.
We pulled into the parking lot.
There was no longer an option of quietly backing out. That’s the point I found myself.
And that’s also the point I started to find myself. Little by little. Until the rice pudding. But I’ll get to that.
There has always been one undeniable fact for me when it comes to the people of the Single Dad Laughing Health Club, and especially of these Tough Mudder teams: the people are my people.
You are my people.
You struggle like I struggle. You have ups just like I do, and you have just as many downs. You are so real in so many ways, and we accept each other as we are. You don’t expect perfect versions of one another or of me. You are a very real refuge from the sometimes difficult realities of life.
I met so many of you for the first time that night. And in so doing was able to lose myself in all the right ways just long enough to pull things together.
I asked so many of you why you were there. Your first answers were always generic and safe. Because it seemed fun. Because you wanted to be a part of such a great group. Etc. I then dug deeper. Yes. But why are you here. After which I learned the real reasons. You were there because life had been hard for you and you needed something to pull you out of it. You were there because you have given so much of yourselves to the world and needed to give something to yourself for once. You were there because so many people told you that you couldn’t do it or shouldn’t do it and you needed to shut the voices up. You were there because being there was scary, or hard, or almost impossible and you weren’t okay giving into any of those things.
It was talking to all of you that made me realize why I was there, too. It was all of you who made me remember how not alone I really was.
And then I had to get up and speak with my buddy and fellow leader Rick. At the Mesa Mudder early this year, I was struggling with some things and it was Rick who stepped in and lifted me up. In Tennessee, as many of you know, Rick was facing some big life challenges and I had that chance. This time I don’t know that I know for sure that either one of us were ever feeling like we had it all completely together (Rick obviously was far more put together than I was this time), but we both know and love each other, and we both knew what we had to get done. We put our arms around each other. Made our plan. And we jumped in.
There were so many of you in that room. We have never had a team as big as this one. I remember looking around, forcing away the thought: these people expect something great of me right now. Rick finished his amazing speech about fears and finishing. We took a break to load up our plates. And then it was my turn. I was to focus on the Spirit of the SDLHC. It is a phenomenon so near and dear to my heart. Being articulate in how I explain my feelings surrounding our group’s spirit is important to me because they aren’t the easiest feelings to put into words sometimes, yet they drive us all when we remember them.
I was doing okay keeping it together as I spoke. I kept looking around the room, making eye contact with so many of you who had answered my tough question of why you were there. It strengthened me as I did. It helped me remember to forget myself.
Then… the rice pudding.
That damned rice pudding.
Nana’s Reset Yer Day Rice Pudding.
Nearly three years ago I shared a post on my blog about my mom’s rice pudding which always has the power to reset even my worst moments in life, and how my family played a trick on me which sent me spiraling in all the wrong directions. The next day I shared the recipe.
Halfway through my speech, with our plates now scraped, I was stopped. “Can we hand out the rice pudding while you talk?” I nodded. Of course. Please do. Then, you just had to tell me: “it’s nana’s ‘reset yer day’ rice pudding.”
I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive you all for that. Or love you more than I could for it.
My mom was some 2,000 miles away in that moment, probably completely unaware that I was even out doing what I was doing so far away. I haven’t had a bowl of her rice pudding in months. And as I stood there, needing a warm you’ve-got-this hug from someone, anyone, it was as if my mom walked in that room and told me everything was going to be all right. It was as if my mom walked in, stopped everything, and gave me a warm you’ve-got-this hug.
You all know what happened from there. I turned into a blubbery mess as I finished talking about us, and our team, and the spirit that has always pushed us closer together. I don’t know what went through all of your minds during the second half of my speech, but I didn’t care. I suddenly knew I could do it. I knew we all could do it. I suddenly felt so connected to all of you. And I suddenly could zoom out and remember how many of us have so many struggles. Always.
I remember looking around the room at each of you, wishing you could be inside my mind and soul when I was told that it was my mom’s rice pudding, and wishing you all could feel what I felt in that moment. I remember standing there wondering what your life’s burdens currently were, what great battles you each were fighting, and what you would be leaving out on that course through your blood, sweat, and tears. I remember looking around thinking, I am just a single soul in this crowd of amazing people who have just as big of battles as I do, and I am here for them as much as they are here for me.
And, team… We did it.
In dangerous temperatures and with bones frozen through, we crawled through the mud, we got in the water, we hovered together and we did what the SDLHC Mudder teams always do.
We were there for each other. We held our hands out to each other. We pushed each other and lifted each other. We put our arms around each other. We learned who each other were. We gave to each other the way we all needed to give. And we received from each other the way we all needed to receive.
It means something different to me this time around.
Please respond. What does it mean to each of you today? I want to know what each of your burdens were. What battles are you fighting in life right now? What were your deepest most real fears going into this and how did they creep in and how were they pushed out. How did this weekend change you?
I don’t know that this Tough Mudder went how any of us envisioned. No, not even a little. And that can be (and should be) the greatest blessing of all.
Personally, I don’t feel like I ever fully showed up with all of you this past weekend, and I’m also strangely okay with that. The beauty of our team and of us is that not one of us ever has to fully show up when we aren’t able. The rest of us are always there to fill in the gaps whether we are sprinting or limping. The rest of us expect nothing more than what we each have to give at any moment in time.
It’s after each and every Tough Mudder that those nagging voices in so many of our heads begin to tell us where we fell short, what we did wrong, where we could have given more, what we could have said differently, who we wish we had done things better with, and what we’d like to do over.
If you are hearing it… Do not, no not even for a moment right now, listen to that voice. Instead, everyone tell us all what you did right. In addition to telling us all what your challenges were, tell us where you succeeded. Tell us where you gave your all and where you did more than you thought you could. Tell us how you survived and thrived. Tell us how you were a friend and how you let others in. Tell us some of the amazing ways you were fantastic. Tell us why you deserve to smile today.
There are so many amazing smiles on the group wall already. Many faces are missing. Let’s do what we do best. Let’s continue what we started on Saturday night. Let’s tag in the group those who touched us and helped us. Let’s make sure we notice who has slipped quietly away from the weekend. And let’s make this #HeadbandMonday the best one yet.
I love you all. Sincerely. Thank you for putting up with a messy blob of a human this past weekend. I’ll always be thankful for all of it. And for all of you.