A Pivotal Birthday

As I take stock of a pivotal birthday, I know that the life I am living is nothing like I planned or could have imagined. My 50’s are not supposed to look like this. I should still be living in Phil’s shadow and the shadows of my five children. I should still be the girl afraid to go into the teaching lounge because I did not know where to sit. I should still be the girl who always ordered to go versus sitting alone in a restaurant. I should be that girl, but I am far from that girl now. Granted, the choice was not given, but demanded. I am proud of the girl I have become. I like the girl looking back in the mirror.

True, I can hardly recognize her and to be honest, I have fleeting thoughts of wondering if Phil would recognize and even like the Linda I have morphed into. I was once quite shy and I ran far from conflict. While it still gives me pause to be in groups and I truly cannot sleep when my relationships aren’t right, I am able to walk into a room and quietly sit until I am comfortable. I can speak up–not so often–but with a quiet shaky voice if it is important enough. Phil’s and my relationship worked because he didn’t take advantage of my personality, but make no mistake, I knew I was even as the queen of my house, I lived in the shadows of a man that lived larger than life and five children who far surpassed their mama. As a military spouse, I knew better than to get too attached to a house, friends, or a job. Uprooting every 2-4 years erected walls of distance and detachment more than any other factor. I stood strong for my family.

When Phil died, I didn’t know where to turn. I was gripped with a paralyzing fear and forced to make decisions that I didn’t feel capable of making. The military gave me one year to figure out where I wanted to live. In essence, I lost my husband, my children (who had all left the house), my dog (who died that year also), my house, many of my friends, my job, my status, and my community all at once. The fires of hell consumed me. The only constant was pain. I spent my 50th birthday in a fog of indecision and wishing I was the one that had died.

Yet, in the decision to get up and lace up the running shoes, I found a tenuous way forward. While I could barely breathe, I made myself run. I gave myself permission to pursue my dreams through running. When Phil died, I had run 42 marathons. I had a dream of running 55 marathons by 55 and to complete all 50 states. The deal Phil and I had was that once I finished the 50 states, my running would be limited to local races so that we could travel together. Running was just my thing and I pursued it alone–he just let me be. As I stare down this pivotal double nickel birthday, I recognize that decision to keep putting one foot in front of the other has been the impetus for all that has followed. I have found my footing in the miles covered.

Running has always been my place to fall into my faith and to be real. Running is the place that I am able to work through pain and extreme emotions of any kind. In the miles, I am able to unravel what next. When Phil died, I started running a lot of races as a way to avoid staying at home on the weekends. I could keep myself really busy during the week with work and volunteering, but the weekends and holidays were devastatingly lonely. Through the races, I was able to briefly connect with people. I was able to disappear into a crowd of being anonymous as I carried on. While I still do not like eating or going out alone, running forced me to travel and engage with people.

As time went on, I began to make decisions based on what worked for me. I am always afraid of making the wrong decision–or at least I was always afraid. I fell down a time or two, but I began to fight for figuring out happiness and figuring out what next. I often grow weary because my decisions were so far out of my lane. Sometimes I fell and sometimes I misstepped, but my confidence in my ability to make decisions, big decisions grew. I started to look ahead versus living in the world of shattered dreams. Maybe those choices aren’t choices that others would make, but they are working for me. I decided early on that the assassin wasn’t going to get my life too. I decided to doggedly pursue my Bucket List. I knew that I would face much more than the financial component. The hardest part of pursuing my dreams? I had to force myself to push past the pain and the constant fear. Running the Boston Marathon as marathon 100 meant I had to push past the nightmares to take back my finish line. China meant that I had to travel to a country I had never been to, didn’t understand the language, and to be with a group of people I didn’t know. I literally got sick every time I thought of it, but I knew that if I could just keep stepping, I would find a part of me I needed to find. I did….on that Wall, on that trip, and in that marathon.

So, what next? I started another Bucket List because I recognize that my life isn’t over. While there are still a few destination races on my list, the next Bucket List is about living, loving, trusting myself, and most of all believing in the power of me. I added once inconceivable item to that list–an item that would have sent my fleeing in fear and disbelief because I recognize that my life has room–my heart has room–for more. A Bucket List should never be completed, but it should be about living one’s dreams. It is funny that Phil’s sudden and traumatic death brought me to the point where I feel more, see more, want more, and love myself and others better than I ever had. It is disconcerting to look back to six birthdays ago when I wished that it had been me that had died and to realize that for the first time, I want to really thrive and live. It only took a pivotal birthday for me to look in the mirror to see that while I have the earned lines etched onto my face, I truly like the girl in this skin, this body, this heart, this voice. I want more for me because I see that there is still room for this girl to grow. I believe in me and I believe that in the facing of my fears, I still have room to grow. As I face the candles and take a deep breath to blow the bonfire out, I will continue onwards knowing that the best is yet to come.

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