(This story is dedicated to Carol and to the many strong, courageous and persevering women in my life. It was originally written in February of 1991 and revised again in 1997 when I found it in a box in the garage as I was "purging" old things. I revised it again in 2010 & 2013. “Thank you” to all of my family and friends who have touched my life during the up and down hills in the race of my life. I am still learning from all of you.)
I’ve heard it often said that “life is like the sport of running.” I remember my beginning the sport many years ago in the spring of 1988 when my assistant, Carol, and I were weaving my largest tapestry commission, the “Wilborn ikats,” so named for my clients, Gene & Lorraine. Until that time, my usual workout had been an early morning at the gym, but now, completing the textiles on schedule meant weaving into the wee hours. There simply wasn’t time or energy left for exercise. We were often tired, frustrated and needed an afternoon break, so Carol brought her running gear, and I soon purchased my first pair of running shoes. I exchanged my studio smock for shorts and our roles soon reversed as we hit the streets. Carol became the teacher, and I, her student.
“Pace is the key,” she’d say. Pacing oneself slowly and steadily led to more consistent, successful running. When I ran alone, I would run without an adequate warm up, and I left the front door running hard. Half a block away, I’d be struggling, holding my side from pain. “Run hard….walk, run hard…walk, run hard…” That was my pattern.
At first, Carol ran and walked the pattern with me. She was patient and kind, but I knew I was holding her back. I frequently voiced my embarrassment and encouraged her to go on without me, and eventually, she did. But soon, she paced me to run smoothly, ever so slowly, so that I wouldn’t need to walk during the run. In time, I was running the full distance without stopping.
“Recover within my own pace” became my self-talk, a chant to repeat up and down hills, or whenever counting paces, breathing concentration and efforts at relaxation had long been spent. “Why haven’t I remembered that chant?” Holidays, cold weather, illness, and old friends named “Injury” and “Burnout” became easy excuses. Another running friend reminded me that “runners who stay hurt are those who run too hard, too fast, too far, too soon.” That was me.
Life’s circumstances, my work and relationships have been much like my running career. I stayed hurt from injury for failing to pause and recover. I have always run someone else’s race or tried to keep another’s pace. I have trained, trained, and over-trained….and I have lived out what feels like a marathon. The divorce from my children’s father after our 14-year marriage was the “marathon of marathons” that depleted all my energies & resources and yet, it provided another opportunity to recover and prepare for another marathon run that lasted 17 years.
Why is learning a new pace in life so difficult? Why can’t we remember that even while running the race, there are times to slow down, catch our breath, stretch, re-tie shoestrings, freshen gum, rehydrate, or yes, change course? Even a step backwards can be a healthy beginning…
I’m sure my old friend and coach must feel similarly. While I lived through that summer and fall of the divorce, Carol, a certified and licensed occupational therapist, pursued a career goal and moved halfway across the country without her husband, Bill. After only a month in Seattle, she experienced a head trauma from a car accident that nearly took her life. We were all told the worst, but I prayed and expected God’s best for her.
How trivial my life pursuits were in comparison. Carol returned to Texas when it was safe for Bill to move her, and I watched her push herself in physical therapy. From 1990-1995, she experienced her own prescription for a healthy, fully-functioning life. It broke my heart to know she might never pace my running again, and we cried together often when we shared moments as friends, artists, and colleagues.
Eventually, I moved away to pursue my own artistic goals in Taos, NM and our paths parted. I designed and executed many ikat textiles without Carol’s help, but I had “Mountain of Two Trees” to overlook my dye baths and guard my silks. These woven fabrics found new homes in Japan, Canada, from California to Ohio, from the Carolinas to Arizona, with Wisconsin, Montana and Tennessee in between. I followed my dream and it was an experience I will always treasure. I ran my own marathon pace there, hard, far, and yes, a little too soon.
Even though I made efforts at keeping my friend informed about life in New Mexico and my subsequent return to a former career in Texas, I lost touch with Carol for a few years. Then one day, I received a response from my Christmas card. She had never let go of her dream to live and work where she longed to be. Carol returned to Seattle where she had been temporarily sidelined for running “too hard, too far, too soon.” Bill was able to transition his career and join her a year and a half later.
My art career transitioned from weaving textiles to weaving highlights in a beauty salon. Cosmetology became the marathon of my life and I am glad to finish the course. After forty one years, calendars, schedules and clocks still govern the pace of my daily race. I’m older now, and I often need to slow down, catch my breath, stretch, re-tie my shoes, and refresh my gum. Most days require a change in direction, focus and attitude. There are opportunities to listen to a heart’s cry, to encourage a secret longing or pray through a marathon crisis in someone else’s life. “Willing” has become my new coach.
I have many brave and courageous friends who persevere through their own life's marathon. My friend, Carol, was, and still is, one of the bravest women I have ever known. No one was more dedicated to her own recovery than she was through her most challenging “marathon.” Today, she is working and playing hard, creating art to her heart’s content in a new studio that her retired husband, Bill recently built for her. She has successfully learned how to “recover within her own pace.” And yes, she is running again….but sometimes, it’s a run…walk, run….walk, run…walk. And Carol would say, “That’s okay. This is me!”
(c) Copyright 2013-2016