The Open Road

Disclaimer: A majority of my posts lately have had to do with running because it consumes a large part of my life right now. Although this post shares a story from a run, it is actually  much more than those 18 miles. So if you’re not a runner, stick with me.

The Open RoadYesterday was a first for me.

I ran 18 miles.

I spent the rest of the day hobbling around my dorm, sitting on my futon, and trying to fight off sleep. I rewarded myself with a Pumpkin Spice Latte and held it close as I tried to warm up after an ice bath.

Yet today I am finding that it is not the thrill of accomplishing something new, or the pain of recovery, or the reward of a coffee that is sticking in my mind. What’s sticking is something much deeper than doing something hard.

Last week as I thought about this run, I was filled with dread. I knew that I couldn’t do it myself, and I had to find someone to ride her bike beside me. Not only did I need the water; I needed the friend.

So a dear friend said yes to doing the most boring task that anyone could do: Bike about seven miles per hour for almost three hours. Oh and did I mention that we were on the road by 7 a.m.? It takes a certain kind of “special” to do that on a Saturday morning. Yet, yesterday was one of my best long runs ever, and it had little to do with my legs or my muscles. It had everything to do with the support and encouragement of having another person stick with me the whole time.

My friend and I talked the entire three hours, and actually I mean that she basically talked the whole time. I offered a few things when I could catch my breath, but for the most part I got to listen to her and hear about her life. This wasn’t the first time I’d done a long run with another person. At home I always do those runs with my dad. Last year when I trained for a half marathon, a different friend rode her bike beside me. And what I’ve found is the open road and the distance does something to the walls in conversation.

I think that we tend to set up barriers. We tend to draw a line that says “I will go this far, but not a step further.” But it’s incredible what people share at mile fifteen, when you’ve traveled up some steep hills, dodged some cars, and looked at the daunting landscape ahead of you. If you listen, if you stick with your people, if you create a safe space by your presence, they will, eventually, share. We tend to build up walls because there is little space in our everyday lives to struggle. There’s little space to dump things on our friends. These struggles, these tough situations don’t come up in casual conversation.

But yesterday both my friend and I fought off tears at different parts of the run. We weren’t struggling because of something physical; there was no pain that was bringing tears to our eyes. There came a point on our journey when both of us were raw. We were open. We were vulnerable. We threw out our words and prayed to God that the other would be able to pick them up and know how to handle them.

I’m learning that people need this space, need this freedom, need this comfort in order to say, “hey, I just need to get this out.” And I’m learning that it takes time. My friend and I didn’t talk about the tough stuff until mile 13. Even then, we have almost a year of friendship under our belts, of little deposits here and there into our “trust jars” as Brene Brown calls them in her book Daring Greatly.

And I’m learning that this “open road” is tough. It’s much easier to stay on the happy topics, to avoid the shadowy land that will probably bring tears. It seems easier to hold up the walls then to let them come crashing down. But there is something healing in vulnerability. There’s something healing in the midst of tears and awkwardness. There’s something healing in allowing another person to walk through a situation with you.

I am incredibly thankful that my friend decided to do the most mundane and seemingly insignificant thing with me yesterday. I’m thankful that she carried my water, that she talked to me the whole time. And I’m so thankful that she let me be raw and vulnerable with her and that she was vulnerable with me. Mostly, I’m thankful for the tears, for the stories that leave you breathless.

And I’m thankful for the open road.

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