A certain darkness

If I've learned anything in nearly 12 years of dragging heavy things around cold places it's that true, real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and from challenge, from stepping away from what's comfortable and familiar and stepping out into the unknown. - Ben Saunders, Arctic explorer

a certain darknessFailing, and failing, and failing. And getting up.

When things are terrible, messy, painful, it's not much comfort to know that growth comes from adversity.

Even knowing this truth intellectually, even when you really know it's true, it still stinks. Last Saturday I ran 16 miles, and it was not a good run. It was hard. I was very tired, hadn't been sleeping well and had been under a lot of stress the prior week. Couldn't prepare as well as I usually do for a long run. I knew it was going to be tough.

I also knew that marathon training is about "learning how to run when you're tired", a marathon coach once said. How many other things in life can be about that? Probably quite a few.

"Our failures make us vulnerable to transformation in a way the good we do cannot," says Sr. Maryann Mueller, Justice and Peace Coordinator for the Felician Sisters of North America.

So the purpose of long, long training runs, the ones I'm doing on these last weekends before the race, is to build capacity. But it's also to fail. To get to the difficult place. To be tired, and keep going. Walk for a while, stop if you need to. Then start again. Run some more.

But there are stars there, in that darkness. Sometimes when things are difficult, you see them better.

Someone gave me part of their pb&j sandwich. Someone else gave me some of their water. Several someones high-fived me near the end and encouraged me. I didn't know any of these people, they were just other runners, stopping and starting over and over again themselves. I appreciated those simple kindnesses so much. They reminded people can be pretty awesome.

That's why the corollary to "a certain darkness is needed to see the stars" is compassion. When things are difficult for you, if you can gather the strength to give someone some of your water, or can appreciate and receive that gift, it becomes easier to start again. We find hope in each other's small acts.