Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It's the Little Things

Whenever Matt and I are walking, we’re on the lookout for critters: bunnies, squirrels, birds, chipmunks, groundhogs, or whatever we are lucky enough to spot. We have a similar way of looking at the world and can often pass several miles talking about the critters we’ve seen or telling stories from their viewpoint. It can get pretty amusing when we start imagining the conversations that the critters might be having about us. This way of seeing the world is something we have in common, and it is fortunate that we both love finding bits of nature to catch our eyes and motivate our walks. If just one of us was stopping to look at little things along the way, I imagine that the other one might become impatient. Instead, we are each able to inspire one another to keep a watchful eye on fields and woods.

A few weeks ago, we were on an 8-mile training walk and we stopped at about Mile 3 to check on a puddle-y pond that Matt has, for years, insisted is filled with frogs. We have repeatedly checked this little pond and he always insists that there are frogs there, but never had we spotted one. That changed for us last Saturday. I’m glad that he is so much more patient than I am when it comes to waiting for the critters. We stopped along the bike path and leaned hopefully onto the fence that overlooks this little puddle of water.

We watched the water for a few minutes and I was ready to give up, repeating - as I have on many occasions - that there are no frogs in this not-really-a-pond. But Matt grabbed my arm just as I was ready to walk away, and he pointed. It took several seconds for my eyes to adjust before I spotted the frog, but sure enough there he was. Within minutes, we were registering a tally and grinning like little kids. We found 8 frogs that afternoon and stayed watching them for about 20 minutes while folks whizzed by on their bikes and roller blades, oblivious to the froggy haven that we had discovered. Eventually we pulled ourselves away and walked the rest of our miles, engaged and renewed by the strength that watching those frogs had invested in us.

Not everyone is motivated by frog-power, but here is where I am going to suggest that maybe you should be. Inspired by the beauty of nature, I am motivated to be my best self. But there was something more happening for me as I watched those frogs do almost nothing as they floated in their puddle. The following Saturday, when we discovered 7 tiny salamanders alongside the path, I felt that same inspiration building in me again. A well of emotion and motivation invigorates me when we spot critters. That day, I decided it was time to think about what the inspiration is that I am finding from these small living things.
Every time that I stop and appreciate a simple critter living its life, I am rejoicing in all of life. That’s why it has become an important aspect of my training walks. Every 3Day event in which I participate – as a walker or as crew – is an opportunity for me to focus on life and living. My commitment to the 3Day is a dedication to the value of life, and to the hope that someday no more lives will be lost to breast cancer.

Collecting an inventory of critters while I train helps remind me of the reasons that I walk in a way that feels very tangible for me. I am watching for frogs to honor the memory of being at the lake with my friend, Mary Kay, who lost her fight with breast cancer almost 8 years ago. I am counting the salamanders for the woman who is lying on her couch counting ceiling tiles while she recovers from this week’s chemo. I am laughing at the antics of the squirrels for the little boy who wishes his mom were there to laugh at the Saturday morning cartoons with him. I am grinning at the chipmunks dancing along the bike path to remember the man who is driving his daughter home from her first dance alone. When I am standing mesmerized by a bird I have never seen before, I honor the bride whose mother isn’t there to see her wedding finery. When I rejoice in seeing the first bunnies of spring, I am celebrating my friend, Diane, a two-time survivor and the spirit that gets all creatures through the winters of their lives.

The suggestion that one should ‘stop and smell the flowers’ is valid and valuable advice. However, I caution you against thinking that is the only way to engage with the natural world. Simply smelling the flowers is not enough. You need to look at them and hold them and think about what the flowers really mean. And so, I offer this new twist on the old adage, “Stop and look for frogs.” Maybe it won’t be frogs that you find for your inspiration. But find something that helps you to be reminded that we are in this for very big reasons, even if you are reminded by something small.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Do Something Amazing

This past Sunday, we volunteered at The Preview Expo for the Boston 3Day. Here it is, my tenth year of walking and crewing and I have finally attended my first Expo. I had no idea what I’d been missing. As we drove east early Sunday morning, I reflected aloud that I felt happy that we were driving towards “3Day-land”. I was feeling glad that we had volunteered to spend our day at the Expo. I felt happy knowing that we were doing what we could to help with an event that means so much to us. I could feel the joyful expectation rise within me that we were heading into 3Day-land, and therefore something amazing was going to happen.

Back in 2001, in preparation for my first walk, I read every inch of the information packet and felt well prepared for my first 3Day experience. I don’t even know if there were Expos back then; but if there was, I missed it. And in the years since then, I figured that I already knew what to expect and therefore didn’t “need” the Expo. I assumed that the Expo was just for first-timers seeking a little extra something. On Sunday, I discovered that there are all sorts of reasons to go to an Expo.

The Expo is indeed a great resource for new walkers and crew hoping to learn more about the event. At the Expo, attendees circulated between a number of small rooms and all around one large room, stopping to look at various exhibits about aspects of the 3Day. Participants could practice setting up and taking down pink tents. They could look at the tents and imagine crawling into them at the end of a long but glorious day of walking or crewing. There were workshops on blister care and fundraising and packing. There were tables filled with photo albums of past events. There were slide shows and sign-making materials. You could even write yourself a letter and the Komen folks will keep it safe and deliver it to you in camp during your 3Day.

At Sunday’s Expo, my role as a volunteer was “manning” the crew table. The table is intended to be a location for new crew (there to attend Crew 101) to stop by and ask questions. I’m not sure if it was because I have a carnival barker attitude or because I got to stand near some of the coolest graphics and signs, but I had a lot of walkers stopping to visit.

One of the signs at “my” table was a graphic presentation of “camp”. It’s a poster that the 3Day folks can use at every Expo. It represents a general sense of what is included in every camp --- like the trucks and the showers and the dining tent and the porta-potties and the rows and rows of pink tents. Apparently, if you are new to the 3Day world, it is a very intriguing poster. Alongside this map was a flow chart of the three days, starting with Opening Ceremony and moving through the pit stops and Camp through all three days and on to Closing Ceremony.

Lots of people stopped to look at the posters and then stayed to ask questions about what they should expect on the event and in camp. I loved all the chances I had to talk and to answer questions. I do love talking about The 3Day and I appreciated the opportunity to meet so many excited walkers and crew. Over and over again, I felt the connection and the joy that is, for me, a part of each 3Day. I had fun answering questions. And I left fortunate to be given the opening to really listen to people’s fears and expectations. And just as I have experienced on the actual 3Day, I met some people who will probably be in my heart forever. Let me tell you about one of them.

I hope that I will get to see Pat again. She stopped by my table about an hour into the Expo. Pat is an older woman, around 65 and a bit overweight. When I first spotted her, she hesitantly stood looking at the posters. Her husband stood beside her, hovering protectively, although he seemed older and perhaps more frail than she. I smiled and launched into my best “what can I help you with today”. She shrugged and smiled. I tried again, “First time?” She nodded. I introduced myself and she quietly returned the introduction but still just numbly stared at the map and flow chart. I tried another foray, “Are you going to be walking here in Boston?” That was the opening she needed and she began to explain that she was registered to walk, but was starting to fear whether she would physically be able to do it. She said she had some medical concerns and just didn’t know if it was more than she could do.

After finally handing me her fears, she looked at me expectantly and waited. It was a poignant moment. I wanted so much to be able to give her just the right answer. Having walked and crewed so many times, I felt well prepared to consider her question. I asked her what her physician thought. She said that he thought she should give it her best try. I smiled broadly and said that was my exact advise as well. I spent several minutes talking about the details of the event itself, using my handy flow chart poster as a reference. I explained that as a walker she would have many opportunities to rest, or to take a ride from a sweep van and walk only as much as she felt she really could. I explained that there would be lots of people on the event working extra hard to support her. I emphasized that she could train with a modified event in mind. Using the flow chart, I demonstrated that each 20-mile day is actually a bunch of 3 or 4-mile walks, with a pit stop at the end of each “short walk”.

I rested my hand on Pat’s arm and said, “You might not walk all 60 miles, but at the end of every day, you will know that you walked as far as you could. And you will know that you walked a whole lot farther than if you had just said ‘This is more than I can do’. At the end of the weekend,” I assured her, “You will know that you did something amazing.” I stopped talking and looked into her eyes and saw that they were welling up. I tried to glance away to avoid breaking down myself, but when my eyes moved past hers, I connected with her husband. He had been quietly standing just outside the circle of confidence that Pat and I were sharing. I looked at him now to see tears rolling down his face. The three of us stood there for a moment, connected by something deeper than my writing can embrace.

After a few moments, Pat smiled and thanked me. She asked if I was walking, and I explained that I would be volunteering on the third day of her Boston walk before going on to crew in Chicago. I will be walking as well, but not until October in DC. She smiled, with her eyes still glistening and threatening to tear up again, she said, “I sure hope I see you on that third day. I will want to thank you for helping me to walk.”

What I shared with Pat at the Expo is an important message for all of us. No matter how far we go, we should be able to say at the end of the day, “I have done as much as I could. I have done something amazing.”

Go to an Expo --- learn what you can, share what you can, talk to everyone you meet. Then go do something amazing.